CNBC is a global TV network that provides business news and information. The network’s Asia Pacific division is based in Singapore, where seven localized feeds are created for transmission to Southeast and East Asia, India, Pakistan, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. The facility broadcasts content 24/7, including eight hours of live programming. It airs the U.S. transmission feed with commercial replacement overnight and creates an NTSC version of the CNBC Asia feed. The channels are distributed by cable, satellite and terrestrial networks with transmissions in PAL.
Prior to the upgrade
In August 2005, CNBC Asia started its transition to a tapeless operation. Before the upgrade, the station prepared stories with an Avid iNEWS newsroom computer system. Camera crews in Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo shot stories on Betacam SP or the station acquired footage from agency feeds. Then the station cut material using Digital Betacam VTRs with Sony 500 and 700 editors.
To play the stories to air, the station used an Odetics cart. Two Avid Media Composer systems helped with finishing promotions.
CNBC operators manually recorded agency feeds in master control. Typically, the station recorded six stories from the Reuters feed to a single tape. The journalists and editors then either shared the tape or dubbed copies, which created obvious problems during fast-breaking stories. The iNEWS database managed the news archive.
CNBC differs from many broadcasters in the region because it has a small staff. The goal of the move to a tapeless operation was to allow the station to turn stories around faster, to make better use of the staff and to simplify maintenance issues. With the new tapeless operation, everyone could access material upon ingest.
CNBC wanted a single supplier solution that would also support thirdparty equipment to simplify ongoing maintenance. Avid supplied the media storage and editing, and supported the SGL FlashNet and StorageTek archive.
The station’s general manager, Matt McDonald, spearheaded the project. McDonald has been in the news business for 20 years and has been at CNBC in Singapore for the last six years. He was instrumental in designing the workflow and chose December 2005 as the date for the project to go live. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is CNBC’s brownout week, as it is generally a quiet time for financial and business news.
The new workflow
The station selected Avid Unity for storage, NewsCutters for craft editing and AirSpeed for transmission. The facility has 30 seats on the GigE media network, all of which allow users to browse in 25Mb/s DV format.
A key part of the project was to design the workflow and configure the user interface of Avid Media Manager. Because of the complexity of the configuration, the station decided to employ the system on-site so engineers could tinker with it and figure out the best workflow. CNBC Asia set up a test bed running alongside the legacy system.
A Sun StorageTek library with SGL FlashNet archive management replaced the videotape archive. Two librarians manage the news archive. A deletion schedule keeps the server free for new stories. All archived stories migrate to the archive library for long-term storage. Stock footage stays on the storage server.
To retrieve stories from the archive, users search the database. Once located, the archived stories can be restored to the server.
CNBC Asia broadcasts about eight hours of live content per day, so the station has fibre connections to studios in London and the United States, as well as links to crews in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Agency feeds come from Reuters and The Associated Press. The station uses three routable AirSpeed playout servers for general feed recording .
Master control staff used to manage feed recordings to tape. Now the staff can concentrate on transmission processes. Tapes are ingested in the library and MCR using VTR control from Avid Capture Manager. All that’s left for the staff to do is enter the time codes.
McDonald created a fully redundant system for protection against equipment breakdowns. The 20TB Unity is segmented into an A and a B side using two allocation groups, with three chassis per side. The A and B theme is followed through the entire system with an A and B fibre switch. A comprehensive UPS system feeds through dual circuits.
The facility ran a redundancy test before going on-air. The team deliberately failed one of the servers to see what would happen, and the system successfully passed the test.
The incoming agency feeds are split, AP to one, Reuters to the other. That way if anything fails, the station only loses one feed. The network’s disk bandwidth and two allocation groups allow clients to alternate between A and B. The station can lose half the system and still remain on-air.
The storage server is programmed so that every client has access to the same media at the same time — an unlikely scenario. The station keeps five days of feeds online, which gives it 50 percent headroom on the scheduled record capacity.
At ingest, material is placed in a project files for feeds, studio, tape or ad hoc for occasional feeds. The feeds project has a bin for each incoming feed. The station names the clip by a strict convention, so that a journalist can immediately see where it came from, which day it was recorded, and what the show code is, if applicable.
This taxonomy makes it easier to find a show rather than looking through a string of clips all called “typhoon.” Labeling is vital, especially close to air. A locator at the beginning of each feed identifies the source, name of the show, guest’s name and day of the week. In the morning, the station looks at the main feeds and inserts locators at the start of each story. Then a title is assigned.
The station segments studio recordings into one-hour clips and then archives them. This makes it easier to find segmented clips in Pro- Log. Daily shows are stored for three months.
The archive is configured to use a round-robin approach for writing to cartridges, so the latest material is not all on the same tape. The one-minute stock footage clips are spread across many tapes so all four drives can restore simultaneously.
A group of cartridges can be combined into a volume. A volume is assigned to daily shows, and the cartridges expire after 90 days. Footage used on a regular basis is classified as stock. This volume never expires. Features cartridges, which are rarely accessed, can be removed after a year if the robot is filling up. These cartridges remain in the database and can be restored if needed. Tapes are split into groups, so that once the group is full, it can be removed and stored on a shelf.
Retrieving from the archive can be a problem. With a good database already existing in iNEWS, CNBC kept the same numbering system. In the iNEWS archive form, the important field is the record locator number. From Media Manager, a journalist can search an archive by record locator number and then restore the clip. There is a staging time of about two minutes to restore the clip. The LTO 2 tapes can read at 4x real time.
The verification process causes archiving to take twice as long. So it takes about 20 minutes to archive an hour-long show. The archiving is set at a low priority so that the system performs file restores first.
The network’s videotape archive can be digitized on demand, but in practice, 99 percent is never used again. A MassLogger performs 30-day compliance recording.
In the editing workflow, content moves from iNEWS to NewsCutter and then to Airspeed. A story starts as a line in an iNEWS rundown. The journalist then writes the story in iNEWS and adds the feed name.
Journalists no longer handle tapes. They simply send a message to an editor to cut a story. The editor uses locators to find sound bites. Edited clips from the ingest projects are saved in the editing project and named by the days of the week. Voiceovers are directly routed to the NewsCutters. Tape stories are edited tape to timeline, avoiding additional ingest steps incurred by conventional means.
Once a story is cued, it is protected against overwriting on one server, but the other playout servers can overwrite it. Different versions of stories are saved on each server. If a story is recut, it gets a new tape number to avoid confusion. This is easily done because CNBC wrote a macro to create new tape numbers.
Careful planning is essential
Upgrading a newsroom while maintaining the news output requires careful planning. The well-thought-out workflow design and changeover date allowed CNBC to smoothly transition from tape to disk-based operations.
The station trained its own employees on the new equipment. Because CNBC Asia developed the workflow, it determined that outsiders could not provide the same insight.
CNBC Asia transitioned its technology without affecting the output, which is no mean feat considering the lean staffing. The all-digital environment allows the station to handle fast-breaking stories with greater accuracy and faster turnaround.