SVG Europe Sit-Down: Pebble Beach Systems’ Tom Gittins provides insight into the company’s latest playout directions

Tom Gittins, CCO, Pebble Beach Systems

Pebble Beach Systems’ automation solutions are highly configurable and are designed around a modular and scalable architecture. They are ideally suited to multi-channel playout as well as high pressure live programming environments such as news or sports.

In addition, Pebble Beach Systems offers interfaces to legacy equipment and also support new formats and technologies such as IP delivery and interactive television. Chief Commercial Officer, Tom Gittins tells us more about all of the latest developments…

Pebble Beach Systems is well-known as a key vendor within the playout space, but can you tell me how you solve the challenges that broadcasting live sports raises?

That’s right. We have a huge number of channels on air across a wide range of installs internationally, and for many of these broadcasters it would be fair to say that it’s live programming and specifically sports content which is driving their revenues. With such high value programme content, it’s worth going back to first principles and emphasising that, as automation specialists, Pebble’s focus is on actually keeping channels on air by minimising the opportunity for operator error. [This is particularly pertinent] when schedules need to respond to unpredictable content. [We also provide] flexible redundancy options to guard against any single point of failure in the playout chain. Reliability and agility are key.

Many of our customers carry sports programming along with other content in a multi-channel environment, so for them it makes sense to deploy a single overarching control layer which can handle multiple channel types – from the fast-moving highly reactive programming with late-breaking changes that is typical with sports applications, to the more clip-based static schedules which make up the balance of the channel offering. In this scenario each channel will have different devices in the playout chain from best-of-breed discrete devices for the high value channels, to integrated channel technology for the more static ones, and any combination of the above! Pebble’s Marina automation layer is designed to cope with this variety and present a single, unified control layer to the operator, regardless of the technology each channel deploys.

So, are there any specifics you would share with us? 

Aside from offering close integration with, and control of, specialist sports-focused solutions such as those offered by EVS, we have developed a range of features to help sports broadcasters with their workflows.

Specifically, our Playlists have features designed to allow operators to deal with the demands of live sports channels. The ability to make fast edits close to on air, to handle sports events that may over or underrun and for the playlist to retain its integrity all add to Marina’s sports playout credentials. Furthermore, scratchpad or standby events can quickly compensate and allow schedules to be maintained, and automatic filler events will help operators bridge gaps that may be created in the playlist. And the customisable Smart Panel enables frequently used features to be isolated onto an on-screen panel with dedicated buttons, for example, to provide manual control of secondary events.

Marina’s ability to manage ‘Master/Slave’ playlists allows localised or platform-specific commercial breaks to be inserted. Live events being recorded will automatically update placeholder durations in the playlist as soon as their true duration is available, and secondary records allow ‘pass through’ live events to be captured frame accurately ready for retransmission.

And can you cite any sports broadcasters who are currently using your solutions?

There are numerous installs, for example Marina controls all seven sports channels at Al Kass in Qatar. Here, to guarantee uninterrupted on-air operations during live events, Marina has live feed redundancy, with the ability to select and configure main and backup router sources. The system also allows operators to change the duration of events whilst they are on air to cope with late changes.

At beIN SPORTS Marina automates the playout of 30 channels and controls a workflow which optimises the efficiency of media storage. When recording live sports, it stores the clean feed and the associated graphics as two separate files. This offers beIN SPORTS a far more efficient way of utilising server space than the more common workflow which would store both the clean feed, plus the feed with graphics. Marina can simply retrieve the significantly smaller graphics file – for example, the event clock and scoreline – and match it up with the clean feed for subsequent replay or editing as required.

Deployments at European sports broadcasters also include beIN France, Fox Sports Eredivisie in the Netherlands, MTG Sport in Sweden, and IMG in the UK.

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