Although a variety of branding workflows exist to address different types of content, they nevertheless have consistent steps. The steps may differ in how they are executed, but the basic building blocks are usually creation, versioning, verification and playout. Let’s look at each in turn.
- Creation. Graphics templating is a powerful weapon used to increase the amount of branding. The ability to replace information within a graphic has been available for many years, and most automation systems and graphics vendors support this approach well. However, adding some intelligence to the graphics templates can ease downstream versioning and playout work.
The first step in branding is creating a concept and building a sample version of what will go to air. This process is shown in Figure 1. This base graphic is most commonly created using design software. The original look can even be built by third-party design companies or remote teams.
This base graphic is then rebuilt into the graphic template using the specific broadcast graphics tools provided by the graphics vendor. The task is to map the design tool’s approach to the method and terminology of the graphics tool. Note that the designer’s original concept — created using a design tool — may use effects that exceed the rendering or real-time capabilities of the graphics device. In this case, the job would include reducing the graphics’ complexity to stay within the operating parameters of the real-time device.
- Versioning. The second step is to create all of the versions to be recalled. If a graphic is promoting a show that is playing on Friday at 9 p.m., versions for Friday, tomorrow, tonight and “Coming Next” would be required. These distinct versions would be recalled by automation on the appropriate day. More versions would be created for additional shows, keeping the brand style consistent with distinct information for text, clips and image changes.
Versioning is the step where the timeliness of information plays the most significant role. What is the likelihood that the information will change, such as a show changing times in the schedule? The answer will define the appropriate versioning decision.
Creating versions can be achieved in several ways. They can be created by duplicating the graphic and manually entering the text, by having automation commands provide the values or, on some logical basis, determining the text to be displayed as a function of when the show is playing.
- Verification. The next step in the workflow is to plan a strategy on how to verify that the correct information has made it into each version of the graphic.
The verification strategy depends heavily on the versioning approach, with dynamically filled graphics being the most difficult to verify. If the relevant data only arrives at the last moment, how can it be verified? Testing, more testing and a certain amount of trust are needed to ensure that the data stays within set boundaries and that the graphic will air appropriately. Intelligence to protect against missing or bad data should also be considered. Automation-filled graphics need to be tested using the actual automation schedule that is driving the device to ensure the correct commands are being sent for each event.
However, each approach has strengths and weaknesses when the information changes. Where is the change to be made, and by whom? In situations where the information lives in the automation system, in an external data source or directly in a version of a template, it must be corrected by someone with proper access to the system and the knowledge to make the change. Is someone available who can verify that the new version will play out correctly, easily and quickly? Not always.
- Playout. The final step is recall and playout. This step relies on efficient communication between the automation system and graphics device for recall and media management. Careful consideration of how the graphics content is being added and expired, especially in multichannel operations, is a critical component of a sustainable system.