Sky News is a 24-hour domestic and international satellite television news broadcaster. It was launched in 1989 and has established itself as a world-class breaking news service with a spirit for innovation. The broadcaster currently provides news to roughly 145 million people in 36 countries in Europe alone, with distribution across Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Although owned by British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), Sky News is partially-owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which holds a minority stake in BSkyB. The station's headquarters are in Osterley, West London, employing more than 50 on-screen staff (anchors, correspondents and reporters) and more than 600 behind-the-scenes staff. Sky News has eight bureaus outside the United Kingdom and shares many more with other News Corp. networks.
After the successful HD broadcast on the Sky Satellite platform and HD online streaming of Barack Obama's inauguration in January 2009, as well as an increasing viewer demand for high-quality programming with the intensity and vividness of HD, Sky News decided to launch a permanent HD news channel. At 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 6, in time for the 2010 general election results, Sky News HD was launched. That evening, it became the first UK news channel to broadcast in HD.
To provide HD broadcasts, Sky News needed to introduce new technology at its headquarters in West London and upgrade its Central London studio as well as several bureaus both in the UK and around the world. The project required a setup in which the entire production workflow, from field to playout, is in full HD and based on tapeless technology. (See Figure 1 on page 56.) The selected technology also had to be fast and open to third-party systems for graphics, archiving, asset management and post production.
As a multiplatform news provider, Sky requested technology that would allow it to easily link up people with its news at all times and wherever they may be. This implied the distribution of news not only to Sky News television viewers, but also online via skynews.com, on the radio, on mobile phones (including iPhones), on UK train platforms, Virgin Atlantic flights and via a ticker tape in Piccadilly Circus.
Finally, the satellite broadcaster's existing SD infrastructure needed to be replaced with the new HD setup while the channel remained on-air. Introducing HD without compromising the existing SD service was a challenge. The broadcaster didn't want the viewers to notice or the journalists' jobs to be affected.
The new HD channel is supported by a tapeless workflow based on EVS technology, which includes A/V production servers, varying software applications for browsing and editing, online media storage, as well as content management and networking solutions.
There are around 40 lines dedicated to the incoming feeds, which are recorded in HD. About 20 recording lines in ingest are set permanently in loop recording mode, so feeds can be protected and named. Ingest is made with EVS XS servers that are controlled by IPDirector software via several workstations. XL proxy servers provide instant access to live record trains in low-res format without the need for scheduled ingests.
Footage from Sky News ENG crews is shot in 1080i DVCPROHD 100 and maintained as such through the entire production process to avoid time-consuming file conversions.
All feeds are sent to an EVS XStoreSAN, a 200TB-plus nearline storage system offering combined Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks. Media content can then be instantly accessed through the entire network for production, editing and playout. Video can also be pushed to a Vizrt Ardome asset management library. Media managers working on the IPDirector workstations control what is held for production and what goes to the library.
Content management and timeline news editing
In addition to ingest control, IPDirector software is used for browsing content and compiling clips. More than 200 IPDirector workstations are available for the bulk of the newsroom, as users browse incoming feeds and prepare rough-cut edits by creating simple playlists. The playlists can be pushed to EVS' Xedio CleanEdit systems or Apple's Final Cut Pro for further editing, or directly to playout if need be.
Xedio CleanEdit is a nonlinear editing tool that offers timeline editing with no rendering required for fast turnaround news production. Journalists at Sky News use the software via a few dozen workstations to improve rough-cut edits by adding text and graphics, prepare news bulletins and reports, as well as voice-over recordings. Finished edits from the system can be pushed to playout or to Final Cut Pro for advanced editing.
The stations were given to the on-air news journalists and to key specialist areas, such as sports and business, to boost their ability to shape content, and to get material to air fast. The stations are also used by online and multiplatform production teams that can carry out the majority of work without FCP.
Sky News craft editors work with Final Cut Pro suites, which are fully integrated with production servers and online storage solutions. This implies that files can be readily exchanged between the servers and Final Cut Pro via the Ethernet network.
Apple's high-end edit suite also uses a new EVS export plug-in to allow restores direct to a server as soon as Final Cut Pro starts rendering the files, meaning near-instant playout of files as soon as the edit is finished.
The 24-hour news broadcaster employs XS servers for playout operations. Playout at Sky News is fully redundant, with four main playout channels and two for backup. Also operating from the system are several of Sky's interactive and online services, bringing the total number of playout channels to around 32.
Sky News also uses the new AB-Roll playlist application, organized by Avid iNEWS NRCS, to play out rundowns. IPDirector integrates with iNEWS through MOS protocol support and the introduction of EVS' new ActiveX plug-in database browser. NRCS operators can therefore access any clip and associated metadata referenced in the IPDirector database, and add it with a simple drag and drop to the rundown list. In fact, the ActiveX browser allows the user to do a search on any database field. In addition, any running order managed from the iNEWS client interface is kept up to date on the IPDirector control panel, ensuring full control over the rundown of playlists.
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A pair of LSM-XT+ systems are used for live slow motion and time-slip operations, offering excellent abilities for fast-turnaround review of events as well as delaying live events so nothing is missed.
After playout, finished edits are pushed to the Ardome library. Full metadata integration is available between EVS and Ardome, so nothing is lost when files are transferred.
Web service integration
EVS also integrates with Sky's Web service, using the Irdeto platform. Again, metadata added in the EVS system is passed through to Irdeto to dictate which platform the file should be delivered to and indicate the type of content in the file.
The key success factors of the project include:
fast and efficient HD tapeless workflow;
instant access to live record trains;
record buffer of 24 hours per input;
stability and speed of servers;
ultra-fast browsing and clip-compiling tool;
easy-to-use timeline editor that gives journalists the ability to shape content;
integration with third-party NRCS, automation, post-production and archiving systems;
a global solution from ingest to playout integrating all phases of production; and
technical training and unyielding support for smooth changeover.
When the new channel finally went on-air, the broadcaster knew immediately that all of the effort would pay off.
Sébastien Verlaine is marketing manager, EMEA, for EVS.