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April 2012

TVBEurope 15 News & Analysis Why are we still not tapeless?

Complete, end-to-end digital production is possible, but there are still a lot of tapes being used to transfer programmes, especially where independent producers are involved. However, broadcasters are determined to move to full, file-based delivery within two years. David Foxreports

File-based production “END-TO-ENDdigital production at the consumer level is a great deal simpler and more advanced than in the professional realm,” Mark Harrison, controller of Production, BBC North, told delegates at the recent Broadcast Video Expo in London. “Why, given that actually a great deal that we do is file-based, are we not end-to-end and still have some tapes in the process?” Harrison is the BBC lead for the UK’s Digital Production Partnership (which was set up by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to support digital production). “We want to try and make the transition to full digital production happen more smoothly, more quickly and more cheaply,” he explained. “Small and medium-sized independent production companies are the principal laggards in end-to-end digital, especially for storage, archive, re-accessing and publication of digital media,” he added. To help understand why, the DPP commissioned a report from Mediasmiths International, The Reluctant Revolution, to get to the root of those problems. It is available online at the DPP website and makes three key observations about the primary obstacles. 1. “Producers are not luddites. The reason why this is so slow and so difficult is not because producers don’t get it.” He had thought producer resistance was a more significant factor than it turns out to be. 2. “There is very, very little understanding amongst broadcasters, suppliers and manufacturers, even facility houses, about the realities of life in production companies, especially smaller ones.” The economic reality is that smaller producers operate from project to project, and don’t have the money to invest in long-term solutions. 3. “There is a vision of end-to- end digital that often doesn’t have a delivery mechanism attached to it.” Broadcasters

can’t describe to the average production company “how the hell they are to do it,” especially as broadcasters aren’t yet generally taking digital delivery. However, it isn’t easy to spot where the fault lies. “I absolutely don’t feel there is a guilty party in this story,” he said.

Changing workflows Mediasmiths talked to production companies and found that most producers are acquiring on file- based cameras, but that is not because of a desire to move to file-based production but mainly because of the fact that HD cameras are file-based. “When they bring it back to

the office, they try to replicate tape-based workflows, which do work.” Harrison visited a Soho facility recently and spotted piles of G-Raid drives on the floor, just like boxes of tapes used to be, for a mainstream drama production. Part of this is because

producers want to feel that their material is secure, where they can see it. “Rushes are indescribably precious, and producers are being asked to entrust them to providers they may not fully trust, especially if they are using the cloud.” Besides, cloud-based

production is not particularly cheap. It will require about

Mark Harrison: “I don’t believe we will get all the way to full digital production in two years, but it will be a lot better”

thought was the most important thing they could do, and the reply was: “Why don’t you sort yourselves out? Just tell us how you want it delivered. Preferably all using the same format.” It is now up to the broadcasters

to agree standards, which they are working towards. “We have got a common file format for delivery and common metadata standards,” he said.

For metadata, it worked with

the European Broadcasting Union, mapping its minimum set of common metadata to existing EBU-Core and TV-Anytime metadata sets and is building a free, downloadable, easier-to-use metadata application to enable production companies to enter the required editorial and technical metadata.

“Rushes are indescribably precious, and producers are being asked to entrust them to providers they may not fully trust — especially if they are using the cloud”

Mark Harrison

£15,000 investment for both the cloud storage and the infrastructure/ bandwidth to communicate with it. At the moment, LTO tapes are still the cheapest model that producers can use, he said.

Addressing the problem So, what should broadcasters do? When they started the DPP, they asked producers what they

Through the DPP, seven major

broadcasters (BBC, ITV, C4, Sky, Channel Five, S4C and UKTV) recently agreed the UK’s first common file format, structure and wrapper to enable programme delivery by digital file. It worked with the Advanced Media Workflow Association in the US to create AS-11, a new international HD file format.

This application should be available soon. Producers also told the DPP to be open with its own road maps, such as when broadcasters will start accepting digital delivery — later this year in the UK, with 2014 being when file-based delivery will become the preferred route.

“I don’t believe we will get all

the way to full digital production in two years, but it will be a lot better,” he said. What can suppliers do? Although the video industry feels big, it is actually a niche area, especially in broadcast. “Because the market is small, many manufacturers feel they have to win to do well — which means not being interoperable.” Although things are getting better, broadcasting is still full of highly technical areas, such as codecs, “that producers find intimidating,” he said. “Manufacturers need to concentrate on ease of use.” Part of the problem with digital production is that once a production is finished, there is no budget to keep material on servers. “To our surprise, production companies have little or no interest in archiving. They see no financial model for it. Just grief,” he said. In future, perhaps, some system of micropayments may make offering archive material online viable, but not yet. www.digitalproductionpartnership.

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