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France Télévisions Publicité

France Télévisions Publicité (FTP), the advertising-production subsidiary of national broadcaster France Télévision, wanted to streamline its production process into one that was more cost-effective and efficient. A good portion of its costs involved creating videotapes of commercial spot segments, making dubs and transporting these dubs via courier to remote broadcast locations throughout the country.

Under its new system, FTP digitally ingests commercial spot content, edits specific commercial break sequences and delivers content directly from the central location to the transmission servers.

FTP wanted to digitally ingest commercial spot content, edit specific commercial break sequences and deliver content directly from the central location to the transmission servers, allowing for last-minute schedule changes impossible with a tape-based system. It also wanted to develop an extranet for advertisers and agencies to view spots before they air. Plus, it wanted to add the capability for advertisers and agencies to view a legal air-check online, up to eight days after broadcast, with a minute-by-minute graphical link to ratings of the program and the commercial from French audience research company Médiamétrie. Early last year, Christophe Scherer, IT and technical director, took FTP digital.

With three main channels — France 2, France 3 (including local transmission sites) and France 5 — in addition to nine thematic channels, FTP chose SGI as the prime contractor to migrate to this centralcasting model. Scherer began with France 5. The solution designed by SGI is based on a hub-and-spoke model and similar to an edge-server architecture. It employs SGI Media Server for broadcast systems providing MPEG-2 ingest capabilities at the central facility in Paris. From there, video content is distributed as data files to smaller SGI Media Server for broadcast systems, which provide playout services for the spots at the local transmission facilities.

Connection to the SGI Media Server systems is via a private ATM network. As a free service to FTP’s customers, a 200TB Sony Petasite has housed all spots since the system went online and has a capacity of 35,000 30-second spots. Because of the open networking capabilities of SGI Media Server for broadcast, FTP was able to use an existing network without purchasing hardware to convert physical interfaces.

FTP now uses an all-digital, disk-based architecture for commercial playout. It runs on an SGI Origin 3200 server with two Sony Petasites, Thomson Grass Valley Profile servers (which are being replaced by a number of SGI Media Server for broadcast systems), SGI Origin 2000 servers, an SGI CXFS shared file system, SGI DMF (Data Migration Facility) and other support equipment. The France 5 system allows commercials to be any length —from three seconds to four minutes. They can be removed or replaced up to one hour before airtime should the day’s news, sports or weather dictate a different spot. Commercial metadata can be managed so that traditional metadata, as well as the content of a spot, is available in an asset management system (running under Oracle software).

FTP’s all-digital, disk-based architecture for commercial playout is based on SGI Origin 3200 and SGI 2000 servers, SGI Media Server for Broadcast systems and CXFS shared filesystem software.

With more than 35,000 commercial spots now in online or near-line storage, the staff at FTP has access to the spots as data via a high-speed Ethernet network. The file that is transferred is identical in all characteristics to the original, even though it is transferred at faster than real time. For example, a 30-second file of 25Mb/s MPEG-2 would transfer via ATM Ethernet at approximately three times faster than real time.

Removing the requirement of real-time from its centralcasting architecture and migrating to a central file server and edge-server architecture now allows FTP to enjoy the efficiency of its operations, revolutionize the process of acquiring content and successfully deliver approximately E1 billion Euros in advertising revenue per year. The system works so well that France 2 is currently testing its system, and France 3 is scheduled for testing in April.

Manuel Ferreira and Frederic Guiot are solution architects for SGI.

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