BBC Northern Ireland transitions to Cinegy

BBC Northern Ireland, which provides TV, radio, online and interactive TV content to Northern Ireland from its base in Belfast, airs two TV channels, mostly identical to the national BBC One and BBC Two broadcast from London, with the addition of regional programming and local announcers.

With a history of social and political turmoil, the accessibility of regional news and current affairs has always been paramount to the people of Northern Ireland. The BBC Northern Ireland regional news service provides lunchtime, evening and late-night bulletins. They offer several political programs as well as local arts programs and weekend chat shows. The Belfast facility produces a total of 11 daily regional news programs as well as covers any special events in the region.

A need for change

While the news team at BBC Northern Ireland has a reputation for cutting-edge journalism and original programming, they had been relying on aging technology. The newsroom was working on obsolete equipment that was passed its serviceable lifetime, and the old tape-to-tape workflows required more effort and expensive equipment than modern software-based technology required.

The broadcaster elected to resolve its dilemma by transitioning to a file-based production environment based on Cinegy Workflow with a centralized digital asset management system.

Cinegy Workflow is an open-platform system consisting of a suite of tools, applications and open APIs encompassing the complete broadcast production chain from ingest through to playout modules. Principal components installed at BBC Northern Ireland include Cinegy Ingest, for real-time, uncompressed HD-SDI encoding; Cinegy Media Archive, a server-based, centralized digital asset management system; and the Cinegy Media Desktop NLE, deployed on client workstations for managing ingest, logging, browsing, editing and other operations. The BBC Northern Ireland installation also includes Cinegy Convert for automated transcoding to enable integration with Avid and FCP.

Sixteen ingest stations meet the needs of BBC Northern Ireland’s busy newsroom environment, and logging requirements at ingest are relatively minimal — program name, date, subject, genre, director, etc., which can be amended or added to during subsequent stages of production. Cinegy Media Archive facilitates a collaborative workflow for both newsroom and production activities by providing real-time access to ingested media to client workstations from shared storage. Cinegy Media Desktop is currently installed on more than 100 desktop systems. The desktop client is used by journalists in preparing news and sports segments and by loggers, producers, editors and others involved in the creation of long-form content. The system allows journalists to do much of the work of preparing stories from their desks. In addition, BBC Northern Ireland’s 14 existing Avid Media Composer editing suites have been integrated using Cinegy Convert. Completed projects are reingested to the Cinegy database as rendered flat files.

The BBC continues to rely on its existing IBIS and Omneon playout system, which has been integrated into the new workflow. Graphics systems are not directly integrated, so animations and other elements are ingested via SDI. The new workflow also enables the exchange of material between Cinegy and Dalet, which is used for radio production as well as playout.

All of this file-based workflow technology represented a sharp departure from the way TV was formerly produced at BBC Northern Ireland. While the engineers spent considerable time mapping out the production workflow, they applied even more effort to assessing how the new technology would impact the people using it.

Impact and results

An integral stage in the transition was preparing the staff at BBC NI for their new system. This involved training for the new tools, but also a significant focus of the meetings and training sessions was devoted to discussions about the impact of the new systems on the work environment. In preparation for the change to the new technology, staff from the Belfast facility went through a training program with BBC Academy.

With super users in place to help end users as issues arose and act as a first line of support, the transition flowed better than expected, and journalists and editors were embracing the new system more rapidly than anticipated. The implementation of Cinegy has inspired a kind of camaraderie between BBC Northern Ireland’s journalists, producers and engineers.
“The interaction between the journalists and the technical people has been quite good,” said Archie Canning, BBC Northern Ireland technical lead. “It used to be ‘them and us,’ whereas now, we’re working together as a team. It’s worked really well.”

Having a digital archive that is immediately accessible and easily searchable has had a big impact on BBC Northern Ireland’s ability to conduct research, both for news segments and for documentary-style programming. For a recent program on the Troubles (the long sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland), producers were able to quickly review relevant material dating back four decades.

Integrating craft editing systems was considered crucial during the planning stages, but in practice has come to be viewed as less important because journalists and editors have become more comfortable with Cinegy and its internal editorial capabilities. Still, the craft editors have both Cinegy and Avid available in the suites and can choose the most appropriate tool for the specific requirement. This has both greatly eliminated the queues outside the facility’s craft editing suites and empowered journalists by giving them greater control over the shape and content of their stories. Journalist workstations are equipped with large-screen monitors and headphones for reviewing voice-overs and other audio elements in privacy. Existing resources for loudspeaker monitoring and voice-over recording have been preserved.

Cinegy Media Desktop has produced similar benefits for BBC Northern Ireland’s production unit. By providing an efficient way to ingest, log and review media, it has significantly streamlined the post-production process. Now a producer can watch the digitized footage along with a transcript and effectively create a visual edit rather than just a paper edit. The benefits are most evident in a production with excessive footage.

The ability to exchange material quickly and easily between content production systems has changed the workflow for radio and online news as well. Previously, in the tape-based world, radio and online news competed with TV for access to tapes as they came in from the field. Now with a digital workflow, radio and online news simply transfer the Cinegy files to their relevant systems for edit and playout/publication.

As a result of implementing Cinegy Workflow, BBC Northern Ireland accrued benefits in terms of cost reduction and cost avoidance. Less time is spent in craft edit bays, and through the elimination of tape transfer equipment, the broadcaster has seen costs shrink.
Creative benefits derive from empowering journalists with greater hands-on control over the content of their stories, providing the means to distribute news more quickly via TV and online, and through the creation of a more accessible digital archive for future production purposes.

This article was provided by Cinegy.