The new open SMPTE schema standard levels the playing field.
For years, broadcast automation systems and business systems needed manual access and conversion interface applications to convert metadata to/from their respective systems. The multitudes of proprietary interfaces are difficult to keep up with, especially as system upgrades and enhancements were added to either side.
The new SMPTE 2021 BXF 1.0 schema standard is one of the biggest advances in broadcast automation in this decade. The holy grail of automation has always been to provide a system that uses a central database for metadata between traffic and master control. Since centralizing a database between business systems and master control/operations is easier said than done, the next best thing is to standardize on a communication schema for the exchange of mission-critical data.
Technology standards are needed to organize varying systems and technologies. While manufacturers offer the promise of tight integration between varying systems, they still offer varied proprietary systems. BXF changes that. The new open SMPTE schema standard levels the playing field for manufacturers. By enabling their systems to work within the protocol's framework, manufacturers can assure broadcasters of getting nonproprietary full-feature metadata conversions and messaging systems.
History and stats
In 2008, SMPTE developed and published a schema standard called BXF (Broadcast Exchange Format) 1.0 or SMPTE 2021. In a nutshell, BXF was developed to replace the various archaic text conversion schemas that have been developed over the years to interface, access and transfer schedules, playlists, dubs lists, record lists, delete lists, etc., from business systems to automation systems.
Today, SMPTE representatives note there are dozens of manufacturers that have developed applications and workflow systems using the BXF schema. There have been more than 150 national and international SMPTE members, including industry-leading manufacturers, involved in the development and enhancement of BXF. In this new digital world of broadcasting where multichannel, multimedia operations are the norm, the BXF schema standard helps manufacturers build applications for automating processes and procedures to next-generation enterprise levels.
The current BXF 1.0 includes an exchange schema definition (XSD) collection for schedules, as-run, content, content transfers, etc. The BXF schema helps manufacturers simplify and automate the communication and workflow between a broadcaster's diverse business and transmission systems such as traffic, program management, content delivery and automation. The master control and traffic departments are the most common broadcast uses. When properly implemented, BXF-based applications automate the workflow process, streamline operations, maximize value of content and inventory, and increase flexibility for sales and advertisers.
As an XML-based communication schema, BXF allows for near-real-time messaging and updating between disparate systems. The XML-based messages include instructions about program or interstitial changes, allowing an automated approach to as-run reporting and schedule changes. Other BXF capabilities include near-real-time dub orders, missing spots reports and content management.
In the past, a phone call to/from traffic was the norm. Seeing a traffic department representative in master control to make changes to the paper schedule is usually a daily event. In today's world, business departments need to know exactly when a program or interstitial has aired and if it aired correctly, and they need to know it as soon as possible.
One of the most important factors about BXF-based applications is that they allow the decision-making aspects of master control schedule changes to be made in the traffic department. Traffic personnel can maximize revenue opportunities by providing lucrative replacements to any missing spot scenario. Or, when lucrative missing “copy” finally arrives and is ingested into playout video servers, traffic can make decisions on which interstitials/programs to drop and replace. Traffic has advertiser contract information giving them the ability to switch programs and interstitials to more lucrative advertisers.
The sales department also benefits from BXF-based applications. Because of the automated near-real-time fashion of the BXF messaging schema, the sales department can make last-minute, higher-revenue interstitial or program additions to the on-air schedule. So while BXF schemas lower costs through standardizing, streamlined processes and minimized manual changes/inputting, they also generate more revenue through revenue optimization.
Comprehensive event structure
In creating playout schedules, the goal is to create a schedule with the minimum and most efficient amount of effort. BXF-based applications simplify the creation of complex multiline event situations by automating the creation of multiple event lines within a playout schedule. In the most efficient configuration, traffic does little to activate a complex playout scenario like a live news break for example. For traffic personnel, it may be as simple as creating a one-line traffic schedule with a predefined identification number. A BXF-based application and the master control automation system take that one-line traffic schedule and convert it into a complex multiline playout schedule with all the needed secondary events. If BXF-based applications are properly configured with predefined conversion rules, master control personnel are not saddled with creating or fixing complex multiline event structures.
News production automation is the latest craze in broadcast automation. A handful of manufacturers have developed systems to automate live newscast productions. The more advanced news production automation systems repurpose content for distribution via Internet, mobile devices, VOD and syndication. A key aspect of these systems is the ability to monetize content assets. Interfacing with traffic and billing systems, via BXF-based applications, helps to maximize advertising avails to other platforms. BXF-based applications automate the heavy lifting of scheduling, changing and verifying ads in live on-air and live streaming productions.
Content metadata management
Beyond schedules and as-runs, access and distribution of database metadata is another of BXF's benefits. Business systems such as sales, programming and rights management use BXF-based schemas and applications to automatically populate centralized data warehouses with cost and scheduling data. The master control automation database can be populated with extensive and accurate metadata from traffic systems. Media asset management (MAM) and digital asset management (DAM) systems use database information from business systems also. News production systems use BXF-based applications to automate schedule changes and verify information for on-air, VOD, mobile and IPTV schedules. BXF-based applications and features can allow for the exchange of metadata among systems that may not have direct access to content.
Content movement instructions
As rich media content moves from place to place, the metadata associated with this content moves also. This usually is a manual process or one with error-prone work-arounds such as hot-folders. Today, there are BXF-based applications that can automate the transfer of metadata that originates from advertising agencies and business systems to master control, nearline and archive MAM/DAM systems.
For example, let's say traffic makes a change request via a BXF schema message to master control, and a new interstitial is added to the master control playout schedule. Once the message is accepted by master control and the event is added to the schedule, the master control system will begin searching for that rich media within its automation database. If the rich media is located on a nearline and/or archive system, the master control automation or MAM/DAM system will activate a transfer request for that rich media. Metadata from the business systems will populate the master control and media asset management systems database. BXF-based applications can create move-instruction messages to activate a system's physical transfer of content from source to destination.
The spotlight moves to business systems
As BXF-based applications become more popular, we can see business systems playing a larger role in the control and monitoring of broadcast production systems such as master control automation, MAM, DAM, etc. It's clear that improving and advancing operations, procedures and workflows that are upstream of master control is now more important than ever for broadcasters. The spotlight will shift to the traffic, programming, sales and rights management systems. For example, it makes sense for traffic to be responsible for master control metadata and schedule changes. With advertiser contracts in hand, the traffic department has the information to make the best possible decisions.
Cost versus benefit
We've mentioned many times during this report that BXF-based applications and their open-standard schema save on costs. To factor how much, you must first define cost and values to each aspect of the workflow and operation, multiply personnel and wage costs by the hours it takes to transfer files, manually update databases, manually correct schedules, manually enter and correct data in databases, plus e-mails, phone calls, meetings, etc. Define the costs of how much time and effort is being exerted by functioning in a manual mode.
Value is the next factor. What is the average value of your interstitials and programs? How much revenue would be lost if an interstitial or program did not air or it aired incorrectly, requiring a make-good? Value can also mean potential revenue. By offering automated processes, last-minute changes can incur additional revenue. Near-real-time updating is constantly showing commercial avails. These benefits have value. Value can also be given to your on-air look. How do we compare to the competition? Automated systems by definition give you a higher up-time percentage and better on-air look than stations without automation.
Implementing BXF-based applications involves hardware, software and a good amount of workflow changes. The majority of a BXF implementation is reorganizing and revamping your workflow process. In fact, you'll spend more time on redefining duties and tasks than you will with the physical implementation of hardware and software. In physical terms, the BXF-based applications and their schemas run best on server-class hardware with modern network accessibility to all parties involved.
To implement BXF in your facility, you must first understand the needs. Then, understand how BXF will benefit your system. You must also understand the manufacturer and its integration of BXF schema standards in its products. Once you've pinpointed the areas where BXF-based applications can be used, devise a plan. Creating a diagram and documenting is always a good first step.
Even though automating simplifies an operation, it's only smart to have accurate documentation. The main reasons for documentation include the training of new staff, for trouble-shooting issues and for future configuration changes or enhancements. Test offline and verify the results. Train staff on how the new processes and procedure will work, and then activate your BXF-based applications.
The SMPTE BXF standard and schema is alive and constantly changing and updating. SMPTE representatives note there are big advances coming in the next version of BXF. SMPTE balloting and voting are still required, but there are a few new advances worth noting. If voting passes, the next BXF version standard will soon provide support for simultaneous program events in master control.
A simultaneous program event scenario occurs when there is a closing credits DVE squeeze while simultaneously starting the next program. BXF will properly report timestamps and durations for programing and interstitials. Previously, secondary automation events such as DVE, logos, crawls, animation keys, etc. were considered nonprogram events. In BXF 2.0, the plan is that secondary events can be identified as program events for proper automation as-run reporting.
Multilanguage support is also planned for BXF Version 2.0. If committee voting passes, the BXF schema will be enhanced to allow for multiline, noncontrol program titles that can be places on the schedule in multiple languages. The noncontrol information lines are used by program managers to properly schedule and verify, via as-run, multilanguage programming. Master control operators will also benefit by knowing if a program will run on other output channels in another language or that the program has multilanguage audio channels.
There are many enhancements coming in future releases of the BXF schema standard. Most notably is how the BXF schema will be used in application to interface with rich media MXF files. BXF-based applications will someday have the ability to map and extract metadata information from MXF files. For example, if a station or network receives an MXF file from a distributor, a BXF schema-based application can extract the metadata from the MXF file without having to wait for a hard copy sent separate via paper timesheet or e-mail.
Combining metadata with rich media is a common operation in many applications for European broadcaster. For example, metadata extraction is automatically entered into the master control automation system for playout. Databases in master control and traffic for spot or programming metadata is not common like it is in the U.S.
The EBU, Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) and their Framework for Interoperability Media Services (FIMS) initiative are working to improve how metadata and rich media are managed in a service-oriented architecture environment. It is hoped that the output of this initiative will soon be brought to SMPTE for due process standardization.
We can also expect more rights management support in the future. As our industry is quickly moving from multichannel to multichannel/multimedia operations, rights management is more important than ever. Both broadcasters and content owners will benefit by accessing near-real-time information regarding their content. BXF schema-based application manufacturers are working to make these options and features a reality.
Thus far, advertising agencies have not used BXF. SMPTE representatives hope that one day ad agencies will also be able to benefit from BXF. National advertising and content metadata begins with advertisers and ad agencies. By adding ad agencies to the broadcasting workflow, metadata accuracy can be improved and operations can be more streamlined. For example, today interstitials have unique agency identification code. If they used BXF-based schema and applications, this agency identification code would stay with the metadata throughout the entire end-to-end workflow. The metadata would begin at content creation, then stay through advertising buys, content distribution, playout, as-run, business reconciliation and finally to verification, affidavit creation and billing.
Many manufacturers think the adoption of the BXF schema standard shows a commitment to and support of a broadcaster's right to choose the best systems available. Inventory and revenue optimization work extremely well with the BXF standard in the mix. Competition is a good thing for the industry, and it raises the bar of functionality. Manufacturers are eager to compete to ensure broadcasters remain competitive in a fast-changing multichannel, multimedia digital world. Standards such as BXF are the best way to ensure that happens.
BXF schema-based applications are becoming an essential component of highly automated broadcast operations. The notion of both eliminating cumbersome manual file exchange and having a near-real-time exchange of data between production and business systems is a good example of how today's broadcast technology provides more functionality and requires less time to manage.
Sid Guel is the president and founder of Broadcast Automation Consulting.