- Martin Delisle
Director, Web Development
Music and Digital Services
For about fifteen years now, Radio-Canada has been present on the Web via Radio-Canada.ca, and more recently through Tou.tv, Espace.mu and its many mobile applications for the various types of smart devices.
One kind of content that lends itself particularly well to on-demand consumption on the Web is talk radio. Listeners who are often too busy or distracted to listen live regularly take the opportunity to catch their favourite programmes or segments at a more convenient time.
Until just recently, on-demand content was available in either large auto-generated blocks covering each full hour of programming, or relevant segments divided up manually – this required quite a lot of work by Web editor teams.
Neither scenario truly fit the bill for the team charged with showcasing talk radio content at Music and Digital Services – the first because users cannot quickly and directly find what interests them, and the second because it requires further manipulation that delivers little added value. This led to the Audio fil (“audio feed”) project, originally called the Indexer as it aimed to index all segments of a show.
The Roadmap: Sonart
Radio teams turn to the Sonart application to produce cue sheets used in the control room during presentation. They contain practical information for hosts, producers, assistants and technicians. Espace.mu already uses them to post tracks aired during programmes. The cue sheet therefore seemed like the logical choice to become the roadmap for directing the flow of content.
On the Sonart cue sheet, teams were already documenting guest names, topics covered, and their programme’s various standard blocks. To round out the cue sheet’s reference potential, all that was missing was perfect synchronisation of that information with the recorded programme and presentation of results via a tailored, user-friendly Web interface.
This may well look simple on paper, but it is hardly something that came to be with a magical snap of the fingers. Getting to the final product required the involvement and creativity of a number of teams and several weeks’ work.
A Crossroads of Systems
A certain number of systems are part of the process. First, the Music and Digital Services systems receive the programme schedule kept in the RDR system. It is that schedule that controls the automated system at radio master control, so the information it contains is highly accurate and reliable.
Based on the RDR schedule, the Music and Digital Services systems send instructions to Dalet’s ActiveLog module, which stores recordings of programmes aired on radio. The process therefore allows us to make copies of files that exactly match the programmes’ runtimes and convert them to a format suitable for broadcast on the Web and mobile devices.
That is where the Sonart cue sheet comes into play. During presentation, the control room teams ensure that all information pre-entered on the cue sheet simply for production purposes is in an appropriate format for the general public. In addition, at the top of each block they run a command to synchronise the cue sheet with the programme in real time. That means that if a block allotted 5 minutes of airtime ends up lasting 5 minutes and 10 seconds, the cue sheet will reflect that reality.
Sonart cue sheet data are then sent to the Music and Digital Services systems. We now have a file from Dalet representing the full show thanks to the RDR information and the Sonart-supplied index points, along with content descriptions between those index points.
The rest of the magic happens on the Web page. The Audio fil player calls up the audio file and its interface displays the various Sonart blocks it receives. In a single click, users can go from the host’s intro to the conversation of their choice, and they also know exactly where the piece falls in the full programme and the specific segment.
Figure 1 – C’est bien meilleur le matin Audio fil
Figure 2 – Closer view of Audio fil
The Collaborative Way
Even if the lion’s share of the work to create Audio fil lay on the shoulders of the Music and Digital Services teams, they were far from the only ones involved. IT, Media Infrastructure, and the radio production teams all had a hand in the success of this burgeoning product with a promising future.
Audio fil has been introduced for several ICI Radio-Canada Première network shows, and we are starting to gradually roll it out for some fifty programmes in various regions across the country.
Figure 3 – Audio fil on ICI Radio-Canada Première
The next stage in its development will be to create a version of the interface tailored to small-screen mobile phones (it already works on iPads).
This innovation has also caught the eye of CBC Radio One teams – they too are now grappling with the challenge of managing radio programme segments by hand. Discussions are under way between development teams at Digital Operations in Toronto and Music and Digital Services in Montreal, the goal being to adapt the concept by capitalising on the tools in use at English Services.
One thing’s for sure, everyone will love this virtual experience – from the radio teams, who now have complete control over deployment of their content in the digital realm, to listeners, who can now listen to their favourite shows and personalities whenever, wherever and however they want.
Music and Digital Services Team
And most of all, all the radio teams who fill up Audio fil’s gas tank each and every day.