Gregg Antworth first worked as a general technician (camera, editing, directing) at cable television companies in New Brunswick and Ontario before joining CBC Halifax in 1984 as a casual technician, performing various jobs like Master Control Operator, Telecine Technician, and Editor. In 1986, he was promoted to full-time staff and has held several positions since then: ENG Editor; Senior Production Editor & Technical Instructor; Supervisor of Post Production Services & Technical Support Services; and Manager, Technical Operations. In 2006, Gregg transferred to CBC Toronto to become Manager, Video Post Production, and lead the Toronto Production Centre High-Definition Conversion project. In 2007, Gregg was promoted to Senior Manager, Post Production & Graphic Design.
Pierre Lemieux’s career started off in Montreal, as a Post-production technician for La Sette, Vision Globale, and Pixcom during the 1990s. Following that, he was part of the team that launched Global Montreal in 1997, where he filled a variety of technical positions prior to being promoted to Production Coordinator. He was recruited by BCE/Téléglobe in 2000 to fill the position of Technical Officer, Broadcast Centre, where he expanded his network of international clients, such as CNN, the BBC, and NHK, amongst others. Pierre joined Radio-Canada Montréal in 2001 as a Production Assistant (Resources Desk) within the News department, and then became Assistant Director. He was promoted to Technical Director, Post-production, in 2005, went onto become Senior Advisor and Coordinator, Post-production, in 2007, and became Director, Post-production & Closed Captioning Services, in 2009.
The File-based Workflow project currently being undertaken at CBC/Radio-Canada is revolutionary, in the sense that it is a large change management project that affects the way in which our media operations employees do their jobs, the tools that they use, and the workflows that they follow. It simplifies their lives, adds value to our operations, and minimises costs for the Canadian taxpayer by making content more accessible throughout the Corporation and the variety of media platforms that we use.
Prior to the implementation of File-based Workflow, when content was produced, multiple videotape copies needed to be made to allow that content to be distributed, edited, screened, and for any other number of purposes. That infrastructure was enough years ago, when CBC/Radio-Canada had only a radio platform, a television platform, and a small Internet platform; however, times have changed. Today, we distribute our content on upwards of forty different platforms, including the traditional ones as well as Tou.tv, smartphones, tablets, Netflix, and iTunes, amongst others. As such, a new infrastructure and workflows had to be created to make content accessible across all platforms with a minimal amount of effort duplication, and File-based Workflow has allowed CBC/Radio-Canada to do that, all whilst reducing production costs in the process.
The goal of this article is to give you an overview of what File-based Workflow has meant for CBC/Radio-Canada’s English Services, what it is coming to mean to its French Services, and how the French and English Services are cooperating with each other to ensure maximum added value and efficiency.
Within the English Television Network, File-based Workflow was officially implemented in September 2006, starting with Air Farce and the Rick Mercer Report. In the time that has gone by since then, our physical infrastructure has been reduced substantially thanks to a very significant reduction in the amount of Video Tape Recorders (VTRs) and the infrastructure associated with them, i.e., routers, patch fields, racks, and the like. Racks have been eliminated from all Edit Suites, and only a handful of VTRs are left to deal with contingencies that might arise. As a result of all this, power usage within the Post-production & Design department is down, the department’s physical layout has been reduced by approximately 16,000 square feet, and tons of electronic waste were sent to Barrie, ON to be recycled.
Content ingestion now takes place within English TV Network’s Media Conversion Centre, where the workstations that perform the content ingestion, either live from the studios or from other sources, are located. Due to the multiplicity of devices being used to create content nowadays, the main challenge in the context of content ingestion lies in supporting the wide variety of formats in which the content might be presented. Given the constant evolution in the use of file formats and the rate at which technology develops, it is impossible to predict what the “next big thing” might be; as such, it is our responsibility to be agile, flexible, and prepared for new kinds of physical media and codecs at all times. Fortunately, the technological infrastructure of the Media Conversion Centre allows cost-effective, off-the-shelf additions to be made in order to handle format changes.
More than just flexibility, content ingestion through the Media Conversion Centre provides another key benefit when compared to CBC/Radio-Canada’s old, VTR-based infrastructure: time. During the ingest process, transfer is seamless and virtually instant, just as long as we know the format of what is being ingested. At this point, most of the content is shot in XDCAM 50 and we find that it is an eminently suitable acquisition format for CBC/Radio-Canada’s needs.
Once content has been ingested, it resides on two large Avid ISIS servers in Toronto, one for news and another for non-news content, where content is accessible to anyone who has a username and password, as well as rights to the content, given that content protection is a vital part of File-based Workflow. E.g., when dealing with investigative programming, like The Fifth Estate, the importance of protecting the content from outside access cannot be overstated. Content on the servers is then accessible from any CBC/Radio-Canada location through our Next Generation Converged Network (NGCN).
The biggest challenge that we are facing right now is implementation of Web-based content browsing using the Interplay Central software, which will allow content producers to access their content wherever they might have an Internet connection together with their laptop or even an iDevice. It allows them to watch their content, make notes in real-time on the server, and an editor to receive those notes and apply changes to the content almost simultaneously. The process is seamless, and the beta version of the software is currently in operation in Edmonton, Rimouski, and Montreal; the tool is extremely easy to use and requires only minimal training for its operators.
A point that cannot be emphasised enough when dealing with File-based Workflow is that, contrary to many other Corporation-wide projects, infrastructure does not take the spotlight above all else, as it is fairly straightforward; the true complexity in a project of this type is really change management.
A project of this nature involves a plethora of changes in the way in which our people carry out their job functions, which is not the easiest thing to do when they have followed the same processes for decades and, suddenly, their VTRs are being taken away and they are no longer allowed to work with videotapes, but are encouraged to go to their office, log on, and watch their content on their computer.
Overcoming a resistance to change can be challenging at first, but we have now had enough experience over the last six years to answer any questions that users might have; so, rather than viewing issues as obstacles, producers can easily come to us, tell us about their issues, and we can provide cost-effective solutions for them, as they often consist of nothing more than a specific cable or some software.
Once implementation, infrastrcture, and change management have been handled, it essentially becomes a matter of refining the workflow in sync with the French Services as they do their implementation and the technology continues to evolve.
File-based Workflow has taken a different path within the French Television Network, given the gamut of productions handled by the French Services. Tapeless production was introduced almost six years ago, but there were differences on the end-studio, post-production, and presentation booth levels. Many different “islands” of production exist, and the thrust of the migration to File-Based Workflow on the French side of CBC/Radio-Canada’s productions lies in connecting all of these “islands” together. Five main groups of productions make up these islands: News, Current Affairs, Studio Shows, Auto-promotion, and Presentation. Each one of these groups is tapeless and uses the system according to its own needs, but we found that, even if the workflow was tapeless between the studio and post-production, a tape was still necessary to present content or to send it from one “island” to another. We realised that it was not just a matter of linking the studios and Electronic Field Producing (EFP) to Post-Production, but that it was a matter of taking a more global view. Fortunately, we were able to apply solutions that already existed within our newsgathering operations and on the English Services side.
We took a global view, we knew that our servers were already linked to each other, so it became a matter of developing a vision, determining what we would use in our main workflow, the business rules that would be applied, and the form that the nomenclature would take from one end of the process to the other. Business analysis was undertaken, and conclusions were reached as to the cost of the current workflow in comparison to a fully tapeless workflow, and the cost-efficiencies were significant enough to justify embarking upon a project of this size. Given all of the above, the French Services have a vision, a schedule, and milestones. The first of those milestones involved eliminating tape in the studios and connecting them to Avid in post-production; this has been achieved. The second milestone involves, just as on the English side, the integration of the Interplay Central application into our workflow, which will occur in the first quarter of 2013. Following that, the French Services will be digitally connected to Presentation in the spring of 2013, and our cameras in the field will be replaced in 2014 to complete our standardisation process.
Interplay is proving to already be a tremendous help in making the content not only accessible but secure. Essentially, Interplay provides the intelligence that powers our Avid server and connects all the parts together. It powers the edit suites and the connection between edit suites; it supplies the media into the edit suites; it keeps track of where the media is and where it is going; it transforms it from one format to another, and even sends it to Front Porch, the intermediary that communicates with our archive server.
As we reach our full implementation of Interplay Central, we are already seeing the financial benefits, and we have calculated that, once we eliminate the last parts of our current workflow that require tape use, we expect to have a full return on investment (ROI) within three years of implementation. This ROI is not only reflected in cost-related efficiency, but also in the timely and democratic acces to our content given to the producers, directors, or journalists (amongst others) who desire to pre-edit their content prior to going into the edit suite to craft it.
Just as on the English Services side, the main challenge when dealing with File-based Workflow is more a matter of change management than anything else. A steering committee that represents the major groups within the Productions department is leading the way in building the bridges that will connect the various “islands” involved in this project.
We are fortunate in that we have all the know-how necessary within CBC/Radio-Canada, and we are able to get exactly what we need from our vendors, even in spite of the fact that the level of integration featured within the Corporation is only rarely encountered within a typical broadcaster. The process of change management involves managing to get everyone on the same page. It is less challenging than it was early on for our people; however, now that they are used to the technologies, not only is everything more efficient, but it is more democratic as well.
The fact that we were able to present tangible results from the French newsroom, which has been tapeless since 2001, as well as the English Services’ implementation of File-based Workflow to our people gave us an edge in being able to secure their help in making the transition smoother. After all, the process of change management is that much more seamless when employees can see its benefits and are eager to embrace the change.
Cooperation Within CBC/Radio-Canada
The French Services had the advantage of having a fully operational File-Based Workflow model available to them in the French newsroom, as well as within CBC/Radio-Canada’s English Services, and were fortunate to be able to learn from the challenges that were overcome during their implementation.
Ultimately, the process will bring the English and French Services in sync with each other insofar as their handling of content and accessibility throughout the Corporation are concerned, the only difference that will arise in terms of workflow will be due to the greater number of in-house variety productions that are featured on CBC/Radio-Canada’s French TV Network.
Metadata & Archiving
The combination of adopting a fully tapeless File-based Workflow together with the boost in content production due to multi-platform distribution facilitates the immediate archiving of content for its immediate use or use at a later date, which does bring long-term cost-efficiencies of its own, but also the added challenge of defining content metadata to allow for easy retrieval further down the line.
In the interest of facilitating this process, CBC/Radio-Canada has established a committee that is looking to define how the Corporation will deal with metadata. We are fully aware of how we create content and the route it will be taking through our system, but we have to control that quality and metadata that come with it. As such, one of our process changes involves placing the archivists at the beginning of the process, so that they may assign the right metadata to content from the very start.
Ultimately, archivists are the people best equipped to describe content when it is being ingested into the system, and additional challenges arise from Canada’s linguistic landscape. Content is of little value if it cannot be retrieved and used when it is necessary; therefore, standardisation is necessary to ensure that metadata is in appropriate fields associated with the content, and that the entries in those fields are consistent, regardless of their language.
The challenge extends even further beyond that due to the distribution of our content onto the Internet as well. The Web has specific metadata needs in order to notify website content, update databases, and the like.
As of right now, CBC/Radio-Canada has a vision of the importance of metadata and how it will be handled. This vision is already starting to be applied, and will be reflected fully within the context of our upcoming Media Asset Management (MAM) solution.
CBC/Radio-Canada has chosen to embrace File-based Workflow throughout the Corporation’s Television and Digital operations in the interest of increasing economic efficiency, making content accessible across a variety of platforms, as well as simplifying its distribution and archiving.
Ultimately, there were many good reasons to embark upon this path; beyond just eliminating tapes, it was a matter of changing the way in which we do things as a Corporation. Many reasons have driven – and continue to drive – that change, but the main one lies in optimising our processes to allow us to invest the Canadian taxpayers’ money in what adds value to our programming, and giving more access to content generates a different working dynamic within CBC/Radio-Canada as well. Thanks to File-based Workflow, we are able to reduce the post-production costs of our programming by 20 to 30% per show, and we are able to reinvest that into what matters most to Canadians: our programming.