Broadcast Networking in the Age of the Cloud
The author is director
of studio products for manufacturer Broadcast Electronics.
As part of the studio design and support team for a global company, I
often find myself comparing the cultures of two world powers. Europeans definitely
win hands-down when it comes to taking time off to enjoy a long summer holiday,
although it’s hard to beat a good American-made movie for some quality time
Each brings entirely unique skill sets and technology to studio
operation as well. At BE, we are always asking what we as an automation company
can learn from our friends on both sides of the ocean.
Certainly, European broadcasters have benefited from the U.S. “live and
local” franchise as independent and commercial radio evolved and matured in
these markets. Likewise, U.S. broadcasters, in light of station consolidation, have
benefited from the European network enterprise model.
One vs. many
I can remember when most U.S. studios were geared toward single-station
operation. Content management system integration was nonexistent because the
number of cuts coming out of those stations, even a news station, was fairly
small and manageable, and all the content was local in any case.
Not so for European broadcasters, who had lots of content to manage
across large news networks. They readily adopted the CMS mindset from their
fellow television broadcasters, who were probably just down the hall in the
When U.S. station consolidation took hold in recent years, those of us developing
automation systems began to look long and hard at the CRM model to solve the
problems that come with networked operations. Systems rooted in the U.S. radio
culture like our AudioVault were retooled to manage large music libraries and
workflow adequately in these complex environments.
At the same time, our European friends started to take notice of the
flexibility and affordability of U.S. radio systems. They needed to add a
little more live-and-local into the mix as commercial radio began to grow in
these countries. Their systems tended to be proprietary and slow to adapt,
especially to the new Internet opportunities that made it difficult to grow
with the times.
What we learned developing automation systems for the highly
unpredictable and commercial U.S. market transferred easily to the modern European
studio. As Windows platforms with Ethernet connectivity, systems like the
AudioVault FleX are foundationally reliable yet dynamically changeable. U.S.
and European broadcasters have been able to adapt at the rate of change, such
as being able to connect devices through audio-over-IP protocols as that
technology became available and incorporating the latest audio editor for
better voicetrack capability, for example.
Along comes the cloud
Now, along comes
cloud computing, which seems to be the great lesson learned from both operational
Cloud computing essentially moves radio away from the limitations of the
physical studio to a virtual existence in the cloud, where tasks and resources
take place in a network shared by multiple studios. It removes the server as
the center of all activity, eliminating a single point-of-failure, and replaces
it with a multi-engine, component-based infrastructure for shared redundancy
As it happens, cloud computing takes advantage of the enterprise model
the Europeans have perfected over the years, and puts that into an open, easily
adaptable environment that has been so important to the live and local model put
forth by U.S. stations. It is the best of standardized PC technology and
Recognizing this, we at BE made the decision to move to a separate playout
engine and user interface with the release of AudioVault FleX two years ago.
Separating the playout engine from the user interface opens the door to
several interesting possibilities: The engine and the user interface can be now
hosted in different environments or multiple engines can be chained together to
form active-passive pairs for redundancy, with multiple user interfaces connected
to a single engine.
Needless to say, without this separation of the user interface and the
playout engine it is impossible to move to a cloud platform. This coupled with
the availability of IP-based GPIO control, like the RIOT box from BE, makes
automation-on-the-cloud a near possibility.
When this happens, stations will realize huge operational benefits.
Instead of installing and maintaining a suite of software for each
studio or each PC, one application makes it possible for station personnel to
merely log into a Web-based service that hosts all the programs the user would
need for his job. We’re talking some very serious cost containment benefits in
terms of hardware and software, not to mention support infrastructure.
Add to this new capabilities for sharing syndications, libraries and
talent for less. It also makes possible the integration of traditional
over-the-air radio with digital formats like Web streaming and social media. This
is going to be important to stations on both sides of the ocean as broadcasters
meet the challenge of incorporating mobile interactivity and social media
without disrupting business and content as usual.
BE’s new line of Commotion mobile interactive products for the studio is
an excellent example of the radio-on-the-cloud model. The entire suite of
products is available in a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, whether setting
up a DJ Wall for interacting with listeners online or “crowdsourcing” music
playlists from listeners voting in on their iPhones and Androids or through Facebook,
Twitter or Google.
Our education doesn’t stop at the studio door. As the Internet, mobile
devices and satellite change the world, and the world gets smaller, it seems
there is something new to learn every day.
Hari Samrat has an engineering
background with an emphasis on computer science. He was a designer and
architect of BE’s Flex architecture, and leads new studio developments for the
AudioVault FleX and The Radio Experience (TRE) lines, including cloud computing
and mobile interactive initiatives. He is co-inventor of a device to extend the
reach of talk radio to the hearing impaired.