INSIDE CNBC EUROPE

In 1989, the National Broadcasting Company (USA) launched CNBC. The channel became the first to broadcast directly from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and it quickly rose to market leadership in television business news. Since then, CNBC has expanded globally and today reaches more than 160 million households worldwide. In December of 1997, NBC and Dow Jones & Company entered into a global business television alliance that brought together NBC News and MSNBC and combined them with Dow Jones’ The Wall Street Journal Europe. The two companies merged their television services in Europe and Asia, re-branding them as CNBC.


CNBC Europe serves 75 million homes and more than 340,000 hotel rooms across Europe. Photos taken by David Kirk/Stylus Media Consultants.

CNBC Europe is an information channel based in the center of London’s financial district and relayed through the Astra 2D/2B satellite. It is available on cable and digital platforms in 75 million homes and more than 340,000 hotel rooms across Europe. CNBC Europe offers viewers more than 12 hours of live programming on the European markets every weekday. Its output includes such programs as “Today’s Business” (a pre-game show for the markets); “CNBC Europe Squawk Box” and “Morning Exchange” (an up-to-the-minute picture of the European business day); and “European Closing Bell” and “Power Lunch Europe,” providing a summary of news and the big business stories that shaped the day.

Automation

Like many other broadcasters, CNBC Europe experienced several tough months from 2001 through 2002. In the summer of 2002, the network decided to increase automation and improve operational efficiency by installing the Pharos Pilot control system. It has been on-air ever since. Rather than using a large number of hardware panels made by individual manufacturers, the network can now use a single intuitive control system throughout the station. Pilot also allows the network to do its own front-panel design as its system expands.

When the station broadcasts live, it transmits from the studio gallery. It has about 30 to 35 hours of MPEG-2 SeaChange server storage capacity, including about 15 hours free at any time. A button on the vision mixer, a BTS DD35, activates the server. This runs a set of commercial events before generating an audio alert and switching back to the gallery for the next part of the show. The only time the station has staff in the transmission area is when it is not running live, from 19.00 to 5.00. During that time, just two technical people run the whole system.


The CNBC Europe set consists of 21 4:3 CRT backprojection screens supported by 21 1GHz Dell PCs, AnalogWay transvectors and an RGB video matrix.

The director performs several tasks, including vision mixing, remote-controlling BTS cameras, running transmission and, of course, directing the show. The technical operator mixes sound and plays in video clips. The network also has three editors handling sales, promotions and news.

Maintenance staff is at the station essentially while it is on-air. The master control room (MCR) is staffed round the clock to provide support for the affiliates. The staff performs a lot of dubbing work during the night.

The network has reduced its total technical staff from 40 to about 25 people. About 60 people (one-third of the company’s staff) work in the CNBC London newsroom. They hot-desk from show to show, moving from back-row workstations towards the front row as the show approaches its on-air time.


The CNBC Europe master control room employs a Pharos Pilot control system for increased automation and improved operational efficiency.

CNBC Europe is a hub for CNBC US and CNBC Asia. The network has affiliates in Italy, Turkey and Dubai. They all take feeds from each other; London is the switching point. The station has fiber connections with the USA, Europe and Singapore, all routed through London, so MCR is rather busy. The network’s reach is pan-European, but sometimes it has separate UK commercials.

From 5.00 to 12.00, the station is live. At 12.00, it takes the U.S. opening program and covers U.S. activities with about three European upwards each hour. That is followed by the “Europe Closing Bell” program, which finishes at 18.00. Then the station moves to the Frankfurt stock exchange for its close and back to the USA up to midnight. Then the station goes into CNBC Asia until 5.00.

Acquisition

For acquisition, the network has two SNG kits operated by freelancers when needed. It also has a Mercedes SNG van operating full-time out of the Frankfurt office. The van is a 1-person operation. It is equipped with GPS and can automatically connect through satellite to BT Tower in London.


The main set employs a BTS camera with Radamec robotics.

The network buys 2-megabit time slots using an online spreadsheet- type GUI. News always tends to run over its allotted time, so the network just pulls the spreadsheet endpoint to the new time it needs, and the booking is extended automatically. British Sky Broadcasting has a flyaway version of this system, but CNBC Europe is the first to have such a facility in a truck. BT Broadcast Services provides this facility.

Studio gallery

The main studio has a dynamic set with a rotating desk that can be turned through four positions, one with a video-wall backdrop. The video wall is produced by Synelec, and costs about E860,000. Installed in the summer 2001, it consists of 21 4:3 CRT backprojection screens (arranged in a 7x3 array) supported by 21 1GHz Dell PCs, AnalogWay transvectors and an RGB video matrix. The transvector stretches and scales the PC video output across the 7x3 screen array.

The studio desk is turned to allow a fixed backdrop to be used in the afternoons. A separate desk is available for market updates and late-breaking news presentation. A third desk position is completely reversed from the multi-screen wall to show the newsroom.

The cameras are on fixed pedestals, with Radamec robotic control of head angle, tilt and optics. The network uses a couple of free-floating, wide-angle cameras from the shoulder or for unusual shots. It also uses cold lighting, mainly to match the color balance of the video wall.

The station has a VSAT network of cameras that are all controlled using the Pharos Pilot touchscreen panel system.

Editing

The network has a total of five edit suites: two Avid suites, two dual-VTR-machine edit suites with a Sony edit controller plus a 3-machine suite. These suites use equipment such as a Quantel Editbox for promos and advertising campaigns, a BTS DD-20 vision mixer, Beta-SX and two Beta-SP VTRs, a Thomson Grass Valley edit controller and a Yamaha digital audio mixer. The graphics department supports these suites with Pixel Power Collage, Collage 2, Quantel Hal and Paintbox, and a complete render farm. The department designs its own graphics using Adobe Photo-shop and After Effects running on high-power graphics PCs. Silicon Graphics O2 machines generate the station’s ticker.

Master control room


Shown here is the CNBC Europe staff at front-row workstations as on-air time approaches.

The MCR staff monitors and controls all incoming and outgoing feeds using the Pharos Pilot. The station has six feeds to and from BT Tower, a Worldcom feed, three feeds from the USA, one to Milan, one to Frankfurt and one to Paris. It also has a VSAT camera network that consists of two cameras in Brussels, one in Oxford, one in Frankfurt and, soon, one in Zurich. Two are satellite feeds; the others are 6Mb/s ATM fiber. There are four outgoing feeds to BT Tower and one to Worldcom (Sky in west London). The MCR staff monitors every incoming feed on a dynamic matrix display and can control them through the touchscreen panel system, which also controls four of the six VTRs.

Staff members operate the touch-screen panel system through an Iiyama 15-inch TFT touchscreen. The staff can set up a new event simply by typing in the required source, the destination and the time it is required to occur.

The network employs two MCR main control desks for full redundancy. The MRC staff controls the BTS Jupiter 128-square digital-routing system through the touchscreen panel system using touchscreen or keyboard and mouse. As a further level of redundancy, the station has a BTS router control-panel hardware adjacent to the panel system. The station chose the panel system for three main reasons. It is cost-efficient, easy to interface to the station’s router and easy to implement. Installation took about six weeks. The system allows the network to control ancillary equipment such as audio-delay cards, frame synchronizers, Snell & Wilcox IQ modules and Rollcall. Pilot interfaces with Rollcall through a private LAN. The control software is Linux. The panel system runs on Windows 2000 and has proved reliable, but the network has full redundancy, just in case. The panel system’s hardware is located in MCR along with a 1U Pharos MCX Master Centre-X and Almanac event scheduler.

The station has Ikegami main MCR picture monitors plus a Miranda Kaleido image splitter to two 48-inch Samsung plasma panels.

Playout

During the week, the network broadcasts commercials from the server. The station has a BTS Saturn presentation desk on its main channel. It can monitor all four channels going out and the main feeds to which they cut. This can be run locally or by DTMF triggers from the USA. During weekends, the network uses Sony Flexicarts for playout of long-form content (half-hour programs and 2-hour sports). The commercials still come from the server.

The future

The network is planning to move newsroom editing from tape to disk operation. That will be followed by promotions and ordinary program editing. Incoming tape rushes will be ingested to disk. Server prices are coming down, though they are still expensive. The station is currently using MPEG-2 for disk storage, but it may go to 25Mb/s DV. ATM over fiber has become so affordable that the network is now able to offer European cable operators their own customized feeds handling local commercials, local news and so on. It even has a fiber link all the way to CNBC Asia in Singapore. Satellite broadcasting is cost-efficient and technically straightforward, though the network will inevitably expand into Web streaming as well.

John E. Turner is director of operations and Neil Burt is head of technology for CNBC Europe.