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Making a mark with SCTE

Posted on Jul 20, 2022 by FEED Staff

The SCTE protocol is typically used as a flag for ad breaks. But with the right control systems in place, it can be a lot more

During the pandemic, broadcasters needed to keep control of essential workflows, like newsroom automation, playout, scheduling of events and device control – but they needed to do it remotely. TSL’s Flex, a distributed network of device nodes consisting of a network control processor, button panels to trigger commands and data conversion solutions, allows them to securely keep services running with minimal on-site staff.

“Operators could sit at home with any of our range of control panels and command their facility remotely,” explains Ian Godfrey, president of TSL and head of control systems.

One of the most important applications of this remote set-up was the effective control and managing of SCTE-35 markers. SCTE (pronounce it ‘scutty’ to sound like an insider) markers are a standard created by ANSI and the Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers (thus the name), establishing how to put time-stamped markers in a broadcast transport stream to signal where advertising breaks begin and end. The standard has expanded beyond its original ad marker remit. SCTE replaces the DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) signalling system, which was based on the old touch tone phone system. Older TV watchers may remember occasionally hearing a rapid trill of touch tones before eighties TV ad breaks, when a transition wasn’t as smooth as planned.

A SIMPLE TOUCH Control units are versatile, able to manage a host of operations

“SCTE is used to insert triggers or metadata within media, so that downstream devices can act upon that information. The common use case is for when to go to ads – and when not to,” says Godfrey. “But we’ve seen customers put in a personwho watches the live action, using one of our control surfaces to manage the insertion of SCTE markers. Another application is for video on demand, to insert metadata that marks where key moments are, or when a timeout is called. The SCTE markers can then downstream trigger playout and automation, to roll a break or commercial at a time that doesn’t interrupt the action.”

One of the other utilisations for SCTE is an ability to take incoming feeds that contain SCTE markers, and then parse out those commands to trigger certain actions – which might include playout content for a particular local region. TSL helped a major US broadcaster use SCTE in order to message affiliates.

“They had unique requirements, where they had to repeat the SCTE message at frequent rates,” recalls Mark Kozlen, product owner for control. “It was essentially a connectivity test to ping out to their affiliates, so they would stay in sync with them. But rather than having to programme their automation system to send that signal again and again, every couple of seconds, they sent it to one of our units. Here, it was stored and repeated every few seconds, and injected out into the signal.”

We even once used SCTE to control a coffee pot

TSL tech was able to control the input of the SCTE markers based on provided rulesets too, blocking some not intended for wider reception or manipulating them in-path according to predetermined requirements. Inserting these markers allows the network to switch to the main feed, in the case of breaking news for example, without requiring any control at the local affiliate.

Sports leagues have sought out TSL for better SCTE control, too. One league needed to instal a better system across their 30-plus stadiums, to improve the roll in and roll out of breaks.

“The easiest solution for them was to add our GTP-32 to the machine room in each of their stadiums, plus a USP desktop control panel,” says Kozlen. “This allowed an operator in the arena to easily tag when to break for commercial.”

With the proper controls in place, SCTE becomes a means of controlling and triggering a host of operations.

“They used a marker that wasn’t in their system normally,” he continues. “Every time that marker was sent, our system would pick it up before activating or shutting down the keyer for a certain channel. Because you’ve already got SCTE within your videos, you can take it downstream, extract it out and do anything you want with it. At NAB, we even once used SCTE to control a coffee pot.”

This article first featured in the summer 2022 issue of FEED magazine.

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