Broadcast automation systems are made up of software applications and integrated hardware that do the job of preparing and handling video and audio media. They enable the user to manage workflows for the marketing, production and broadcast departments to automate scheduling— from general schedules for a whole season, to programming and schedules for a particular week or day.
In television, playout automation has greatly increased in functionality over recent years, particularly as the cost of SSD storage decreases. Television shows and TV commercials, along with digital on-monitor graphics (bug, info, banner, etc.) can all be stored on servers and controlled by remote workstations making use of the 9-Pin Protocol and VDCP. These systems can be complex, tied-in as they are with components which enable the ingest of media from satellite networks and electronic metadata collection and administration on the video libraries, together with archival of footage for later on use.
Early automation systems were electromechanical systems that used relays. Afterwards systems ended up “digitalized” only to the that they needed to be, and were restricted to radio in lieu of TV. Audio was stored on reel-to-reel audio tape. Subaudible tones on the tape marked the top of every track. The computer would simply rotate amongst the tape reels right up until the computer’s internal clock matched that of the scheduled event.
This was usually the situation on overnight and weekend shifts when there was no broadcast engineer available, and most of the time for smaller stations with merely a single engineer on contract.
Scheduling was an essential advance for these systems, enabling correct timing. Some systems use GPS satellite receivers to acquire exact atomic time, for ideal synchronization with satellite-sent programming.
Modern television automation systems utilize a very similar workflow, but with components and software overhauled for the TV market. Tape reels and VTRs are still commonly used in even mid-size broadcast installations, and even the most modern automation solutions make concessions to the control and use of this legacy hardware.
At these stations, engineers must accordingly make space in their workflow’s schedule to accommodate ingest of taped media onto file servers. As you can guess, this takes time and effort so any station that can is making the effort to eliminate the use of its legacy hardware.
Today’s operator need only remain present in the studio during live events and for schedule changes. Modern automation systems allow for the user to safely set and then forget their workflow as long as nothing unexpected pops up.
In conclusion, the modern television workflow is easier to use and more hands off than ever before. Leaving the operator to spend their time on more pressing matters, or as is becoming common, leaving stations to eliminate a large percentage of their operational staff.