- François Legrand Senior Project Manager, Transformation Unit of CBC/Radio-Canada
- Helène Michaud Manager, Media Support, Special Projects
- Jonathan Jobin Systems Designer, Media Engineering
Over the course of the last few years, a series of new technological implementations sponsored by CBC/Radio-Canada's Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has been carried out within the Corporation and they have given CBC/Radio-Canada the tools necessary to substantially improve the quality and timeliness of its local news coverage and programming, especially in regions distant from the Corporation's major production centres.
One of the technological implementations referenced above is CBC/Radio-Canada's Next Generation Converged Network (NGCN) , and the purpose of this article is to describe how the NGCN, tapeless workflows, and a series of other revolutionary tools have allowed the Corporation to connect its regional television and radio stations together in Eastern Quebec, and centralise its newsgathering and local production activities within the context of Radio-Canada Est du Québec.
Figure 1 – CBC/Radio-Canada Stations & News Bureaus in Eastern Quebec
As with a variety of situations in Canada, geography and distance create a distinct challenge, especially when trying to provide improved local news coverage and programming in remote regions in an efficient and cost-effective manner. In this case, the challenge was to provide Eastern Quebec with the production facilities necessary to handle the content being generated by a series of regional stations; to provide those stations with a central repository for the content that they generate, as well as the tools necessary to deliver, access, and post-produce their content immediately; and, amongst other programming and content production possibilities, allow local newscasts to be produced entirely within Eastern Quebec, rather than in Quebec City, which used to be the nearest centre with the appropriate facilities to handle such a task.
Radio-Canada Est du Québec brings all of CBC/Radio-Canada's stations and news bureaus in Eastern Quebec together under a common infrastructure, which is remarkable, considering that the locations involved are the news bureaus in Baie-Comeau (92 KM from Rimouski), Carleton-sur-Mer (176 KM from Rimouski), and Gaspé (300 KM from Rimouski), as well as the stations in Matane (86 KM from Rimouski), Rimouski (273 KM from Quebec City), and Sept-Îles (250 KM from Rimouski).
Under the Corporation's old infrastructure and workflows, obtaining material from these stations for a local newscast produced in Quebec City every evening in a timely fashion was either impossible due to time and distance constraints or extremely costly, as a content transfer would require the rental of a satellite feed and a series of telephone calls to coordinate with the station in Quebec City and ensure that someone would be available to receive and record the satellite feed. In cases in which content did not require that degree of priority, the most cost-effective method of content delivery would involve putting a videocassette on a bus to Quebec City, which would then leave content at the mercy of a variety of external factors, such as the weather, the time of day at which the news story broke, and even others as mundane as traffic or the bus schedule itself. As you might well imagine, this creates serious issues when dealing with time-sensitive news content. To add to the confusion inherent in these arrangements at the time, CBC/Radio-Canada leased unidirectional video links from Carleton-sur-Mer and Gaspé to Matane, and from Baie-Comeau to Sept-Îles, which gave these stations the ability to send content to Quebec City, but not to receive any in return; as such, in these cases, content sharing downstream from Quebec City had to be ensured through the physical transportation of cassettes between the sites.
One of the main impulses behind the creation of CBC/Radio-Canada's NGCN was the specific desire to allow the content generated by the Corporation's journalists and production teams to be immediately available and easily distributed throughout the Corporation, even in its most distant outposts. Consequently, once the locations mentioned above were linked through the NGCN, producing daily television newscasts from the Maison de Radio-Canada de l'Est du Québec became a realistic possibility.
Figure 2 – Maison de Radio-Canada, Est du Québec, in Rimouski
A decision was taken to centralise all productions in Rimouski, following the example set at the stations in Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke, and Saguenay. Three camera crews are based in Rimouski, but another nine are in the other cities belonging to the Est du Québec network in the interest of ensuring extensive coverage throughout the region. The network's production file server may be located in Rimouski, but the bulk of the content acquisition and production activities takes place outside of Rimouski (remotely).
Infrastructure & Workflow
Insofar as the infrastructure is concerned, most of the stations and news bureaus have a fairly limited set of tools and people on-site: an editing room (albeit only in Matane and Sept-Îles), a small set for live on-air appearances, and a given number of cameramen and videojournalists. Given the small size of some of the locations involved, the videojournalists have been trained to be able to operate entirely autonomously: they film, edit, and write the copy that accompanies their stories using little more than a MacBook Pro laptop computer and a Sony High Definition (HD) videocamera, following the example set out by CBC/Radio-Canada's world correspondants or by the journalists involved in Radio-Canada Rive Nord and Radio-Canada Rive Sud in the areas surrounding Montreal.
Figure 3 – Workflow of a Videojournalist Uploading Content to the Avid Server in Rimouski via the NGCN
Figure 4 – Workflow of a Cameraman/Editor Uploading Content to the Avid Server in Rimouski via the NGCN
What sets Radio-Canada Est du Québec apart from most of the Corporation at this point is that their workflow is entirely file-based, a direction that CBC/Radio-Canada has been moving toward over the course of the last few years. The only time a tape is ever involved in the process is when retriving previously archived material. Essentially, the workflow has been designed to allow videojournalists (see Figure 3 for details) and cameramen/editors (see Figure 4 for details) to go out into the field and shoot footage using their cameras. Once shooting has been completed, the content is uploaded and edited on the individual's laptop; once the story has been finalised, it can be uploaded to the Avid file server in Rimouski either through the NGCN or the Internet (see Figure 5), depending on what happens to be available to the individual and convenient at the time.
Additionally, aside from the finished story, once a videojournalist or cameraman/editor has uploaded their finished story to the Avid server in Rimouski for broadcast and they are back in the office and connected to the NGCN, they will also be able to upload all of their raw footage to Rimouski, where archiving will take place. It is worth keeping in mind that these raw footage transfers to a different location for archiving purposes are unique within CBC/Radio-Canada, and it is the only site outside of Montreal and Toronto where HD archiving takes place.
Once the archive material has been treated in Rimouski and placed on the archive server, any videojournalist can access it using simple workflows (see Figure 6) and reuse it, if the need arises, all from over 300 KM away from the server and without needing any assitance from the archive personnel, which was impossible under the Corporation's previous infrastructure.
More than any other factor, it bears mentioning that our workflows are designed for people who are connected with technology and into their devices; people who are keen on using their devices both at home and at work.
Avid & Interplay Central
All of what has been mentioned above would have been impossible without the Avid server that stores all of the content generated by Radio-Canada Est du Québec; however, it goes beyond that, as CBC/Radio-Canada is on the cutting edge with its Avid server use, so much so, that Rimouski was the first place in the world where Avid and Interplay Central software were used in an active production system.
Aside from Avid handling the files and content on the back-end, another vital tool within this infrastructure is Interplay Central, which allows any individual with the appropriate access credentials to watch and edit the content on the Avid server through a standard Web browser. Within the context of this project, we have chosen to use Google Chrome, as well as iPhones and iPads. It stands to reason that having Interplay Central is extremely practical, as it allows an individual to do whatever they need to do with their content without even being on CBC/Radio-Canada's network; as long as the relevant employee has a 3G Internet connection, they have the power and bandwidth necessary to watch, edit, and cut, as the server can generate a low-resolution working copy in real time.
A few years ago, CBC/Radio-Canada deployed the Avid Interplay Access tool, which enables the transfer of video material between Avid servers in different locations. However, Interplay Access cannot be used by a user in a site lacking a local Avid server to get material from a remote location and bring it into their laptop editor. Avid Interplay Central is a clever solution to this problem. Like any other CBC/Radio-Canada journalist, a user in Carleton-sur-Mer can use Interplay Access to watch and transfer content from any Avid server throughout the Corporation and transfer it to Rimouski. As soon as the material is transferred into Rimouski's Avid servers, thanks to Interplay Central, it can be browsed, viewed, and edited directly within any supported Web browser (we use Google Chrome; iPads are also supported), or transferred to a network share, where it can be easily downloaded into a laptop editor using the FTP or CIFS protocols. A process that would have taken two or three hours in the old days can now be done in real time, on demand, using any of CBC/Radio-Canada's Avid servers.
Given that all of Radio-Canada Est du Québec's workflows are based on using Interplay Central, we have the ability to cover breaking news in any of the regions of Eastern Quebec with a team of three Web journalists (one in Rimouski, another in Matane, and another in Sept-Îles), even if only one of them is on duty at the time, as they all have access to the same content.
Internet Protocol-based Architecture
As mentioned elsewhere in this publication, an architecture based on Internet Protocol (IP) use is an essential component of CBC/Radio-Canada's new Unified Communications (UC) strategy, but its use extends beyond the Corporation's communication needs and, within the context of Radio-Canada Est du Québec, IP plays a vital role even in broadcasting operations and audio.
In the interest of practicality and convenience, all audio, television, and radio within the Maison de Radio-Canada de l'Est du Québec is IP-based and transported on the building's local network, which also handles telephony, as well as the Internet.
One of the advantages of adopting this sort of infrastructure is the fact that it requires less of a phyiscal footprint than a more traditional arrangement. Within any part of the building where live broadcasting might take place, regardless of whether it happens to be a television or radio studio, the audio signals from microphones are converted to IP and can be controlled remotely from any console within the building.
From an engineering standpoint, what is most interesting about this is that the time necessary for cable installation is substantially reduced due to the almost complete lack of any need for specialised audio cables, as they have been replaced by simple network cables that can be bought off the shelf. Specialised cables are kept to a minimum, as they are very short and link the microphones to their respective IP converters. A couple of additional advantages of adopting this IP-based architecture are that it removes any practical limits on the amount of sources that can be handled at any given time, considering that a typical Gigabit network cable provides enough bandwidth for 500 channels; moreover, it also allows for full integration of all operations. Long gone are the days of worrying whether a signal is coming from a television or radio microphone, the same sources are available simultaneously to either broadcasting operation and they dovetail into each other seamlessly.
Aside from the operational advantages that this infrastructure provides, another net plus is that it is much less costly than a conventional system and allows for an open architecture (both in the physical and network senses), which, in turn, translates into savings in both construction and installation costs, as well as a greater integration between radio and television personnel.
The unique situation and geographical challenges involved in CBC/Radio-Canada's operations in Eastern Quebec forced the Corporation to seize the initiative and design an innovative solution to the challenge at hand. As such, at the prompting of the TSB and after much analysis, we chose the best practices used throughout CBC/Radio-Canada to build the infrastructure and workflows for Radio-Canada Est du Québec, as well as its unique HD news and archive servers in Rimouski. All of this in the interest of being able to do a real local newscast for the benefit of the residents of Eastern Quebec, all whilst featuring cooperation from all CBC/Radio-Canada stations and news bureaus located in the area.
Thanks to the availability of new technologies and the rapid evolution of consumer applications and devices, CBC/Radio-Canada is capable of delivering a service that meets its standards of excellence, yet at a much reduced cost than what would have been necessary only a few years back. The Corporation is now capable of delivering much faster, dynamic, and efficient solutions at a much lower cost to the Canadian taxpayer; beyond that, it allows CBC/Radio-Canada to do more with less and concentrate on delivering content to Canadians, rather than on the Corporation's infrastructure.