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Field Report: Florical's ShareCasting system

Groupe TVA is the largest private French-language network in North America. The network originates 10 channels in French and one in English, and its broadcasts cover most of Canada. But it wasn’t always that way. Less than two years ago, Groupe TVA was broadcasting only two channels from its main site — one from a cart machine and the other from a video server. It also had five remote sites doing their own commercial insertion with the network’s program feed.

At NAB in April 2000, the network decided to purchase Florical Systems’ broadcast automation solution. Installation began in June, and by August the network had four channels on the air from its main broadcast facility in Montreal. In less than a year from the initial decision, the network had added five remote sites and began broadcasting a total of 11 channels on the air. Now, the network’s Montreal central site originates a 24-hour news channel, a 24-hour shopping channel, East and West Coast network feeds, a Montreal feed, and five regional feeds to remote facilities around eastern Canada.

When Groupe TVA began evaluating the opportunity to run a centralcasting operation, it quickly realized that manual control of each broadcast channel was not an option. Each channel had to be fully automated, with the operator performing quality-control functions. So the network began the process of evaluating all the broadcast automation players. Florical responded with a proven system that had the capabilities to meet all of the network’s needs. The network’s management was able to visit an existing Florical installation and see the system work.

Some centralcasting models either have all the control at a central site or everything done at the local station by remote control. Groupe TVA wanted a flexible system that could do both. Specifically, the network needed a system that could share broadcast origination and share control between a central site and the local station. The system design, which Florical now calls ShareCasting, gives the network’s regional TV stations part-time local origination, local ingest to the central server, local control capability and local backup systems.

The network needed to have the system operational as soon as possible so it focused on getting its central site in Montreal up and capable of supporting the remote sites. Because it installed standard Florical products like AirBoss and SpotCacher, it was able to get the first channels on air quickly. The Florical personnel provided excellent training and support, and the network’s operators quickly learned the system operation.

The on-air operation is controlled by multiple AirBoss systems for all program and interstitial playback. The master control in Montreal typically manages the broadcast of each remote site with content that can be shared or content that is unique to each site. When remote sites originate live news or other content, they can push a button at the remote site so interstitials play out of Montreal. To make the shared origination happen accurately across the remote sites, the AirBoss systems adjust for varying signal-path delay between the central broadcast servers and the remote switchers to give the network the frame-accurate presentation it requires.

A key component of the network’s broadcast operation is its media-management system. Much of the content is ingested at the network’s central site, but it can also ingest program and commercial content in MPEG format from the remote sites. Media management is handled by the Florical SpotCacher system. It automatically moves programs and interstitials to the Avalon/ATL archive or to the video server for broadcast. SpotCacher provides dynamically updated lists of material that is missing from the video servers and needed for air. The SpotCacher system automatically purges material from the video servers and the Avalon/ATL archive based on purge lists generated by the traffic department or by expiration dates.

Media preparation functions, such as ingest of material to video servers, are provided by MediaFiler workstations. There are multiple workstations at the central site in Montreal and one at each of the five remote sites. Each workstation also has MediaTimer, used to time program material and enter the timing data into the media database for playback to air. The workstations also also have schedule editing and database entry/modification capability.

This large project is now complete, the operation is going well and the return on investment (ROI) is on target. In general, Groupe TVA has found that the Florical automation products work well and are very stable.

Mario Cusson is a project manager for broadcast engineering for Groupe TVA.