- Gregg Antworth
Post Production & Graphic Design
- Pierre Lemieux
As mentioned in previous issues of SYNC, CBC/Radio Canada's adoption of File-based Workflow is one of the main pillars of the Corporation's transformation under the aegis of Strategy 2015: Everyone. Every way. It is a colossal undertaking as well as a revolution in the way in which CBC/Radio-Canada produces content for Canadian audiences and, consequently, we have seized the opportunity to take a closer look at the progress that collaboration between the English and French Services has yielded over the last few months.
The general thrust of this article is to give an overview of the consolidation of file-based workflows as well as the refinement of processes over time, the empowerment of employees that has been made possible by the new workflows and collaborative tools, the redefinition of content acquisition within the Corporation, and the effect that metadata and the creation of a media library (Alpha Catalogue) will have upon our operations.
Consolidation & Refinement
At this point in time, thanks to the ample buy-in on the part of the groups involved within both the French and English Services, implementation of File-based Workflow has become widespread enough to be at a stage where the project's focus has shifted more towards consolidation and refinement of the new processes that have been put in place.
As of right now, within CBC/Radio-Canada's English Services, 95% of the content production is file-based and the number of video tape recorders (VTRs) at the Toronto Broadcast Centre will be reduced from 871 to fewer than 70 by April 2014. This reduction in numbers allowed for the creation of an Ingest & Transfer Centre, so that all video tape activity is centred in one room; all of this simplification and streamlining has resulted in a much smaller capital footprint and, consequently, very significant cost savings throughout the content production process.
On the side of the French Services, Avid Interplay Central has been fully implemented as a browsing and collaboration tool, and a replacement of most VTRs within la Maison de Radio-Canada in Montreal has gone ahead, thus providing similar benefits to those gained in Toronto. Beyond that, extensive progress has been made through a joint effort with the Media Support group to resolve any rights' management issues linked to content: a simple, customised software solution was developed to allow content administrators to be able to grant (or withdraw) access to content immediately and securely, which is critical when working with particularly sensitive material. Thanks to these changes, a lot of time is being saved over the course of the content production process and users have embraced the changes as soon as they have witnessed the resulting benefits.
Empowerment Through Workflows
The advent of the Interplay Central ecosystem changed a variety of different elements within the production environment, such as how files were named, where they would go, and how they would be used, all of which are steps within workflows.
A really positive development at this phase in the File-based Workflow project is that the ownership of a part of the workflows is no longer strictly technical anymore; it lies with the end users. Different programmes use Interplay Central in different ways as a collaborative tool with their respective editors and the degree of knowledge transfer between these different programmes has given rise to a situation in which users have seized the initiative and come up with workflows that best suit the needs of their programme. Beyond that, this feeling of empowerment coupled with a natural desire to streamline processes has (and continues to) lead them to exchange notes with their colleagues on other programmes in the interest of devising even better solutions and ways of using the tools that have been placed at their disposal. Due to its performance as a tool to empower our people, Interplay Central is truly the cornerstone of CBC/Radio-Canada's file-based revolution.
Redefining Ingest & Acquisition
Due to the adoption of new technology (including software, like Interplay Central, and hardware, like Sony F55 4K UHDTV cameras using SxS cards), the transition to the file-based world also involves transformation of CBC/Radio-Canada's content ingest and acquisition processes. Consequently, the Corporation now has a group of professionals looking at redefining the ingestion and acquisition processes.
Approximately 30 to 40% of the television programmes that the Corporation broadcasts are either produced externally or co-produced, and the goal that has been set for the future is to be able to handle all the material that is acquired so that it is seamlessly converted for distribution on multiple platforms (Tou.tv, Netflix, iTunes, as well as other online platforms, speciality channels, and the like) automatically immediately following acquisition.
Quality control and validation play an important part in the acquisition process. At this point in time, within CBC/Radio-Canada, humans perform all of the quality control on approximately 20% of material that is acquired. A series of quality control checkpoints were in place when using video tapes due to the fact that ingest was performed multiple times into a series of different systems as a programme made its way from production to presentation; therefore, going tapeless has resulted in a need to define a new series of quality control processes modelled after the best practices within the broadcasting industry.
Consequently, the roles of the people involved in acquisition are changing and adopting a more technical aspect within what has essentially become a two-step process that now takes place at the very beginning of the lifecycle, rather than at a series of points further down the line: one that validates that the content is what it is supposed to be and, once that condition has been met, ensures that its quality is as expected so that it can be distributed appropriately.
The Alpha Catalogue
Part of the switch to a file-based environment involves the replacement of the Master Tape and, given the changes in the acquisition process described above, CBC/Radio-Canada is doing so through the creation of an Alpha Catalogue. This Alpha Catalogue is meant to include every single bit of content that has made it through quality control and is ready to be distributed either on air or to any of the other distribution platforms used by the Corporation.
Each file in the catalogue will be available exclusively to the individuals that need to handle it thanks to a robust rights-management infrastructure; additionally, each file will include appropriate metadata to allow it to be easily retrieved and handled through CBC/Radio-Canada's Media Asset Management solution.
As things stand currently, a series of people associate metadata to files multiple times in a variety of systems, which poses certain problems due to the complexity of the framework involved as well as the potential for error inherent in any process involving a plethora of different individuals. Given that any error in the process of associating metadata to content can render said content impossible to retrieve in the system later on, inserting checks and controls into the process to prevent such outcomes becomes crucially important.
Currently, a working group is defining those checks and controls as well as considering a series of measures to simplify the insertion of metadata into files, all this with the goal of reaching a point where 80% of a content item's metadata is defined automatically at ingest time. Additionally, another measure under consideration is requesting of content providers that they define metadata on their content prior to its delivery to CBC/Radio-Canada, as some of broadcasters in the United States are already doing. These steps should simplify the accessibility of content in the Alpha Catalogue substantially once it is fully implemented and result in significant time savings further down the line.
Empowerment Through Collaboration
As can be expected in an organisation of CBC/Radio-Canada's ample size and long history, sudden change to something as basic as the way in which the Corporation provides and distributes content to Canadians can cause a certain degree of trepidation amongst employees. This trepidation would normally bring about some amount of resistance, but the collaborative nature of Interplay Central replaced any resistance with empowerment and that empowerment significantly increased our people's desire to embrace change.
Employees are being asked to assume more active role within the world of content production, a role that goes far beyond interacting with video tapes, one that takes our people into an environment of digital media where they can participate in the redefinition of the way in which CBC/Radio-Canada carries out media management, which is a critical, strategic part of the Corporation's operations. It is much more than the concept of having a content server and wanting to manage its limitations; at this point, it all links directly to what is being produced and acquired, as well as CBC/Radio-Canada's revenue streams. Consequently, this is part of a overarching vision and everyone needs to understand their roles within this new, connected ecosystem, as well as what they can bring to the table to improve processes as we go along in collaboration with their colleagues.
There was a time when production employees could concentrate on their own specific area, but those days are long gone now that everyone plays a part within a much bigger system and it is essential that employees possess the collaborative tools to reinforce that notion, because every individual's action can have an impact on everyone around them due to the nature of file-based workflows. Something as simple as inputting a file's metadata can have an impact on every process down the line, all the way down to sales; consequently, awareness, collaboration, and empowerment are keys to success in this new environment.
CBC/Radio-Canada continues to be fully committed to File-based Workflow throughout the Corporation's Television, Radio, and Digital operations. Things have reached a point where the savings and efficiencies of this approach have become increasingly obvious on a daily basis and will continue to manifest themselves in reduced distribution costs, even in spite of an increasing number of platforms.
Aside from cost savings, which are always positive in these times of fiscal restraint, the added value of a project of this scope comes from having a workforce that is being further empowered every day thanks to the collaborative tools that they have been given and the workflows that they have refined. An empowered workforce is an efficient workforce, the kind that allows CBC/Radio-Canada to provide more of the programming that Canadians want. Everyone. Every way.
-  http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/sync/sync-issue-2-2012/file-based-workflow/
-  http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/sync/sync-issue-4-2013/file-based-workflow-phase-ii/
-  http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/explore/strategies/strategy-2015/
-  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_tape_recorder
-  http://www.avid.com/US/products/Avid-Interplay-Central
-  http://pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/show-highend/resource.solutions.bbsccms-assets-show-highend-F55.shtml
-  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4K_resolution
-  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SxS
-  For details on Media Asset Management, please refer to Fred Mattocks’ article in this issue