High-quality visual effects and editing

Post-production techniques are being used more than ever as a means of creating a channel’s unique look and feel. For example, the hive, part of broadcast post-production facility VTR, used Discreet’s Flame for ITV’s Christmas packaging.

The broadcast business is becoming increasingly competitive. Viewers are no longer restricted to a handful of terrestrial channels but can choose from a myriad of satellite, cable, free-to-air digital and even Web-based entertainment. Against the background of this crowded and complex environment, the need for broadcasters to differentiate themselves is paramount. Add to this the ever-shrinking attention span of the average viewer. Grabbing and keeping viewers' attention within the space of a few seconds is a primary concern.

Post-production tools already are an integral part of the broadcast environment, where they're used to enhance a channel's on-air look. In an increasingly competitive environment and with an increasingly visually sophisticated viewer-base, broadcasters compete for attention by promoting and enhancing their acquired content. This requires even more advanced post-production tools to create graphics and visual effects, enhance imagery through color correction and more.

In recent years, branding has emerged as another means of differentiating a channel and maintaining audience share. It's now a concept that broadcasters are adopting with zeal. News and sports — often the flagship programming areas — are becoming increasingly graphics heavy as viewers are treated to player statistics and sophisticated title sequences.

Whereas once a logo would have been sufficient to identify a channel's brand, the industry has made a quantum leap when it comes to the art of branding. These days, the look of a channel needs to be consistent across all of its programming. As a result, broadcasters have come to see the need for a strong brand identity across their various channels. Web-based offerings, visual effects and post-production techniques are being used more than ever as a means of creating a channel's unique look and feel. This means making use of idents, end boards, on-air menus, squeezes, logos, promos and much more. Channels such as BBC News 24, CNN and Bloomberg are using animated tickers, split screens, spinning logos and the like.

As branding packages become even more sophisticated, broadcasters are increasingly turning to high-end post-production tools that offer higher quality, more extensive creative capabilities and better performance. Unlike the mid-range post-production tools that have been used in the past, these systems are specifically designed to meet the production requirements of the world's top creative professionals in commercials, film and broadcast.

In addition, their highly specialized nature means they offer toolsets that are best suited to creating sophisticated imagery and are more advanced for color correction, keying or 3-D applications. High-end systems combine multiple tools into a single solution, providing a more fluid creative workflow and more interaction with the imagery. Graphic designers have far greater scope to create higher quality work faster and with a higher degree of flexibility.

For years, the BBC has used the same editing and finishing tools that are used for high-end commercials. Shown here is a promo for BBC News 24.

European broadcasters have long paid attention to the on-air look, with high production standards for presentation of their channels. For a number of years, public broadcasters such as the BBC and Germany's WDR have been using the same editing and finishing tools that are used for high-end commercials.

Asia is catching up fast with the branding standards set in Europe. Star India is a good indication of work on the sub-continent. It uses a dedicated team of about 48 people working at creating promos and packaging for channels such as Star Plus, Star Gold, Channel V and Star Plus UK. At its broadcast operations and engineering division in Mumbai, three editors perform operations ranging from basic color correction to graphics to complex and heavy compositing. For most of the promos, shots are picked from existing footage and composited in the graphics workstations. They make around 180 promos a month, out of which 40 to 50 promos are of top-rated shows. Editors at Star TV take about six to eight hours to complete a promo, and Star TV's production costs are down 35 percent.

However, it's not just large global channels that are getting in on the act. Even smaller, regional channels realize the value of standing out from the crowd. The Middle East, for example, has seen a whole host of homegrown broadcasters spring up over the last decade. As they try to catch up with the CNNs, Discovery Channels and BBCs of the world, many of them are turning to brand creation as a differentiation tool.

In the Middle East, there have been some major installations over the last year. Satellite TV channel Al Jazeera has invested heavily in high-end graphics applications. Some are already being used for graphics, ident and promo creation, while their most recent investments are earmarked for a new documentary channel and new children's channel.

Dubai TV and MBC have made similar investments for in-house brand creation. MBC Creative Services division delivers channel branding, opening titles and news graphics, as well as color correction, to create the overall look and feel across MBC and MBC 2. It also provides outsourced services to external clients such as the 24-hour Al-Arabiya news channel.

Graphics personnel at Dubai TV use Discreet’s Flint for in-house brand creation.

Consumer trends towards LCD and plasma screens and away from CRTs, along with trends in higher-resolution computer displays, all show a strong convergence towards flatter, higher-definition screens in the home. As the home goes HD, DVD, satellite/cable and broadcast content will come under increasing competitive and consumer pressure to follow.

Just as it does on the program creation front, HD ups the ante in terms of quality and exposes anything that's less than perfect. In addition, HD production requires more time and resources. Today, the cost of those extra resources has dropped significantly below where SD production was five years ago but is still marginally more expensive than SD production today. This cost difference is magnified when HD work is outsourced.

The argument for investing in in-house graphics departments is not an HD argument but rather an overall business argument that can be rendered more attractive when incremental HD costs are factored in. Having in-house graphics departments means more pervasive control over the branding of their channels. It also means that they can efficiently integrate graphic treatments, templates and looks to their overall programming.

Maurice Patel is product marketing manager for Autodesk's media and entertainment division.