- Gregg Antworth
Media Operations and Technology
- Pierre Lemieux
Director, Post Production and Closed Captioning
As we covered in an earlier issue of SYNC, neither the scope nor the importance of the File-based Workflow project currently underway within CBC/Radio-Canada’s English and French Services can be overstated. Given its massive scope and its impact upon the way in which the Corporation produces programming for Canadians, it seemed worth revisiting the topic and providing an update on the challenges that we have come across along the way, as well as the solutions that the English and French Services have managed to discover and implement through collaboration and working in sync.
The goal of this article is to give you an overview of what has taken place over the last few months within the context of implementing this new, file-based environment, the progress that is being made in the field of clarifying Media Management roles and responsibilities within the Corporation, the process of mapping out current File-based workflows as well as ones to be implemented on CBC/Radio-Canada’s future media platform, and, finally, the work involved in preparing for the implementation of our Media Asset Management (MAM) solution.
File-based Environment Progression
Over the past few months at CBC/Radio-Canada, is has become evident that progression in the file-based environment can be viewed within two separate contexts: implementation of new technological solutions and refinement of File-based Workflows.
On the technological front, the past few months have witnessed the centralisation and implementation of EVS digital video production systems within our studios, and their transition to full EVS mode, which does away with tapes. Aside from that, the bridge for direct file transfer from the studios directly to Post-production has been completed thanks to the addition of a nearline storage solution.
Adoption of the nearline storage system has made a significant difference in daily production activities, as it allows productions to be much more efficient in their use of the more expensive online servers. For example, a show like Dragons’ Den on the English Services is shot over a six-week period, which accounts for approximately 1,100 hours of content. As one can imagine, one does not necessarily want all of that content online, given the expense of storing such an amount for just one series. However, the nearline storage system allows that content to be placed on it and accessed as needed. The new editing solution allows producers to work on low-resolution versions of the content, so these low-resolution files can be placed on the expensive online storage system at minimal cost due to their small size; once they have been edited, the high-resolution content can be pulled from nearline storage, the changes to the low-resolution content can be applied to it, and the edited content can be pushed through to Presentation or wherever it might be required.
However, the main development has been the Corporation-wide adoption of the Avid Interplay Family of production tools, including the Interplay Central suite of Web-based and mobile media production tools, which has replaced the old editing suites with a user-friendly solution that any producer can access through any computer with the appropriate login credentials in order to view the content on which their team is working. It requires no special software aside from a Web browser, and even the computer part of the equation is something of an optional extra, as it can also be accessed from any tablet or smart device. Interplay Central’s user interface is barely more complex than YouTube’s; a small amount of training is required, given that the tool allows the person screening the content to make comments, place markers on the video, and the like. Its ease of use has proven to be remarkable, acceptance of the technology has proven to be very high, and, given CBC/Radio-Canada’s transition to Google Apps, Interplay Central’s use of Google Chrome fits in well with this corporate initiative.
Additionally, radical changes have taken place resulting in identical deep archives for content within both the French and English Services thanks to a solution provided by Front Porch Digital.
In the near future, all of the changes that have been implemented will enable extremely easy content sharing between the English and French Services. Once the technological part of the solution was adopted, the challenge became a matter of figuring out how to manage all of this media, which could be created, edited, stored, and broadcast more easily than ever before. Media management goes far beyond linking a few servers together and letting someone know that they are being sent a file, it is important to be able to answer a series of different questions about each content item, such as:
- Who is sending what and to whom?
- When is it being sent?
- Does it have all of its parts?
- Who is performing Quality Control (QC)?
- What are its archiving needs?
Essentially, media management revolves around the questions that relate to the content lifecycle and the redefined workflows necessary to make the most of said content across the future media platform that is being built at CBC/Radio-Canada.
Workflow Mapping & Redefinition
In an organisation of CBC/Radio-Canada’s size, workflow mapping and redefinition on such a wide scale involves challenges from a change management perspective; however, in the interest of efficiency, as well as developing essentially identical workflows to leverage our new media platform within both the French and English services, an unprecedented level of collaboration and information exchange between the Services and other departments, such as Internet Services, has come into play, and it has involved a variety of people on all levels throughout the Corporation.
This process has involved switching from a context in which a phalanx of people were moving tapes from one place to another, following the instructions of a smaller number of people, who were, essentially, directing traffic, whereas CBC/Radio-Canada now finds itself in a new world, wondering how to manage the change. As such, the organisation has taken the time to map out all of its current content-related workflows from a different perspective, establishing precisely what everyone’s responsibilities are, as well as what they should be, in the process of going from a world of physical media to a new, virtual one with new needs, different job responsibilities, and less direct human involvement. The whole point of this exercise has been to map out our current and future workflows, and leveraging these to allow CBC/Radio-Canada to have quick wins from both the productivity and Return on Investment (ROI) standpoints.
From our perspective, it was inspiring to see the level of collaboration between the English and French Services when the time came to analyse how our departments make use of the technological solutions, not to mention the challenges that were encountered and the solutions that were reached to overcome them. As an example, there recently was a presentation that analysed the daily traffic levels between the various parts of the system, and having access to this sort of in-depth analysis made it much easier to pinpoint bottlenecks. As recently as ten years ago, such a level of cooperation between the French and English Services would have never been seen or contemplated; everyone would be struggling with the same issues but not communicating with each other, yet we now find ourselves in the opposite situation, and it makes everyone’s lives a lot easier whilst improving the Corporation’s productivity and efficiency.
Insofar as workflows are concerned, the ultimate goal of this process of mapping and redefinition is to be able, in the near future, to ensure that every content item ingested into the French or English Services’ systems will be taken care of for distribution on all platforms from the very beginning of the process and its metadata needs sorted out accordingly in the interest of efficiency and flexibility. As things stand now, the Corporation is benchmarking itself with logistics specialists to enable CBC/Radio-Canada to ingest raw material and specialise it at the outset for automatic, customised delivery on multiple platforms without any direct human intervention; this process will take place over the course of the next year. Ultimately, it does not matter whether an organisation is making TV programmes or manufacturing buses, it really is all about planning for the distribution possibilities at the very start of the process and ensuring that the correct metadata is attached to each item at the onset without retooling the plan. This is something that many people within the organisation are currently working on to clarify, even when it comes to defining the terminology of the various elements, in the interest of ensuring that everything is only done once and that programmes are delivered in such a way that they can be distributed onto various platforms, because what Netflix and iTunes want can be as different as night and day, and there is no efficiency in having to do things twice.
Once the organisational change is complete, this will allow CBC/Radio-Canada to be ready for the implementation of a full Media Asset Management (MAM) solution.
Preparation for the MAM Implementation
For the uninitiated, the best way of defining a MAM solution is as a search engine that sits atop the full digital media platform and ties all of the other technological solutions into a simple, cohesive, integrated user experience. It will allow content to be easily leveraged across the Corporation by anyone with the appropriate permissions who happens to be equipped with the metadata to find the content that they might want to use in their own productions.
Implementation of the MAM will do away with the last “islands” remaining in the Production, Presentation, and Archiving processes. For an example from a user perspective, it will allow someone in Vancouver who knows that a new show is being produced in Moncton to be able to access it without having to contact anyone on the Moncton side of things; the user will be able to access the MAM, enter a description of what they are seeking, and the MAM will fetch it on the relevant server and bring the content to the user’s world in Vancouver.
Another good example of the sort of scenario in which a MAM’s capabilities are extremely useful to CBC/Radio-Canada would be during future Olympic Games, as they will feature athletes from all across Canada, and the various CBC/Radio-Canada facilities across the country will be doing features on their local heroes. This will create a situation in which content (interviews, raw interviews, B-reel material, etc.) will be stored all over the country. If a producer is featuring an athlete from Regina whose mother lives in Halifax, the fact that the content will reside in two separate places will have no impact, because the content will be fully accessible from anywhere, and it will be easily edited and moved across Canada through our main data conduit, the Next Generation Converged Network (NGCN). MAM will allow the user in question to type in the athlete’s name, and it will indicate to the user that there is footage in Regina, Halifax, Toronto, or any other location, and pull it up for the user.
MAM is an extremely powerful organisation and research tool that will be implemented as part of the last phase of File-based Workflow; a multi-disciplinary team within CBC/Radio-Canada is currently working on selecting the best solution for the Corporation’s needs.
In the same vein as before, CBC/Radio-Canada remains committed to File-based Workflow throughout the Corporation’s Television, Radio, 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. This process would be impossible to bring to fruition without the commitment to working in sync of the Corporation’s French and English Services, as well as the other departments involved in expanding the file-based environment, redefining workflows and media management operations, and preparing the ground for the future implementation of CBC/Radio-Canada’s Media Asset Management solution.
In these times of fiscal restraint, the Corporation is aware that its budgetary resources are more stretched than ever, but the availability of technology that is more democratic and user-friendly is allowing us to do more with less, yet with the same quality that the Canadian taxpayer has come to expect from Canada’s National Broadcaster. CBC/Radio-Canada finds itself at a point where the organisation is looking more into investing in people and creativity, rather than technology, because of the importance of people and soft skills within the content lifecycle.
All of this results in substantial cost savings all around, between the new tools, better resource allocation and training, as well as the less costly infrastructure. The backbone of it all requires a substantial investment, but it is a one-time cost that is depreciated like any other infrastructure cost; CBC/Radio-Canada is no longer in a position of having to purchase extremely costly systems that will likely be obsolete within three years. Welcome to a different world.