British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) Television provides the “Best of British Television” to the UK's Armed Forces and their families on overseas postings and operational deployments wherever they are around the world. The station is part of the Services Sound & Vision Corporation (SSVC), and it works under contract to the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
From its studios near Amersham in Buckinghamshire, BFBS assembles and transmits British Forces Broadcasting Service Television around the clock to Germany, Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Middle East and Afghanistan, as well as to bases in Canada, the Balkans, Belize, Ascension and the Falklands. Two 24-hour channels are broadcast via satellite to personnel in 17 countries, with Navy TV being transmitted to Royal Navy ships in various parts of the world.
As well as showing all the most popular series on UK terrestrial and satellite TV, and all major sporting events, BFBS makes its own programmes, notably a live three-times-a-week news show titled “BFBS Reports.” It also relays several carriage channels. Until recently, the service has relied on tape-based acquisition, recording off-air, editing out commercial breaks, and with live continuity, distributed worldwide by satellite.
In 2004, ATG Broadcast was awarded the contract to digitize the station's entire production and transmission facility. The objective was to move from tape-based to file-based acquisition and editing, playing to air both television channels — BFBS1 and BFBS2 — straight from hard-disk server. The contract included the complete refurbishment of the television infrastructure at SSVC's headquarters, starting with the production studio that occupies floor space leased from Arqiva.
SSVC's requirement was a system that fully addressed the network's workflow without introducing any system bottlenecks. Systems that required file-flattening following editing could not cope with the quick turnaround needed for many programmes.
The new system enables programmes to be ingested off-air or via line feeds into two Quantel sQ servers under IBIS automation, controlled via record lists from a Provys scheduling system. 30Mb/s I-frame-only MPEG-2 files and 1.5Mb/s proxies are created in parallel. The recorded clips are reviewed using IBIS Vistapoint, topped and tailed using Quantel QCut. Any original channel continuity such as voiceovers or end credit squeezes are marked as points-of-interest. Clips ready for transmission are then transferred to mirrored Quantel sQ playout servers or, if not required in the next few days, to the near-line tape store.
The station has a three-camera digital studio, which is used both for news and for children's programmeming. Additional studios are hired when required.
“BFBS Reports” occupies a 30-minute slot in early peak on BFBS1. It goes out live at 17.30 and is repeated later in the evening on BFBS2. News crews based at SSVC's headquarters, and in Germany and Cyprus, originate on Panasonic DVCPRO, forwarding the tapes or (increasingly) e-mailing files. SSVC uses the Livewire system, which works with Inmarsat terminals. File transfer between fixed locations is performed using Telestream.
To streamline the news production process, ATG Broadcast installed a DaletPlus newsroom system. Web access enables journalists anywhere around the world to input and review scripts and programme material. A MOS interface to IBIS enables all news clips to be displayed within the newsroom system. Character generator and prompter interfaces allow dynamic updating of story information. A Quantel sQ server under IBIS control provides clip replay for BFBS-produced news and children's programmeming.
A 120 terabyte ADIC Scalar 2K archive library controlled by SGL's FlashNet hierarchical storage manager allows files to be saved either as a manual process or according to archive rules set within FlashNet. If content is not required within seven days, it is transferred from the servers to the ADIC datatape system. From the operators' viewpoint, the server and tape stores work seamlessly, except that file transfer from the ADIC is no more than four times faster than real time, compared with practically instant access to server-based content.
SSVC required the ability to edit ingested programmes, allowing advertisements to be removed and the beginning and end to be tailored into BFBS-specific schedules. Being a public service wholly funded via the MOD, SSVC does not carry advertising. So, it closes the gaps or inserts with promotional and informational interstitial material.
Start- and end-credit promotions within incoming content used to be handled by tape editing but are now processed live in the presentation suite with a Miranda PresStation. This allows staff to check and rehearse the end-credit masks that have time-code-driven points-of-interest, for example to fade the sound or shrink the picture and display a caption. The operators insert the points-of-interest before publishing the programme back to the server.
The Quantel system also allows BFBS to start transmitting a programme before the source has finished ingest. It includes seven Quantel QCut workstations, three of which are used in preparing material for “BFBS Reports.” The other QCuts are employed in preparing trails and promotional content.
Three Quantel QEdit Pro edit seats are used for finishing material ready for transmission. Quantel's Frame Magic technology enables files to be streamed at very high speed between servers using IBIS intelligent workflow methodologies. Provys schedules are downloaded into IBIS LandScape for transmission, with IBIS controlling template recall on the Miranda Presmaster master control switcher to replace original channel branding. Desks and equipment storage pods are by Custom Consoles.
Each BFPS Television channel is controlled from its own presentation suite. The suites are identically equipped with Custom Consoles furniture, a Miranda PresStation, a Zandar 4 × 4 splitter feeding a 42in JVC plasma screen, Genelec loudspeakers, Trilogy communications, Pro-Bel router, ATG Broadcast audio units, an ATG-three-channel main voiceover fader and a Sony MiniDisc recorder.
SSVC has a dedicated local MCR, which operates in conjunction with Arqiva's main MCR. Three control screens in the local MCR provide access to control software (IBIS, etc.), allowing the operators to monitor, and control as appropriate, all aspects of the ingest, preparation and transmission process.
BFBS TV's distribution is entirely by satellite, with uplinks provided by Arquiva. BFBS1 transmits about 18 hours each day, sustained with BBC News 24 overnight. BFBS2 carries a 6-hour segment, repeated four times every 24 hours. A DVB multiplex, containing six TV channels, together with BFBS Radio feeds for rebroadcast via FM transmitters in each locality, is carried on Eutelsat W3a in Ku band. A sub-set of these channels is carried using DVB-S2 on two further C-band satellites to serve the Atlantic Ocean region.
Television delivery is in the main direct to viewer via encrypted satellite and a BFBS-branded Pace set-top-box, which is rapidly replacing the old single-channel UHF analog transmission service. Recently, multichannel transmission has been established locally in some areas using DTT transmission.
SSVC has also moved into Internet-based delivery of television content by making clips from “BFBS Reports” available on www.bfbs.com. Its radio channels are also available on the Internet.
The new installation at SSVC is a true end-to-end digital system. It will greatly improve the network's efficiency by enabling content to be acquired and processed much more quickly than before. It has also allowed file-based content distribution to greatly reduce manual movement of tapes within and beyond the network's headquarters.
Alan Pimm is sales director for ATG Broadcast.
ATG Broadcast, systems integrator
Technology at work
ADIC Scalar 2K archive library
Custom Consoles desks
DaletPlus newsroom system
LandScape broadcast automation
Vistapoint media browse
JVC plasma screen
ImageStore master control processor
PresStation HD/SD master control switcher panel
Provys scheduling system
sQ Edit craft editor
sQ Cut cuts only editor
sQ playout servers
SGL FlashNet archive manager
Sony MiniDisc recorder
Telestream file transfer