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Starz shrinks kit, expands capability with Omnibus

Starz Entertainment has migrated its entire automation and playback operation to the OmniBus iTX broadcast automation and playout platform, shrinking kit footprint from 44 racks to 16.

Starz Entertainment has migrated its entire automation and playback operation to the OmniBus iTX broadcast automation and playout platform, shrinking kit footprint from 44 racks to 16 along the way.

iTX now provides an integrated, software-based playout solution for Starz’ complete lineup of 29 SD and 11 HD premium movie channels, as well as an additional 22 channels at its off-site disaster recovery site.

“As an early adopter of the OmniBus Colossus automation system, we have had a successful relationship with OmniBus going back at least a decade, so the decision to choose iTX as our software-based migration platform was a straightforward one,” said Ray Milius, senior vice president of programming operations for Starz Entertainment. “Besides offering a high level of redundancy for our playout chains, iTX’s ability to reduce the hardware footprint and error potential of multiple complex systems is a significant advantage to our operation. And, by providing a single IT-based storage repository that can be leveraged across multiple channels and products, iTX enables us to dynamically map video, multiple audio tracks, captioning, and ratings data, providing greater flexibility and reducing our storage requirements.”

Operational since the end of June, Starz’s new iTX installation is the centrepiece of an ambitious project to migrate to software-based server technologies at the company’s operations facility in Englewood, Colorado. Starz sought to reduce costs and complexity in its infrastructure by replacing ageing hardware-based equipment with software solutions running on standard IT servers. Within each transmission chain, the iTX software replaces traditional broadcast equipment — including video servers, graphics systems and audio encoders from a variety of manufacturers — shrinking the equipment footprint from 44 racks to only 16. Not only are energy costs lower, but fewer integration points between hardware systems result in fewer potential failure points. In addition, iTX delivers a high level of redundancy for each channel by providing a primary playout chain backed up by a secondary playout chain with the same functionality.

Using the standard iTX developer’s kit, project developers created a three-way integration of iTX with Starz’s in-house ingest/asset management and custom scheduling/traffic systems. iTX handles playout of all video content, as well as graphics and interstitial components to create a single integrated workflow. “We place heavy demands on our automation system, and our programming is characterised by robust branding and graphics embedded in complex interstitials. By combining multiple functions, such as effects, within a single server, iTX is a much more efficient and reliable solution,” added Milius. “In fact, iTX has enabled us to add channels and preserve a very cost-effective, ‘lean and mean’ playout operation with only two operators and one supervisor monitoring playout for all 45 of our channels.”

“Starz Entertainment is one of the pioneers of highly automated multichannel playout; in fact, when it adopted our Colossus automation system in the mid-’90s, Starz was one of the largest operations in the world to use the technology,” said Mike Oldham, OmniBus Systems’ CEO. “And now, with the adoption of iTX, Starz is showing the way again by providing a perfect use case for a software-based transmission platform that can meet the complex requirements of any large-scale, multichannel operation.”