The importance of playout automation in regional advertising

The importance of playout automation in regional advertising
by Manuel Brouard – Solutions Architect Manager, Pebble

Pebble seeks to support broadcasters and media companies in their transition into IP and a more flexible and competitive world. We have been designing, delivering, and supporting automation and playout solutions since 2000. In that time, we have succeeded in offering reliable, versatile, and innovative solutions of all scales and levels of complexity, earning our place as a preferred supplier to hundreds of broadcasters and media companies around the world.

Despite all the technical transitions the industry has gone through, some things remain constant. Regionalization and direct-to-consumer relationships in broadcast remain vital mechanisms for advertisers and brands to communicate to their customers. With large amounts of legacy infrastructure already in place for television distribution and consumption, our Solutions Architects most typically work to help our customers go through managed operational changes at their own pace, rather than undertaking wholesale technology renewals with each new technology or standard that emerges.

As a result, our solutions have so far supported everything from graphic-based cue insertion, DTMF tones, packet 31, SCTE based mechanisms through SDI and transport stream, at the same time as enabling transitions in the fundamental architecture from SDI to IP to cloud.

For any existing broadcasting organization, there are barriers to adopting new technologies and workflows. Consequently, we at Pebble leverage the expertise of our people to help customers find a solution that works for them through difficult transitions, and that includes increasing the role of automation where it comes to advertising, local opt-out, and the regionalization mechanisms that can have such a massive effect on income streams and consumer satisfaction.

Linear Broadcast remains stable

It is a natural desire of advertisers and consumers to have suitable advertising targeted at a high granularity level. The consequence of this should be that effectiveness in advertising rises, hence the huge increase in digital advertising spends over the last decade. In other business models, for example, public service broadcasting or multi-lingual/multi-region broadcasting, program management can use a similar mechanism albeit on a regional or sub-regional basis.

By implementing the Society for Cable Television Engineers standards such as SCTE-104, 30, and 35, Pebble has continued to develop mechanisms to assist our customers in their service improvements and will continue to evolve solutions to benefit the journey of our customers into the public cloud.

Useful in a variety of ways, these in-band triggers allow program replacement, commercial insertion, content identification, and even EPG synchronization over complex multi-tier networks.

Furthermore, opportunities to control content distribution in FAST (Free Ad-Supported TV) and other environments continue to evolve with the introduction of standards like SMPTE 224. Ultimately these developments could lead to true personalization in linear broadcasting, however, the creation of control systems that work for all stakeholders will need to be very carefully considered if they are to be standardized and implemented worldwide. Here, we are discussing the critical role of playout automation systems in dynamic ad insertion workflows and regionalization of channels. Part of that process is to ensure broadcast channel originators have a sufficient degree of control over what is sent in-band over their network. Automation systems deployed by both primary (national) broadcasters and partner distributors (MVPDs) must provide sufficient flexibility in the way in-band information is originated and acted upon.

An implementation example

This is a deliberately complex example diagram and seeks to illustrate the multitude of uses of the suite of SCTE protocols available. Below we deal with each section in turn.


A national broadcaster with automation-based on-premises playout introducing SCTE 104 information in an SDI stream. That is then passed to the network encoders which create a transport stream including SCTE-35 messages to be used in downstream regions for different purposes.

REGION 1            

A region or MVPD partner which will receive those TS-based SCTE 35 messages and make IAB/VAST calls (Video Ad Serving Template created by the Interactive Advertising Board) to a dynamic ad inserter/splicer. In this case, we can imagine this region is substituting advertisements following the planned avails (opportunities for ad placement) from the national broadcaster’s traffic system.

REGION 2            

A second region which requires more local control for program replacement and advertisement sales. To enable this, additional capabilities are provided by SCTE-30 inputs via API to the local automation solution, allowing manipulation of the SCTE 104/35 information in their outgoing SDI and encoded streams. This is a more complex situation as Region 2 also has two sub-regions of its own, for example, two cities within the footprint of the Region 2 MVPD’s license area.

REGION 3                                           

The implementation detail of this playout and delivery system is different but the use of triggers is like the first two regions. In this case the region is an OTT and IP-based broadcaster, therefore uses a Pebble Virtualized Playout solution in a regional data center. This system however also receives the SCTE 35 information to enable local VAST calls to a backend digital advertisement server and uses a cloud-based splicer to make the compressed stream insertions.


The triggers could also be used in IP-capable set-top boxes, smart TVs or OTT players in tablets, phones, or PCs where calls to an ad server over the IP connection can insert replacement commercials at the household or individual level. There are multiple mechanisms for this, including server (the broadcaster or publisher) and client-side (the consumer device) insertions or replacements. Correspondingly there are specific workflows should a consumer be streaming a linear channel or piece of VOD content from an Origin server (manifest manipulation for example).

Playout Automation flexibility makes all the difference.

Pebble’s SCTE 104/30/35 component allows the Pebble Automation user to configure ‘Profiles’ which detail what messages will be sent and when. These messages are then inserted by a system downstream from the Automation system, such as Pebble’s virtualized Integrated Channel, third-party SCTE inserters, or encoding and multiplexing systems. The time that a message is sent can be configured in several ways. Rules-based profiles scan the playlist for events that meet a specific type of filter, whereas trigger-based profiles allow SCTE-104 messages to be sent via triggers scheduled in the playlist.

There are three types of rules-based filter:

  • Individual Event:
    this rule scans the list for individual events that match a specific event type, classification, and category. The start (and possibly end) times are then calculated using the start and end times of the scanned list event.
  • Block of Events:
    this rule scans the list for sequential blocks of events that match the event type, classification, and category. This is useful for when several events need to be encapsulated inside one SCTE-104 message (e.g., an entire ad break). The start is then taken as the start time of the first event in the block. The end time (if inherited) is taken as the end time of the last event in the block.
  • Event Start / Event End:
    this rule scans the list for two distinct events. The first event signals when the SCTE-104 message should start and the second event signals when it should end. This allows the user to configure a non-sequential block, for example, satisfying the requirement to signal program start and program end with ad breaks in the middle of each program segment.

Pebble recently announced a range of powerful new SCTE 104 insertion enhancements. More fields can now be extracted from the running playlist, and these may be in variable locations. This gives the user the flexibility to adapt to different workflows, playlist structures and location conventions (e.g., to make tighter integration with unique traffic systems). In addition, it is now possible to combine multiple fields e.g., two different playlist fields to form the data to be inserted into the SCTE 104 message together. These can be extracted from multiple locations and combined to a single data field in the SCTE message.

There is also enhanced functionality for inheriting data from the start message into the end message.  And finally, it is now possible to include interstitial events within an ad break or within a splice for an ad break. This allows for complex scheduling use cases where maybe an interstitial event is included within a marked break, but that event is triggered independently to allow for complex ad replacement workflows.

Taking advantage of Pebble Automation advertising and regionalization support

As an example of real-world deployments of SCTE triggers, Pebble has recently assisted customers to take advantage of the published standards for segmented TV in France. After the SNPTV (National Organization of TV Advertisement) and AFMM (French Association for the development of services and usage Multimedia Multi-Operators) released their guidance on how to implement SCTE markers in France, Pebble was able to use its implementations in Pebble Playout Solutions to support several specific functions. Without the key role of regulators to enable such nationwide standardization, such coordination across the variety of delivery networks used by leading broadcasters would not be possible. In addition, Pebble was able to implement specificity for the network in the form of markers to enable in-commercial break returns to breaking live news, something quite unusual in FAST channels where commercials normally take priority.

The future of linear television advertising

The draw and value of content platforms for advertising will continue. Interactivity and data-capable devices mean that content-aware advertising is possible, although it remains difficult to implement. Automation for delivery will be central to that logical chain, so the importance of coordination solutions for advertisers will continue to evolve. Development to allow a greater degree of personalization in FAST continues, so Pebble solutions will keep pace with future technology changes. The peaceful coexistence of linear and VOD will continue to evolve as will the changes in relationships between consumers, media companies, and broadcasters. At the heart of all these dynamic systems will be what Pebble specializes in — and that is automation.

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