Innovation Awards sample entry

[Please note that this is a dummy entry about a completely fictional project for a fictional client by fictional vendors. It is intended to give an idea of the sort of detail that is likely to catch the eye of the judges and make for a successful nomination]

TITLE OF PROJECT

The 360-degree newsroom at Alpha Broadcasting

AWARD CATEGORY

Content Management

COMPANY SUBMITTING THIS ENTRY

Beta Systems Integrators

END USER

Alpha Broadcasting Corporation

OTHERS INVOLVED

Gamma Broadcast – cameras, editors and servers

Delta News Production – editorial newsroom systems, content repurposing and asset management

Epsilon Technologies – format conversion, IP communications and online publishing

SUMMARY

This project demonstrates the best of content technology innovation. It brings together multiple vendors who have actively collaborated to combine the latest in broadcast and IT products and techniques. The result is a highly efficient, powerful and fast newsroom system which will serve both the premium HD news channel and extended online and TV everywhere services.

The project also innovates in its contractual basis, being defined not by hardware, or inputs and outputs, but in terms of outcomes, and in particular that it should deliver the extended functionality with no penalty in terms of operation, speed or headcount.

DESCRIPTION

As the leading source of news in its territory, Alpha Broadcasting Corporation has a reputation for both its news values – accuracy and timeliness – and for the quality of its presentation. It was one of the first to install an all-electronic newsroom with desktop editing for journalists to complete their own stories.

In 2017 it decided that the time was right to invest in a complete overhaul of its news production facilities. As well as completing the move to standards-based IP infrastructure, Alpha needed to increase its online presence by delivering timely content to the web, social media, mobiles and tablets.

Commercially, there was also a need to move from capital-based projects to an opex model. The new business case was likely to use virtualised technology, and the goal was to deliver the greatly extended online services within the existing headcount.

Alpha also specified extensive remote production capabilities, sharing content between its regional bureaux, and transferring full resolution material as necessary. Transfers should be automated, swift and seamless.

Beta Systems Integrators worked with Alpha, including collaborative design using Agile iterative project management and extensive prototyping. This allowed the team to move from a list of requirements to a detailed operational specification, and from this to a set of commitments on the performance of the delivered system. This was a bold and innovative move: defining a contract for a major broadcast project not in terms of equipment but in terms of outcomes. Both client and lead contractor demonstrated mutual trust, as well as understanding, in setting out the project this way.

With the target performance regime established, Beta could complete the systems design.

The first key decision was to choose cameras from Gamma Broadcast. While there are a number of manufacturers providing HD camcorders suitable for ENG, the choice of the Gamma system was made because of its advanced IP connectivity, allowing metadata to be shared to make the production workflows slicker.

Ethernet and WiFi are built in to the Gamma cameras, so a crew could transfer a shoot as an FTP transfer from a Starbucks coffee shop if necessary. 3G/4G/5G cellular and Ka-band IP satellite links are also available to crews where needed.

In a separate contract, Gamma also supplied the server network at the main production centre and in the regional networks, and desktop and craft editing workstations capable of editing in place on the server for maximum productivity and speed. The server functionality is provided by multiple software instances running on HPE workstations.

The fully virtualised software will allow Alpha Broadcast to move processes to the cloud in busy times.

Content in the newsroom servers is archived to LTFS formatted data tapes, in both on and offsite locations.

Alpha Broadcasting was already a user of the Delta newsroom system, and to minimise the need for staff retraining it made sense to retain this proven platform. The project team worked closely together, though, to implement a range of new functionality in the newsroom which allows the journalist to create multiple versions of the same story quickly and seamlessly. It also allows social media messages to be generated from the same user interface.

To publish the stories online Epsilon developed a plug-in for the Gamma editor. Once the story is ready for online publishing, all that is needed is a single mouse click. The Epsilon plug-in collects all the resources it needs, renders it at the right resolutions for the all the outputs, harvests the appropriate metadata from the Delta newsroom system, and publishes it. Where content needs to be replaced – for instance, where Alpha has the broadcast but not online rights – then the Epsilon system performs the replacement seamlessly.

Epsilon is also responsible for another important part of the system. To maintain speed, the desktop editors work on low resolution proxy versions of the content rather than the full HD.

Where stories are contributed from regional bureaux, or where a regional newsroom creates a story which uses material from the central archive, only the proxy is transferred at first. Subsequently, intelligent software looks at the content likely to be used in the finished version and starts transmitting that, at high speed, over dedicated IP circuits. The result is that, in most cases, all the full resolution material is ready by the time the editor has finished cutting the story and it can be sent to air instantly.

The system supports up to 25 concurrent users in each of the five regional offices, and over 100 users at browse resolution in the national headquarters without impact on the mission-critical broadcast infrastructure. Because all the editing is either by browse resolution proxy on desktop editors or directly on content on the server using craft editors, finished stories can be played out within seconds of completing the cut.

Phil Greek, the head of news at Alpha Broadcasting, said “This is a remarkable project for a number of reasons.

“First, there is the very special business relationship between the partners,” he explained. “Our contract with Beta Systems is expressed in terms of our operational needs, now and in the future. Their decision to work with us on this basis is what allowed us, and them, to come up with all the other innovative functionality we have incorporated.

“All the vendors who have supplied technology, and especially Gamma, Delta and Epsilon, have listened to our suggestions and implemented new features to do what we want,” he continued. “Their co-operation has been open and honest, and we could not have achieved our performance goals without it.

“What we have is a system which will allow us to deliver broadcast and multi-platform news, without any compromise in speed or operational convenience, and without the need for any more staff to serve the additional platforms,” he concluded. “That is a remarkable achievement.

“We set a very tough schedule of little more than nine months from contract signing to being on air, and we are delighted that the team delivered all this technology ahead of schedule, allowing us to get on with training and rehearsals in plenty of time for our January 2018 launch.

“I repeat, this is a highly innovative, and as far as I know unique, project. On behalf of everyone at Alpha Broadcasting, I am delighted and honoured that Beta Systems has put us forward for the IBC2018 Innovation Awards.”

SUPPORTING MATERIAL

Our supporting video features a set of graphics sequences demonstrating how the elements of the project work together, and some initial demonstrations of on-screen functionality.

If this project is selected for the shortlist it is our intention to shoot further video material showing the system in use. Phil Greek, Head of News at Alpha Broadcasting, has indicated that he intends to be at IBC2018 and will accept the award should we be successful.