CBC/Radio-Canada is the national public television and radio broadcaster for Canada, transmitting programming in English, French and eight aboriginal languages to the country's 10 provinces and three territories. During the last 30 years, Télévision de Radio-Canada, the French television network of CBC/Radio-Canada, has employed automation systems to take advantage of the efficiencies they afford.
Télévision de Radio-Canada has expanded its television automation operations twice during this period to keep up with reconfigurations of the network. In 2004, as the network continued to evolve and serve the country's diverse French population, the television operation moved to centralize ingest, storage and transmission in Montreal and revamp its facility. Getting there has been an interesting journey.
The road to centralcasting
In 1975, CBC/Radio-Canada installed two three-channel automation systems from Ampex. The three original French channels were for the local Montreal transmitter and French Satellite Networks 1 and 2; the latter two covered the Eastern and Western Canadian provinces. The second system fed the local English transmitter and one satellite network.
At that time, CBC/Radio-Canada was one of the largest broadcasters in the world in terms of area covered and had a mandate to provide the country with local transmission in all towns and cities with populations of more than 500. This was, of course, the antithesis of centralcasting. Content was distributed to regions, each with its own master control and the ability to do local production insertions.
In the mid-1990s, CBC/Radio-Canada opted for an automation system that would give greater flexibility and reliability from Montreal. In 1997, the Ampex system was replaced by Version 1 of Drake Automation's multichannel automation system (D-MAS). That rough period of integration of a fairly young system provided many challenges, but with help from Drake's implementation team and the Acura Technology Group (which was Drake's local distributor at the time), the system was configured to meet the network's needs. This model remained in place until 2000, when the group decided to reconfigure the networks to broadcast all Western Canada's programming from Montreal via a centralcasting model.
After various channel shuffles, including the transfer of English services to a centralized system in Toronto, the D-MAS A7500 (Version 2) system controlled eight on-air channels: the three original French channels, ARTV (a 24-hour art and entertainment channel) and four channels for Western Canada delay. With this change, the group saw its first tangible sign of centralcasting's benefits: an increase in efficiency.
Then in 2002, the broadcaster decided it was time to fully centralize its programming and provide room for future expansion. A facility was built in Montreal to serve the entire country.
This new operation officially went online in December 2004, combining master control, ingest and playout in a single facility. The group found that 18 master control and on-air booth operators were able to handle the many scheduling tasks that had previously required 31 operators. There was no question that this was a far more efficient operating model.
More than familiar with the process of centralizing its facilities, CBC/Radio-Canada decided the time had come to find an automation system that would sustain the group for more than six years and have the capacity for at least 20 channels. In this upgrade, the broadcaster wanted a system that would offer further operating cost efficiencies as it continued to expand the automation of live and recorded programming on multiple channels. It also needed continued integration with corporate traffic and advertising sales automation protocols as it aired programs and spots across the network and locally in each region. Finally, it wanted a solution that would provide HD transmission capability in the near future.
After looking at the difference in price and the man hours required to upgrade the existing automation system or to install a new system, the broadcaster decided to stay with Encoda Systems (which had purchased Drake and is now part of Harris). The transition to Version 3 of the system (now called the D-Series by Harris) proved to be much smoother than the previous migrations from the Ampex system to D-MAS Versions 1 and 2.
The first step was to migrate the fully playlist-driven channels to Version 3 software, and then gradually migrate the live channels (i.e., local antenna and network channels) to the new system. In order to expand the channel count, Encoda took the ingest function out of the A7500 and added the A6800, a complete and separate ingest system. This left the A7500 as the dedicated playout automation system.
CBC/Radio-Canada is now operating a solid centralcasting operation, and the benefits can be seen in two areas: the increase in channel capacity and the need for only minor staffing additions. The network has expanded to 15 on-air channels, including two new HD channels for Montreal and Toronto and integrated master control operations with the ingest functions. Even with this increase, the group believes the staffing level will be minimally impacted as it expands to more than 20 channels in the future.
How centralcasting works for content
In describing how the centralcasting model is most effective, let us look at the transmission of local news. Original content for the early evening new programs is produced by regional stations and fed back live to Montreal via CBC/Radio-Canada's proprietary satellite channels (with the exception of Quebec City, Moncton and Ottawa, which use land-based fiber lines). Local branding and interstitials are inserted in Montreal, and then programming is redistributed to regional local transmitters across the country.
Regional promos and commercials are recorded on tape on any of six Sony VTRs prior to ingest. The tape is reviewed for quality and then digitized on the Omneon server via the A6800 ingest system. The insertion of all interstitial events, such as local commercials and CBC/Radio-Canada promos, are then managed by playlists residing on the A7500 system.
Local regional branding, logos and crawls are added using a Miranda Imagestore and VertigoXmedia Vertigo CG per channel via secondary event fields in each scheduled event. Once programming is aired, the system produces confirmation logs that are fed back to the broadcaster's proprietary traffic system.
The D-Series V3 automation system interfaces with an assortment of 38 Omneon server channels (for on-air and N+1 playout, confidence and utility), four Sony IMX SDI playout VTRs, six Sony IMX SDI ingest VTRs, two Sony HDCAM playout VTRs, 15 branding systems (Image-store 2 and Vertigo CG), 15 channels of a Softel closed-captioning system, 32 virtual UMDs via Miranda Kaleido processors, and a Grass Valley 256×256 router and M2100 switcher. Later this year, the group plans to add a new HD server to feed the present two HD channels, as well as to provide capacity for future HD channels.
Within the same broadcast center, CBC/Radio-Canada also produces multiple live information and variety shows, as well as two daily newscasts and top-of-the-hour headline updates. This programming is fed to the regions with local commercials inserted. The approach is similar to that used for newscasts but with all content transmission originating in Montreal. The physical facility also houses production and broadcast studios for RDI, the French 24-hour news channel.
CBC/Radio-Canada chose its model for centralcasting after consideration of various scenarios. Due to the live-to-air nature of the news and variety of operations, the group did not want to go with a store-and-forward model.
The move to centralization has given CBC/Radio-Canada operations a true schedule-driven centralized — but flexible — presentation operation that allows for synchronous regional breakaways. It is now better able to support multiple time zones from Newfoundland in the east to British Columbia in the west.
Through centralcasting, the broadcaster improved broadcast quality and consistency across the various channels. It also improved the capacity to apply uniform, high-level branding to CBC/Radio-Canada's national programming, while still allowing local branding initiatives.
The CBC/Radio-Canada broadcast engineering group in Montreal works to bring diverse regional and cultural perspective into the daily lives of Canadians.
Harris D-Series V3
Imagestore 2 CG
Softel Swift TX
HDCAM playout VTRs
IMX SDI playout VTRS
IMX SDI ingest VTRs