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MTV achieves unified, file-based workflow

MTV Networks (MTVN) Europe North broadcasts 30 premier multimedia entertainment channels — including MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Viva and Comedy Central — across Germany, Holland, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Finland. With the company relocating to a new state-of-the-art broadcast facility in Amsterdam’s Media Wharf, MTVN took the opportunity to start with a clean slate and completely reassess what it needed in terms of playout and workflow.

MTVN’s model of targeting local audiences with specific content and branding is the future of successful multichannel broadcasting; however, this model is also very expensive using conventional playout, due largely to the heightened complexity it introduces to the workflow and the increased human effort required.

From the outset, MTVN took a forward-thinking approach. It aimed to create a tightly integrated infrastructure with one unified schedule workflow covering many channels.

Making the choice

MTVN enlisted Technicolor to conduct an investigation into which new systems would best fit its requirements. From the shortlist of potential solutions identified, MTVN selected the three-way integration of PubliTronic NEXUS servers and Cobalt playout, Pharos Mediator content management and MediaGenix What’s On scheduling and channel management.

The initial phase of the installation commenced in Q1 of 2008. Little more than a year later, the project is now wrapping up, having grown to include the configuration of 20 channels with the potential for more in the future. MTVN has successfully simplified and improved content preparation and playout workflow by abandoning the conventional approach to producing television in two or more disparate steps.

Changing key processes

Conventional workflow, where complex programming is assembled manually in the playout area, is often an inefficient process. It is the only place traditional playout operators can really monitor the final program and where the disparate workflows finally come together.

A smooth process is particularly hard to achieve when there are different systems to integrate, which all have individual intelligence on their own local domains. For example, subtitling for a program would be done on a separate subtitling system, and only after delivery and loading it on the playout system would an operator be able to see if there was an error. However, the operator would not be able to rectify the problem there and would have to push back to the subtitling system to sort it out. Issues with these types of things could only ever be seen in playout after loading the next day’s playlist, or perhaps an hour before air, thus creating enormous pressure to solve problems at the source.

MTVN’s streamlined workflow and tight integration between processes and subsystems enables automated validation of scheduling and content, with exceptions implemented automatically. This approach greatly reduces cycle times for program changes, avoiding repetition and allowing MTVN to get content to air more smoothly.

Rather than assembling television as a technical exercise in playout, scheduling and material preparation are now moved forward to a more logical place in the workflow. “With the new system, channel operations are no longer just a facilitator; they now have full ownership of a channel. Decreasing the use of disparate technology systems and streamlining workflows has moved our whole playout process forward by days and allowed deployment of a standardized technology solution to channels without compromising their individual characters,” says Roderick Aal, VP of technology for MTVN Europe North.

MTVN’s integrated approach has also allowed it to run a leaner playout operation. Conventionally, a channel would be 24-hour assisted and might have two or three staff members to manage every four or six channels. The three-way integration has allowed MTVN to decrease its human resource required by one-third.

System setup

MediaGenix’s What’s On scheduling and channel management system allows MTVN to manage multiple channels via one stationwide backbone, which gives it as much direct control over programming as possible. MTVN uses Pharos Mediator for tapeless content management and workflow to manage processes including ingest, live record, electronic delivery, media registration, quality control, delivery of subtitles and marking of material.

As the schedule is developed closer to playout, the final stage is for Mediator to move the material to the playout devices. At this point, material is transferred and transcoded by Mediator’s integrated transcoding subsystem into the right format for PubliTronic’s NEXUS servers. Publitronic’s Cobalt takes over and provides the final real-time playout with automated delivery of graphics and channel identity/branding. Throughout the process, the channel manager can react to issues directly from his desktop without having to walk down to engineering with last-minute changes.