The Evolution of Monitoring

The ATSC mandate of a June 2009 deadline to transition to digital television marked a turning point in the broadcast industry. While many new digital technologies began impacting station facilities in the 1990’s, by the 2000’s a wave of technological change had swept over the industry radically changing the way broadcast engineers and television stations operated. 

As U.S. broadcast stations transitioned to DTV they were facing dramatic changes including the ability to broadcast a mix of HD and SD channels in a single transport stream, the need to comply with new FCC regulations, and a media universe that included viewing content on portable devices like laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

To fully appreciate the extent to which broadcasting changed, one need only look at the history of monitoring, logging, and compliance. Broadcasters always wanted to document their over-the-air transmissions to prove they were in regulatory compliance. Prior to the digital era, this involved recording the signal onto VHS and storing countless videocassette boxes or DVDs on shelves.

Multichannel Challenges

Even though broadcasters only had to concern themselves with logging a single NTSC signal, videotape was a very inefficient and inadequate medium for this purpose. If an engineer wanted to locate a particular technical glitch on the videotape, there was no fast, easy way to find it. Locating it required shuttling back and forth through linear tape, and oftentimes, the technical quality of the video and audio would be inferior to what the viewers actually saw on their home TVs.

While broadcasters were recording channels in their transport streams as highly compressed, low-resolution proxies on hard drives, finding a particular video segment on hard drives was still not easy. Storage capacities were limited and costly, and digital media could not be easily shared with others at the station even when there was a local area network.

As the industry moved to multichannel DTV distribution, the workflow for monitoring and logging transmissions for a single channel on VHS or hard drives was cumbersome, time-consuming, and inefficient. So it was completely impractical to monitor and log multiple channels as well as metadata—such as closed captions, Program and System Information Protocol data (PSIP), picture identifier data (PID), and other VANC vertical ancillary data—embedded in the ATSC transport stream.

High Cost of Errors

The stakes became even higher when the FCC introduced new mandates—such as closed captioning on all English language programming by January 2006 and Spanish language programming by 2010—and failure to comply could result in hefty FCC fines.

New Solutions

By 2009, Digital Nirvana expanded its software business and entered the broadcast marketplace with a sophisticated broadcast monitoring, logging, and compliance solution called MonitorIQ. With its Web-based architecture, MonitorIQ was ready to meet industry demands for a more efficient, scalable, and integrated solution.

Available in four versions tailored to different broadcaster’s needs, MonitorIQ records from one to hundreds of off-air channels and can store up to 90 days worth of broadcasts. It also supports IP recording, , H.264, and a wide range of video and audio formats, including Dolby Plus and Dolby E.

Rather than shuttling through tapes and scrolling through linear video to find what they’re looking for, engineers can now quickly locate the desired point in the recorded transmission by searching on the date, keywords, closed caption text, advertising ID codes, and other metadata.

MonitorIQ has transcended broadcast monitoring by becoming a quality control system. When an error occurs during broadcast, such as if the audio is lost or closed captioning is absent, it alerts the operator and logs the event. The log provides a link to the high-resolution video so the engineer can evaluate exactly what the viewer saw and heard. If an audio channel dropped out, it’s possible to listen to each of the audio channels separately, including any of the audio channels associated with Dolby Surround Sound.

Commercial Solution

If an advertiser indicates that a scheduled commercial did not run properly or as planned, the station’s traffic manager can access MonitorIQ via its Web-based interface and see first-hand what exactly happened. Since the station must typically run a make-good to compensate the advertiser, it’s vital to accurately log all instances where the ad ran and determine what went wrong.

By the fall of 2011, Digital Nirvana further expanded MonitorIQ to support integrated loudness monitoring and logging so that broadcasters could better comply with yet another new legal regulation, the U.S. CALM Act, as well as ATSC A/85, which triggers fines for airing commercials and other programming that exceed specified loudness standards. Loudness is an international concern as European broadcasters must comply with a wide range of ITU/EBU loudness standards.

In March of 2012, Digital Nirvana added Nielsen NAVE II Watermark decoding and detection of the watermark in the stream. If the watermark is missing, it can adversely impact ratings for a particular show. Since Nielsen TV ratings are the basis for setting advertising rates, a missing watermark could potentially hurt the station’s revenues and bottom line, especially if it goes undetected for some time.

Digital Nirvana also added an Apple iPad interface enabling more convenient remote broadcast monitoring using the increasingly ubiquitous tablets. A station’s advertising representatives can also use an iPad to access programming and advertising information during sales calls with advertising clients. If there is no Internet connection at the client site, the ad rep can play a half-hour’s worth of media downloaded in advance onto the iPad, such as a new sitcom, to entice the advertiser to buy time on the show.

Planning for the Unforeseen

While Digital Nirvana has expanded MonitorIQ to interface with third-party mission critical systems in the broadcast chain, such as Evertz routers and multiviewer displays, there was no way to anticipate all of the ways today’s broadcasters might want to use or interact with the system. For this reason, in March 2012, MonitorIQ made REST-based APIs available so that MonitorIQ users could customize the interface according to their own unique requirements.

MonitorIQ was designed from the ground-up to be extensible and responsive to the changing needs of broadcasters whatever those needs might be. For example, MonitorIQ’s high-quality broadcast recordings enable users to quickly repurpose the video content into edited clips for posting on their websites. Broadcasters can also use MonitorIQ to record live broadcasts of other stations, networks, and channels, and then extract newsworthy video clips for use in their own news and sports shows.

The reality is that broadcasters are dealing with new needs, mandates, and applications that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago. And the pace of innovation is accelerating. So any broadcast logging, monitoring, and compliance platform must be resilient enough to meet whatever technological challenges arise as the marketplace evolves.