With so many live events taking place in the UK in recent weeks, from the Coronation to Eurovision, it’s been a busy time for the teams ensuring viewers know what’s on when.
A channel’s electronic programme guide (EPG) is the easiest way for viewers to find out when the show they want to watch begins. But when a live event overruns, such as last year’s FA Cup Final, it’s up to the EPG team to ensure the correct schedule is available as soon as possible.
PA TV Metadata works with broadcasters in the UK and abroad, delivering bespoke content for EPGs, TV listings and VoD. TVBEurope spoke to TV metadata manager Paul Talbot about he importance of EPGs, and why they need to be updated as quickly as possible.
Why is it important for linear channel EPGs to be up to date?
It goes without saying that there’s an expectation from viewers that linear channel EPGs are correct. If they’ve made an appointment to view or record a certain programme, they will be expecting it to be available to them and understandably become annoyed if it isn’t. We also have a commitment to our customers to ensure that their channel’s EPG is always completely up to date as not only does it reflect badly on the channel themselves if it isn’t, but it can also negatively impact our relationship with our customers who place their absolute trust in us to get it right.
How quickly can an EPG be updated?
In most instances, we can update a schedule and have it live on an EPG within a matter of minutes – whether that’s just a small change to one event or wholesale changes to an entire day’s schedule. There are of course some caveats to that in terms of whether we need to create any new programmes or episodes and apply editorial steps or update series links, but in general the process is very quick.
How do you deal with a live event that might overrun meaning a schedule would be changed?
Our live events team monitor live events – whether that’s for the Football World Cup, live Britain’s Got Talent shows, or indeed even the King’s Coronation. For most circumstances, we have access to a number of different contingency schedules based on whatever permutation might play out e.g. if a football match goes to extra time, and once we’ve received a call from playout to confirm how they wish to proceed, we apply the correct contingency and send the updates out to all platforms.
Time is always of the essence in these situations as we’re always conscious that any viewer who’s recording the event on their set-top box could potentially miss a crucial aspect of an event if it’s not updated in time – who wants to miss a penalty shootout? Often the turnaround time we’re given to implement the update is short, but the team do an unbelievable job in always ensuring we get changes out on time.
When PA TV Metadata updates an EPG, how does that get to the viewers’ TV? Can you talk us through the process?
Once schedule changes are made and validated in our bespoke EPG management software, Pawa, a single trigger distributes all data direct to all platforms that require it. Each broadcast platform has their own unique file format and delivery method which are configured in our systems to ensure the platforms receive exactly what they require. The data we provide is ingested to the platforms’ systems and validated against their technical requirements and editorial specifications with any errors reported back to our systems to be addressed by our editors in real-time. The validation steps we perform ahead of delivery are key to this process to ensure that live, time-sensitive changes meet all the platform specifications and can flow straight through to viewers’ screens with no delay.
There’s a lot of talk about generative AI and its impact on the media tech industry at the moment, how could AI be employed to write or update EPGs?
We’re always looking at technology to assist our processes. And while AI tools are still very much in their infancy, there’s certainly scope for involving them in our workflows. In terms of having an AI writing EPG synopses, while it’s certainly possible for AI to produce a perfectly well-written synopsis, there’s still some work to do in terms of having what it produces meet each individual channels’ style and branding requirements as well as platform-specific requirements. I think the bigger likelihood in the EPG sphere is that AI will be utilised to automate schedule processing and we’ve already made some big strides in implementing this into our current processes.
How do you see EPGs evolving in the next few years?
I think the integration of video on EPGs will certainly become more prevalent over the next few years. It’s something we’ve already seen Netflix utilise on their EPG for a while where a short clip or trailer from a programme is made available to further help pique a viewer’s interest as they navigate through what they want to watch, but other streaming services and linear EPG platforms are yet to follow suit on this and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they do. We can also expect to see a continued ‘cross-pollination’ of content that integrates linear EPGs, VoD services and the emerging FAST channels more seamlessly to further improve content discovery for viewers.