All-digital workflow transforms EuroNews

With a team of 60 journalists and 60 technicians, Euronews ingests more than 70 hours of images per day. The channel needed to implement a disk-based system as part of a globally digital, networked IT solution. Find out how they transformed their aging tape-based infrastructure to an efficient digital workflow environment
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As content is streamed onto the central storage, editing takes place immediately on the SGI NAS 2000, using Pinnacle Systems Liquid chrome nonlinear editors. Images courtesy Silicon Graphics, Inc.

Launched in January 1993, the EuroNews channel covers world news from a European perspective. Now reaching 154 million homes throughout the world via cable, satellite and terrestrial networks, the channel employs numerous satellite feeds to acquire programming 24/7. Its production facility based near Lyon in France, with its teams of 160 journalists and 60 technicians, ingests around 70 hours of images per day. These images are then edited and repackaged into the channel's own unique programming structure, which includes production in seven languages — English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

With an aging tape-based infrastructure consisting of two linear editing suites and eight Avid offline nonlinear editors, a library of more than 35,000 Beta SP tapes, and more than 300,000 archive files representing 12 years of broadcasting, the channel decided it was time to consider moving from tape to disk. While tape was a familiar technology, a tangible physical media and one that provided ease of exchange with the outside world, disk offers speed, versatility and cost efficiency. This choice of a disk-based system as part of a globally digital, networked IT solution offers a new notion at EuroNews — digital workflow.


In EuroNews’ new digital workflow, two SGI Media Server for Broadcast systems can ingest up to 12 satellite feeds or taped footage.

The system choice criteria included:

  • News compatibility and a thorough understanding of the channel's needs.
  • Reliability — a 24-hour news channel can have no downtime.
  • Ease of integration on both the technical and human side — important for a smooth transition.
  • Cost-effectiveness.
  • A company with a proven track record in broadcasting with project management experience.The channel considered several systems. However, several key people in its editing, news production and archiving departments attended two days of demonstrations in the SGI offices in Paris. The channel then selected the company to design and integrate a complete digital IT workflow solution based on SGI Media Server for Broadcast and SGI InfiniteStorage NAS 2000 systems. The company's strong points included:
  • Its proven IT experience combined with product quality and adaptability.
  • Its history of both TV broadcast system involvement and integration experience.
  • Its open-systems approach, which has fostered an array of working partnerships with international newsroom and automation manufacturers.

The new digital workflow

The new ingest and news production digital infrastructure includes an Octopus NRCS newsroom system and high- and low-res browse systems, and an Aveco news feed database and automation system. Both Czech Republic-based companies are accustomed to an international, multilingual approach. The channel chose Octopus for its strong understanding of newsroom requirements in addition to its conceptual flexibility and tight integration. Meanwhile, Aveco offered solid, industrial-style proven automation systems, conceptual adaptability and tight integration.

EuroNews required fast and immediate sharing of content. In the new digital workflow — first implemented during its coverage of the Athens Summer Games in August — two SGI Media Server for Broadcast systems can ingest up to 12 satellite feeds or taped footage. Ingested content is simultaneously transferred to the SGI InfiniteStorage NAS 2000 with 10TB of disk capacity, consisting of TP9300 and TP9300S storage. This offers a high-bandwidth gateway to a multiple drive datatape StorageTek L700e library. This workflow aspect is controlled by SGI InfiniteStorage Data Migration Facility (DMF) data life-cycle management software, which manages more than 50TB of content.


The new ingest and news production system at EuroNews eliminates tape handling, which results in better access and movement of media files. The channel ingests around 70 hours of images per day.

As the content is streamed onto the central storage, substantial time savings is realized as editing can immediately take place on the server, using Pinnacle Systems Liquid chrome nonlinear editors. As ingest occurs, content — especially longer feeds — can be indexed or de-rushed. For example, a one-hour news feed can be viewed in high resolution (to ascertain picture quality) and several minutes of relevant clips selected and extracted. The clips are then sent to the Octopus transcoder, which transcodes the high bit-rate media to low-resolution clips. Instead of storing the whole one-hour feed, server space is immediately freed for other ingested material.

From the server, chief journalists are then able to browse the central storage using the newsroom system and the Octopus database to select their clips and prepare for subsequent story editing. Automation for the ingest channels is handled by Aveco Astra, integrated with the newsroom system. Voice-over scripts are then written by journalists — one for each of the seven languages to accompany the selected news story clips available for browsing on every Octopus terminal.

The journalists then mix and record their own audio version for the story in small studios equipped with MixNews, EuroNews' multilingual custom-designed system. MixNews manages and stores the seven-language audio tracks. It exports them (in conjunction with a specific SGI Media Server, “Playout”) with the edited video to the video server transmission systems, which record both video and audio tracks as a complete news story, ready to play to air. Automation here is handled by Harris Automation.

Challenges

In many ways, the channel's challenges are quite different from those faced by the majority of newscasters. EuroNews sustains its news output exclusively through the use of prerecorded or live (incoming feed) images; it doesn't have anchors. Reliance on external picture sources, therefore, is absolute; there is no alternative source of filling air time in the event of failures or downtime, such as with an on-camera presenter.


Ingested content is simultaneously transferred to the SGI InfiniteStorage NAS 2000 with 10TB of disk capacity, consisting of SGI TP9300 and TP9300S storage. This offers a high-bandwidth gateway to a multiple drive datatape StorageTek L700e library.

Imagine no cutaways to the studio in order to make up for a loss of signal! This means that the fluidity and reliability of the channel's workflow must be at maximum. It simply cannot afford long delays between pictures arriving, their processing and being available for transmission. Failure in this sense means it's not competitive. Overall, the need to rely exclusively upon live or prerecorded incoming video feeds necessitates a higher level of viability and continuity than found in other broadcasting communities, which need not necessarily adhere to this form of workflow.

In conceiving the new workflow system configuration, the channel had to bear in mind the different signal paths that ingested pictures might take before being made available to playout. These include:

  • Full post-production and delivery with or without language mixing. For example, one of EuroNews' best-known programs is “No Comment,” which contains only natural sound.
  • Direct-to-air (live programming).
  • Several other intermediate signal paths.

All of these different methods of delivery and transmission must be fast and easily accessible. The multi-access requirement needs to be solid and reliable because occasionally journalists are required to speak live over breaking pictures, which may have been rough cut and played-to-air.

SGI was surprised when the channel asked for ingested video time code to be made available during the pre-editing and up to the editing process. The channel asked SGI to ensure that the time-of-day reference was actually associated with the ingested pictures from the time of ingest right up to the point in which pictures are used for an edit, after which this feature becomes unimportant. This stipulation arises from the fact that the channel has many different groups of people working on these images, often with a production time offset included.


EuroNews’ ingest and news production digital infrastructure includes an Octopus NRCS newsroom system and high- and low-res browse systems, and an Aveco news feed database and automation system.

In the past, EuroNews has used a multitude of different rules to track different feeds, and every year it goes through 12 months' worth of tapes in the archive to determine what has been used, what it ought to keep and what it ought to dispose of. The 38,000 tapes that the channel has today would have been well more than 50,000 by now if it hadn't taken some radical steps to rationalize the archive.

Its rigorous procedures, which were put in place over the last few years, now help the channel move on to structuring the DMF data lifecycle management system. Here, according to how media has been ingested and consequently used, it will be migrated to a different part of the storage system. The channel knows what the rules are at the moment, and it knows what its needs are and will be.

Archiving

It now needs to adapt these rules, notably for a nonlinear system where the criteria are quite different. As a good example of “linear workflow madness,” an entire 90-minute Beta SP tape is often archived, whether it contains one hour or one minute of useful pictures. This is wasteful, of course, but for a busy news channel, daily compilations of best pictures was simply not possible. This will naturally change with the nonlinear workflow in the digital domain. The channel hopes to be in a position to export daily a number of hours' worth of used and usable pictures to be archived. For 70 hours per day of ingest pictures, the channel believes it will be indexing and archiving between 10 and 15 hours. That's based on statistics that it has extracted from its current workflow.

Each week, the channel will be archiving around 70 hours. That should be manageable, given that it has online, near online and a state-of-the-art robotic tape archive sitting up there waiting to gobble up thousands of hours of archive pictures and then make them quickly available again.

As far as the digitization of the 38,000-tape archive is concerned, this is a complex issue. It will definitely be a long and painstaking process. The channel asked SGI, Octopus and Aveco to supply a tracker to show what tapes are ingested so that when an editor wants to output a tape from the tape archive, there's a record kept of that — a simple lending system with a time code and lending reference. That way, it will have data pertaining to tapes leaving the library (preferably as meta-data) so that at some point in the future, it can take stock of what the tape library is actually being used for and organize the batch digitization of such material.

What the channel's partners have been able to do, in terms of adapting to its specific requirements, has been extremely satisfactory up to now. Soon EuroNews will be in a position to meet the demands of 21st century world news reporting using 21st century equipment.

Alan Mercer is the resources director for EuroNews.

Equipment list

Aveco Astra automation

Equipment list

EuroNews MixNews system for multilingual management

Harris Automation

Octopus Newsroom System

Pinnacle Systems Liquid chrome NLEs

SGI Media Server for Broadcast systems

SGI:

SGI InfiniteStorage (NAS 2000 server, DMF, TP9300, TP9300S)

StorageTek L700e library

EuroNewsDesign Team

Design team

EuroNews:

Claude Bruyas, I.T. and project manager

Laurent de Rodez, production and post-production

Alan Mercer, resources director

Enrico Moresi, ingest and transmission

SGI:

Philippe Churlet, broadcast consultant

Yannick Agaësse, project manager

SGI Design Team

Manuel Ferreira, account manager

Frédéric Guiot, solution architect

Lionel Obry, storage consultant