The CBC tunes in to content management

TORONTO — Canada’s national broadcaster is experimenting with new server technology that allows users to edit, manipulate and present television content in real time, saving it the expense of sending a production crew overseas to cover a live event.

While this is not the first time

the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has used digital non-linear production technology — CBC Television utilized it for parts of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games — CBC will fully produce the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Track and Field Championship in Helsinki using server technology. The Avid Unity Server Technology, which CBC News recently purchased and CBC Sports is borrowing for this event and future ones, enables users to work with the same content simultaneously. CBC’s use of the technology has piqued the interest of fellow American broadcaster NBC, which will be coming up to Toronto soon to see the technology in action.

“The concept is to have the server in Helsinki and pull files as needed,” said Joe Sidoli, director of production resources at CBC TV Network Sports. “We’re trying to put two minds together.”

He added that CBC is not at this stage yet but hopes to be by the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. High bandwidth costs are keeping CBC from using a browser to pull hi res feeds across the network from Helsinki or other remote locations. CBC Sports will also be using the server equipment for upcoming broadcasts of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino with CBC News eventually — CBC did not specify a date — using the technology for all of its news broadcasts.

The content can come to the server live, from a tape or from another server. CBC, for example, is taking seven common video ASI feeds from Helsinki and feeds from three unilateral CBC cameras and bringing them back to Toronto via a 155 Mbps Optical Carrier (OC) 3 fibre optic network. The Avid AirSpeed I/O device receives all feeds and sends them to the main server, which holds approximately 400 hours of video. Once there, the feeds are recorded and then duplicated on tape machines for backup. While the tapes are intended for backup in case the server fails, Sidoli said the editing suites are not equipped with linear equipment.

By using non-linear digital technology, broadcasters can cut the number of editing suites in a remote location from around 10 or 11 in the past down to one. While this may help the publicly-funded broadcaster save on production costs, CBC Olympic Games executive producer Terry Ludwick, who has traveled to Calgary and Seoul for past Olympic Games, said employees will now miss out on the excitement of being chosen to represent their organization abroad.

“Marching as a team is a powerful motivator,” said Ludwick, adding a trip overseas can also be a good chance to leave personal problems behind. Ludwick, however, also said, in his experience, the crew doesn’t usually get to see much of the site except for the bus ride from the hotel to the editing suite.

Using Toronto and Montreal as home base, CBC has set up three production Avid suites. Once the shot list is labeled, the producer will tell the editor that he needs a specified length of shot. The editor will then browse the server for the correct file and pull it down to the editing suite. But as Ludwick points out, there could be 1,000 files with the same name.

“It’s communication squared,” said Ludwick, who has also served as executive producer for CBC’s broadcasts of the 1999 (Winnipeg) and 2003 (Santo Domingo) Pan American Games. “Our language has been developed over 50 years of television. Now we’re developing a new language.”

In the old tape library system an editor would read a number, which represents a longer description of a file, making it easier to locate the correct one. With files, however, an editor may never see the video before it goes to air. Ludwick added that almost happened on Tuesday’s broadcast when a piece of video came from Helsinki to Toronto but was missing all of its graphics.

“If we had not screened the video, it would have went on air,” said Ludwick. “Hopefully we’re in the terrible twos of this technology. Now it’s so easy to play back the wrong file. You’re playing defense. The risk of that happening is higher than it was with tape.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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