Hands off or hands on?
If your station’s broadcast automation system leaves a thing or two to be desired, you are not alone. Individual stations outside of groups seldom reveal to their competitors their master control automation issues, and it seems to be one of the best kept secrets in the industry. It seems few systems can perform all tasks at all stations flawlessly or without excuses.
A handful of the problems can be blamed on Microsoft Windows, but not all. Some automated playout systems can’t handle OS upgrades. Others seem like they can only reveal later that new problems replaced the old problems. The automated playout portion of some systems may work perfectly, but perhaps the system won’t accept FTPs. Rather, some systems require files to be opened and played in real-time baseband for ingest. This may not be news to you and your station, but if your system isn’t quite as perfect as you had hoped, you are not alone.
As you look at automation systems, ask tough questions. What makes television broadcasting so interesting is that while every station shares the same goals, most have different strategies and systems to achieve those goals. This legacy makes it difficult for manufacturers to make one-size-fits-all master control automation solutions. The more information they can gather about individual stations helps manufacturers. The more questions you ask helps you learn if a particular vendor’s solution completely fulfills all your station’s needs. Excuses are so 20thcentury.
Several companies, new and old, have entered and some have quietly exited the turnkey automated master control system business. Of course, perfection is in the eye of the beholder. In most cases, surprise, surprise, you get what you pay for. Mix-and-match systems seem to be the solution most stations somewhat reluctantly end up adapting. If there is any key to success, it would have to be to consider the solution as a single-purpose appliance, not to be upgraded and well-isolated from the Internet, unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise. My advice on maintaining master control automation systems: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and for gosh sakes, don’t let Windows update it automatically.
Most station engineers have gained extensive hands-on experience with automation systems, and that’s sometimes the problem. It’s hard to be completely happy with a hands-off automated system when it requires human hands-on to keep it fed and working perfectly.