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Pronology Helps Create ‘Utopia’

Jillian Arnold

SANTA CLARITA, CALIF.—As one of television’s most ambitious reality programs produced to date, Fox’s “Utopia” boasted an unprecedented production size and tight broadcast schedule, requiring a multitude of impressive engineering feats.

This “social experiment” was recorded non-stop—24/7—using 130 robotic cameras. The raw camera feeds were sub-switched into 12 recorders under the direction of story producers in what could be considered the first phase of the “editing” process.

These 12 media streams were recorded using custom-built Pronology ProStream encoders, as show producers needed a media management system that could address the challenges in handling such a massive amount of content and found Pronology ideally suited for this task. Each ProStream seamlessly records three tiers of video, including high-resolution (XDCAM 50) media files, a lower resolution “edit proxy” (Avid JFIF 15:1, also wrapped as MXF OP Atom) and a live web-streamable proxy of multiple bit-rates.

Pronology includes a custom ingest control application that was used on “Utopia” to record, manage, distribute and archive media. Since Pronology is completely hardware-agnostic, it offers the record operators a single interface to control and oversee the multiple pieces of equipment involved. As the system administrator, I ensured that each tier of video was recorded safely to one of the three large Avid ISIS systems we had onsite. As soon as each recording was completed, it was immediately archived onto an LTFS- compliant, LTO data tape. We wrote a total of 462,000 files, or 32 terabytes of media, in each 24 hour period.

One of the biggest production challenges in doing “Utopia” was a fast turnaround schedule. However, as Pronology eliminated the need for any transcoding, assistant editors could start working with media as soon as each set of hourly files was closed out, and editors could begin cutting immediately. This allowed us to deliver three hours of broadcast television to the network within seven days of the start of recording.

Pronology also includes an online web interface that allowed show producers, working both on- and off-site, to view all recorded content, and as the system is web-based, producers were free to work anywhere they had an Internet connection.

Pronology’s logging tool was very useful too, enabling on-site loggers to create timecode-accurate tags and notes, live, 24 hours a day. Pronology amassed 2.7 million unique metadata entries for the program, all of which are completely searchable. This enabled producers to sift through the show’s massive amount of media and find the best moments to include in the broadcast.

Pronology’s cohesive and powerful system, coupled with their 24-hour support, allowed me to oversee the show’s media management with a team of only four people. Piecing together products from multiple vendors would typically have required a much larger team of operators, creating a situation that likely would have been much more prone to error. In the end, working with Pronology helped me deliver healthy media in an efficient, timely manner from production through post and to archive.

Jillian was the media manager for the production of Fox’s “Utopia.” She may be contacted

For additional information, contact Pronology at 212-660-1600 or