Regionalized/Time shifted Playout, Affiliate Distribution, RSNs, and Player Entitlements

Managing a broadcast network at scale is a difficult task even for the most knowledgeable broadcaster. One of your biggest challenges is efficiently and economically creating your live channel without having to invest in unnecessary infrastructure. This is especially true if your channel requires significant time shifting or regionalization. Add in requirements for Regional Sports Networks (RSNs), Local Affiliates, time shifted channel playout, the transition from satellite distribution to IP, TV Everywhere (TVE)/Over The Top (OTT) and you’ve got a handful. 

To understand the issues and approach to streamlining operations for a Regional Broadcast Network, we will use the example of a large media company that functions as a broadcaster, content owner, group manager of affiliates and RSN came to Comcast Technology Solutions (CTS) with four key challenges: 

  1. Regionalized Time Shifted Playout - Streamline their playout chain so that they could efficiently create and distribute their highly regionalized and time shifted channels to their affiliate partners. 
  2. Distribution - Enable rules based, program level rights management on behalf of their affiliate channel network for downstream vMVPD and MVPD distribution. This includes web embargos, fast forward and rewind, and start over and look back rights. 
  3. RSN Workflow - Enable automated management of blackout and content switching on behalf of their vast Regional Sports Networks for downstream vMVPD and MVPD distribution.  
  4. Player Entitlements - Enable program, schedule, and sports entitlement rules for internal TVE and OTT based applications. 

Given these requirements, CTS determined the most efficient way to tackle these challenges and manage them at scale was to use SCTE-224 as the basis for communication within the video supply chain for decisioning. The SCTE-224 standard is an Event Schedule Notification Interface (ESNI) standard that lets you apply rules needed to control content access. It’s different than DRM in that DRM is typically applied at the channel level whereas SCTE-224 applies rules at a more granular program and audience device level 

While SCTE-224 provides a common system-wide protocol and communication mechanism, it is only part of the equation. You also need the system in place that can make and apply the video switching and rules decisions based on the inputs provided by SCTE-224, which is ultimately connected to the video through the in-band SCTE-35 triggers. The combination of these two ensure the required decisions can be applied to video automatically and frame accurately, creating a seamless viewing experience. 

HOW SCTE-224 SOLVES THESE CHALLENGES

We will now look at each of the 4 challenges outlined above in turn to see how SCTE-224 was applied and solved the broadcaster’s requirements. The CTS approach uses software running in the public cloud, which enables on demand processing and global availability via web browser. As a result, it is easy to access and make updates that roll out to the entire system immediately. 

Regionalized Time Shifted Playout 

The first task is to ingest the broadcaster’s data used to create their schedule and convert the information into SCTE-224 using our cloud framework. We do this on a per event, show, and station basis. From there the revamped schedule is sent out in a 224 format and encoders are notified of the start and end times of each program so they can insert the SCTE-35 into the video streams. Now that the system is flowing with the SCTE-224 and SCTE-35 data, the rules and policies are applied to create the contribution playout channel for each affiliate station. Each station will receive a customized auto-generated series of events that is driven by the 224 decisioning which is automatically switching the video to the appropriate content based on these decisions. 

Distribution 

After the Affiliates have received their automated regionalized playout from the cloud control system, they can populate it with additional local programs to create their 24-hour playout chain. This updated schedule is ingested into the cloud control system to create an SCTE-224 output along with various rules, policies, and audience data that are appropriate for the content. However, this time instead of creating the internal playout channel, the SCTE-224 system is used to identify which programs are restricted by web embargo, start over and look back for external distribution to vMVPDs and MVPDs.  

RSN Workflow 

For RSNs, through aggregation of the source, audience, mapping, schedule, and signal data, the system creates the SCTE-224 data flow. In this case, the audience and policy rules are based on requirements for each individual game, location, league, and operator.  Based on the alignment of these rules, game content is blacked out or replaced for specific operators in various regions all managed by the cloud control system which saves the broadcaster significant time, money, and opportunity cost when managing their system as well as creating a clean user experience for the viewer. 

Player Entitlements 

Managing player entitlements makes use on an existing SCTE-224 system and converts the data into a usable format to provide Entitlement information for various uses cases for the Programmer’s internal player workflow. The case of a RSN, this is based on the user’s location, MVPD, device and team information. For example, the system identifies what region-specific team a user is eligible to watch and their associated blackout rules along with which scheduled program is restricted/un-restricted for a specific device, channel or brand before enabling the user to stream that content. 

ENABLING WORKFLOWS WITH COMCAST TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS

Comcast Technology Solutions is uniquely positioned to enable regionalized time shifted playout, distribution, RSNs and player entitlement functionality by leveraging our Linear Rights Management (LRM) solution. Our product is provided as a SaaS (Software as a Service), running in the public cloud, minimizing the need for physical hardware, and making it quick to start using and implementing. We normalize all sources that will drive our customers systems to a standard SCTE-224 format and then leverage a backend rules engine and decision manager to enable the switching of video content from a centralized control center. The system is designed with a sleek UI that enables operations personnel to track, audit, and make changes as necessary. We integrate seamlessly with your video stitching infrastructure or can provide that functionality as a service ourselves. As your needs change over time, it’s simple to make changes and roll them out immediately across your whole network.  

With Comcast Technology Solutions, you have a powerful and flexible way to implement regionalized and time-shifted playout, program level web embargos and start over/look back restrictions, sports blackouts, and program and user-based entitlement services that can be managed from anywhere with an internet connection.