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NRK keeps a watchful eye on production

Over the past three years, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), Norway's national broadcaster, has undergone a major rebranding of its NRK2 news channel, resulting in the construction of a file-based production platform and a streamlined work environment that has won several industry design awards.

The Norsk Rikskringkasting network, as it is known locally, now has a sophisticated method in place at network headquarters in Oslo for producing news and sports content in SD or HD and then quickly distributing it to 12 regional production centers. It can also now produce more live broadcasts, news bulletins and debate shows than was physically possible before.

The massive renovation project started in the summer of 2006 with the implementation of a 10Gb/s network infrastructure at the Oslo facility, a large campus that is home to 2400 staff members and houses the network's central news operations as well as production and post-production facilities for NRK's TV and radio channels. The new plant distributes SD programming currently but will produce HD content when it migrates to HD broadcasting.

Setting up shop

The first step was implementing an HD routing backbone, tightly integrated with an OmniBus Systems Columbus automation and OPUS G3 control system. This allows many manual processes to be handled automatically.

This stage was followed by the renovation of existing Studios 5 and 6 and the building of a new studio (Studio 7). Working nearly around the clock, construction crews had the entire news channel production facilities up and running by August 2007, less than a year after they started.

Geir Børdalen, head of news technology at NRK News and NRK Investments, led the team that completed a new studio and control room, upgraded two existing control rooms and installed a new signal monitoring platform based on Miranda's Kaleido-X multi-image display processor.

The multiviewers are located in three separate areas to support the newsroom in addition to the ingest and playout areas of the newly designed space. The Kaleido-X can display any of its 96 HD/SD/analog inputs, any number of times, at different resolutions and sizes up to full screen, over eight high-resolution displays without blocking or grouping restrictions. In addition, all the multi-image outputs can be grouped to create large, highly integrated monitoring systems. Alternatively, the displays can be controlled independently for multiroom environments, using one or more remote control panels.

Studio 7's multiviewer was installed first, complete with a large monitor wall displaying various configurations of video sources. The software was then used to configure the control rooms for Studios 5 and 6, which are each equipped with six Panasonic flat-panel plasma screens (102mm × 1270mm and 51mm × 1651mm). On set, Studio 6 boasts a 2.6m Panasonic plasma, while Studio 5 features a 2.2m × 4.2m Christie background projection screen.

The multiviewers allow the production crew to preview all types of incoming sources, under-monitor displays, camera feeds, clocks, countdown clocks and everything else necessary during production. Børdalen said the software is very flexible and makes it possible to display different screens showing different parts of the facility, on the same monitors. The systems have saved the network thousands of dollars when compared with traditional CRT monitors and the related furniture to house them.

During its 2008 Summer Olympics coverage, NRK's engineers put together a multilevel asset management and logging operation using a customized scheme based on the metadata handling capabilities of an OPUS G3 system that was also installed. With the system, NRK's separate HD Olympic production team could rapidly locate clips with detailed search criteria in more than 140 data categories and gain instant access to material as it was logged in Oslo.

The project also saw the installation of new HD production systems (cameras, productions switchers and graphics generators) in three different control rooms. Studios 5 and 6 are traditional large-scale control rooms, while Studio 7 is built inside the newsroom. The bustling newsroom is comprised of four different positions, with the newsroom staff (producers, reporters and editorial) arranged in a circle. It is located very close (about 2.5m) to the main production studio in order to streamline production and create a smooth workflow.

Previously, the network used a small desk with five people, where only late-breaking news and short segments were produced. The increased space gives the news team more control over the news production process and facilitates collaboration among the staff. They now produce a variety of programs with high production values, including a morning breakfast show that runs three-and-a-half hours each weekday.

File-based news production

The in-house file format at NRK is IMX-50, captured with Sony XDCAM camcorders, of which the network has more than 70 in the field along with seven XDCAM HD camcorders. Studios 5 and 6 currently use Sony SD cameras, which will be upgraded to HD studio cameras later this year. Studio 7 features four Panasonic HD robotic cameras for television; hence there are no operators on the floor. It also employs three additional HD cameras for the network's radio studio.

To keep up with the increased demand for 24/7 programming, the newly upgraded news and sports division is using a fully networked Quantel sQ desktop production system. It includes four sQ server zones (nine servers), 300 Quantel sQCut workstations, 11 sQEdit Pro/Plus systems for craft editing and a Paintbox, which is used for headline graphics. All of these systems share about 1400 hours of SD storage and are connected via a dual fiber gigabit network with redundant power supplies to guard against system failure.

The sQ platform is tightly integrated with a large (2000 client) ENPS newsroom system via the MOS protocol, with the entire operation controlled by the Columbus automation system. During late-breaking news events or live sports highlights, the network can play files directly to air from the sQEdit Plus craft edit stations.

Separate from news and sports, the network has deployed an internal video library called the “Program Bank” project, which serves as a deep archive for all of the editors on a closed network. It features access to 6000 hours of material stored on two mirrored Omneon Spectrum servers, tied to more than 200 Apple Final Cut Pro workstations. This is where long-form programs are created. This archive is controlled by the OPUS G3 automation system.

Futuristic robotic camera

Within the new Studio 7 is a robotic camera system, similar to one used in the latest James Bond film. In order to save resources, Børdalen said the team wanted a remotely controlled camera system that did not require camera operators, yet would make the small studio space look larger on-screen. The team put together a special robotic system custom built by UK-based Power Pod (which consists of a Panasonic box-style HD camera and Fujinon 13.4×4.5 wide-angle lens). It is mounted on a rail system and operates automatically via the use of numerous prefixed patterns within a small studio space.

The team also installed an Autocue teleprompting system on the rail, which required a lot of extra supports to ensure that the camera could perform smooth movements. In addition, there's an optical stabilizer, included for better performance on fast movements.

The camera system is moved a lot during a newscast or talk show and is controlled with a touch screen by a producer inside the control room. The operator stores camera positions beforehand and recalls them during a program with ease.

The crew for each show includes a technical manager producer (who also operates a Ross Video Synergy HD video production switcher and the robotic camera, in tandem with the automation system), an audio engineer (manning a DHB audio console) and a graphic artist running a Vizrt system.

Innovative set design

Among the highlights of the new sets (designed by in-house designers at NRK and UK company Kemistry) are a series of large monitors and transparent anchor desks made out of specially formulated liquid acrylic. The largest plate in Studio 5 weighs 400kg, and the others are 200kg each. For creative effect, different colored lights can be shined through the desk to give it a unique look. The circular NRK logo is also projected into these plates for a nice effect.

Flexible design is the key

Børdalen said the team is most proud of the fact that the design of the new studios contributes to a smooth workflow across the entire production operation. The goal was to develop a series of temporary structures across the three studios that would be easy to move and reconfigure at a moment's notice. For example, most of the plasma monitors are on special mounts that can be changed easily, depending upon the show being produced.

Those involved with the new studio design at NRK are most proud of the fact that the production staff is happy working in this new environment. Thus, they work longer hours, while bringing news stories to air faster and easier than they ever could before.

With its new studios and production facilities, the network now makes all raw material available for the journalists at their desktops, and everyone is better off for it. Journalists can now evaluate and edit their own material, and they can simultaneously distribute material to all of the various media platforms, including radio, TV, the Internet and mobile devices.

It's clear that the efforts of the engineering and production teams have paid off. The network now produces 20 TV news broadcasts a day from the Oslo facilities and two daily news shows from each of the network's 12 regional offices. In today's tough economic times, NRK has figured out how to make the most of its resources and become the highest rated news channel in Norway. That's a great return on the new technology investment.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.

Design team

Geir Børdalen, head of news technology

Technology at work

Apple Final Cut Pro editing

Autocue teleprompting

Christie video back projection

DHB audio console

Miranda Kaleido-X multiviewer

Omneon Spectrum media server

OmniBus Systems
Columbus automation
OPUS G3 control

HD robotic cameras
Plasma monitoring

Power Pod robotic camera

Quantel sQ desktop production system

Ross Video Synergy production switcher

XDCAM HD camcorders

Vizrt graphics systems