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FOCUS... Advanced Workflow for SNG Via ScheduALL
by Rob Evans, Sr. Product Architect, ScheduALL

Satellite news gathering (SNG) technology has made impressive gains in the past decade, enabling broadcasters to deliver live, breaking news from remote and often extremely harsh locations. With the demand from the viewing public for up-to-the-minute information and increased competition from news organizations worldwide, the pressure has never been greater on broadcasters. Yet, SNG operations can be extremely costly to manage and difficult to staff with reliability often compromised by breakdowns in information flow and a lack of technical acuity.

This paper will explore the challenges facing broadcasters as they increase their SNG operations and place greater dependence on satellite delivery for more and more elements within their newscast. We will then describe how ScheduLINK addresses those challenges with an integrated solution for linking station with uplink, enabling automatic SNG van setup on scene and hands-off feeds. Thus, broadcasters can maximize the usage of their SNG fleet and their entire news staff – creating new a new realm of productivity and efficiency in the managing and deployment of SNG resources.

Broadcast news has come a long way since the Vietnam War, often called the first television war for the on-the-ground coverage that brought the front line right into viewers’ living rooms. Broadcast technology was still in its early days. News content was captured on film and mobile satellite communication was decades away from prime time. Still, the groundbreaking war coverage set a precedent — and a demand — for on-scene news coverage that drives broadcast news to this day.

To stay competitive, today’s news organizations are challenged to deliver live, breaking news from the heart of the action, no matter how remote and far-flung. Mobile satellite news gathering (SNG) vehicles and technology provide the vital link between the scene and the newsroom,. Now, with regulatory and industry changes reducing the availability of the 2-Ghz microwave spectrum, growing numbers of broadcasters are turning to SNG to replace their traditional microwave news vans. The resulting surge in demand for SNG vehicles is driving a requirement for solutions that can help make SNG operations more cost-effective, more efficient and more automatic.

Getting Breaking News on the Air: SNG Logistical Challenges
Managing a fleet of highly specialized and expensive SNG vehicles and ensuring their fast, easy and reliable deployment for breaking news has become a costly proposition for news organizations. Traditional SNG configuration requires these essential extensions of the newsroom to be staffed not only with the news crew, but also with a dedicated engineer – a person with the specialized skills to get the truck itself on the air.

Once the SNG vehicle is on scene, the pressure is on. Faced with intense deadlines and the unpredictable nature of the unfolding situation itself, SNG crews are under the gun to ensure that the satellite transmissions are successful. Yet, when they arrive they often are missing the essential details they need – feed times, satellite and channel. Communications between the truck and the studio are critical—and typically dependent on a cell phone connection. In a remote location where cellular service is intermittent or quickly overloaded, the difference between making air and not can come down to being unable to contact the assignment desk for the feed windows, the satellite provider for access or the station for an IFB line.

Maximizing SNG Operations with ScheduLINK
ScheduALL understands the unique challenges of SNG and its context within overall broadcast operations. The company’s ScheduLINK software was specifically designed as an out-of-the box solution to optimize and manage the resources of satellite owners, television broadcasters, cable networks, teleports, mobile uplink providers, bandwidth providers, space segment resellers, news organizations and others who require a comprehensive tool for maximizing and streamlining broadcast scheduling, operations, reporting and financial tracking. ScheduLINK’s SNG Manager integration with satellite equipment providers brings this comprehensive power to the field enabling automatic SNG van setup on scene and unattended feed control.

Reliable Newscasts
Through integrations with SNG uplink equipment providers such as ND SatCom, ScheduLINK breaks down the communications barriers that often jeopardize remote broadcasts. Once the SNG vehicle arrives at the remote site, the crew has all of the critical details at their fingertips. There’s no more scrambling to retrieve information via an unreliable cell connection and no more risk that critical data such as satellite coordinates might be transposed or feed times written incorrectly in the high-pressure atmosphere of a breaking news situation. The details are pushed to the vehicle automatically.

Simplified Setup and Transmission Management
The ScheduLINK SNG Manager integrated workflow solution with satellite uplink equipment providers reduces or removes many of the steps – and thus, many of the failure points – of establishing a live satellite feed. With a few keystrokes, anyone on site can trigger the SNG vehicle to automatically find the assigned satellite and establish a network connection. This connectivity allows all ScheduLINK bookings to be pushed to the truck, facilitating automatic power-up and power-down for each feed window – hands-free – no direct operator intervention.

Control Room Power
Transmissions from every vehicle in the SNG fleet can be controlled right from the control room or engineering. Even without a pending feed, the ScheduLINK SNG Manager Status Board provides a live, web-based view of all SNG resources and their network connection, equipment and feed status at every moment. At a glance, producers, engineers and managers can determine which trucks have been deployed, which are online and which are not. They can view the feed windows sent to each van, whether the schedule is loaded and ready, confirm that all truck equipment is operational and even note whether the van is transmitting without having to find a monitor.
In addition to the automatic management of DVB transmissions, the network connectivity via satellite provides tremendous advantages. The SNG vehicle is turned into a powerful remote newsroom with live connection to the newsroom computer system, plus phones, intercom, IFB, internet and file streaming.

Cost-effective Staffing
With legacy SNG systems, deploying the dish, finding the correct satellite on a spectrum monitor, peaking the dish, setting the polarity and establishing the signal with the satellite access center are all technical tasks that require the expertise of highly skilled operators – a group that is growing increasingly scarce. The ScheduLINK SNG Manager integration with cutting edge satellite equipment providers completely automates these tasks, enabling managers to maximize the usage of SNG vehicles because having specialized staff is no longer a limitation. With the truck taking care of itself, the crew in the field is freed up to concentrate on reporting the news.

Comprehensive Broadcast Management for Entire Facility
SNG is the exciting and challenging front line of broadcast operations, but ScheduLINK brings its industry-standard foundation in facility management to the entire operation. Comprehensive scheduling and operations management end-to-end – from initial scheduling, including web-based booking and request tools for customers; through operations management and external system interfaces; to final billing, external cost reconciliation and extensive reporting.

Visual Transmission Path Management
ScheduLINK’s transmission path management includes powerful bandwidth configuration and circuit visualization tools displaying all the elements of a feed in an intuitive, logical manner. ScheduLINK’s teleport package enables users to confidently book virtually any piece of equipment guiding them down a logic-based circuit flow that offers only the options applicable at each node.

For unique scenarios, schedulers can utilize ScheduLINK’s compatible resource filtering for intuitive guidance in building a transmission path step-by-step. For recurring scenarios, ScheduLINK provides circuit template tools allowing standard routes to be pre-built with prompted or automatic selection points that can be used for rapid scheduling and accelerated training cycles.

Multi-Parameter Conflict Checking
With its system-wide catalog of key technical information for satellite and terrestrial network configurations, ScheduLINK helps broadcasters manage complex scheduling evaluating each element for double bookings and technical mismatches.

ScheduLINK’s sophisticated logic checks for a variety of potential problems including availability restrictions, contract restrictions, equipment compatibility, single and dual-path polarity conflicts, digital/analog requirements, port restrictions, arc range limitations, minimum move and configuration time and required bandwidth capacity.

Information Access
To ensure that the entire operation from SNG to final content delivery runs as cost-effectively as possible, ScheduLINK provides dynamic business and financial management tools to facilitate cost center allocations, automated billing and external vendor cost calculations, multi-tiered cancellation structures, invoicing, contract management and detailed business analysis and reporting. ScheduLINK’s accounting tools easily interface with external ERP systems.

ScheduLINK is helping broadcasters move into the next era of satellite broadcasting with a comprehensive solution to the numerous challenges of bringing an SNG transmission online, guaranteeing success of the feed, and maximizing usage and effectiveness of costly SNG equipment, resources and staff.