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Tue 2 Mar 2004 04:00 AM

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Switchers take control

The growth in pan-Arabic live productions is allowing many Middle East broadcasters to extend the reach and popularity of their programming. Digital Studio looks at how the latest networked production switchers literally sit at the controls and help to streamline and simplify the processes behind the delivery of this programming format.

|~||~||~|As traditional broadcast boundaries between many Middle East countries continue to fall, pan-Arabic live productions are becoming more alluring for a greater number of broadcasters within the region. Fuelled by news, current affairs and light entertainment programming, a growing number of broadcasters are looking to their technology strategies to further their capability within this genre.

The production switcher is naturally a key component of this live production workflow. However, within a networked environment it is now becoming for many, the focal point. Today, with integrated 3D DVEs, framestores and networked functionality, it sits comfortably as a production-hub; placing ever greater power into the hands of production professionals.

Perhaps the one concept that has done the most to make the ‘production-hub’ tagline stick is networked integration. As Neil Blake, business development manager of Pinnacle Systems, one of the biggest advocates in terms of empowering production switcher operators says: “Whether it be integrating DVEs into switchers or providing networked multi-site live production solutions, the goals remain the same — achieving workflow efficiencies and giving individuals the ability to unlock the constraints that hinder creativity.”

Blake’s statement is perhaps most accurate in live production, an extremely demanding genre of television. Within the context of trans-country broadcasting, however, the complexity of live production goes up ten fold. Coupled with the obvious technical issues, this kind of programming entails, broadcasters must also contend with language and cultural issues.

One broadcaster that has risen to this challenge is Lebanon-based Future Television. Using a networked Pinnacle Systems PDS 6000i production switcher, the broadcaster is producing an array of programming within the live production field, from news to light entertainment. “The Pinnacle switcher solution has been in place at our studio for a year and a half, and we are using it across a variety of live programming,” says Said Alayli, head of LF, Future Television. “In particular, the networked system was integral to the production of the Superstar programme, which proved to be one of the biggest pan-Arab productions of 2003, and a resounding success for Future TV.”

Broadcasters like Future TV have also become more aware of the cost effectiveness that can be derived from sophisticated networked infrastructures. These solutions are not simply about facilitating the sharing and manipulation of files across differing hardware and locations, but more about the evolution of broadcast workflows.

“We have achieved a wide range of cost savings using the networked switcher solution, without any compromise to the quality of programming. Our Pinnacle Deko character generators and Thunder clip servers are networked into the switcher, resulting in considerable workflow benefits, which have allowed us to streamline the production process significantly,” explains Alayli.

In many respects, the manner in which production switchers have evolved makes them an ideal starting point, from which many broadcasters can consider moving to a networked platform. Systems that offer integrated DVEs can be for many their first insight into the impact of integrated platforms. However, even within the most advanced broadcast environments, the impact on workflow of this single combination is considerable.
||**|||~||~||~|“One of the original key purchase drivers, the Pinnacle switcher’s integrated DVEs, have proved to be a big hit with technical personnel. It is no longer necessary to configure and administer separate switcher and DVE systems, therefore, production staff have increased flexibility and control at their fingertips,” comments Alayli.

Future TV is not alone in deploying networked production switchers, and effectively integrated live production solutions. Egypt’s ERTU, Sharjah TV, Saudi TV, Oman TV, Lebanon’s Rotana TV, and LBCI to name a few are all taking significant steps forward as they leverage greater efficiencies from networked live production facilities. LBCI, for instance, has used such solutions at the heart of its dedicated Newsroomink facility in London. Newsroomink, which is a joint venture with the Al Hayat publishing group, provides news and current affairs programming for the LBCI TV channel via a ‘super news centre’.

“The networked solutions supporting LBCI’s news broadcasting facilities play a key role in minimising the technical complexities inherent to news programming,” comments Pinnacle’s Blake. The reality of integrating production switchers, and overall live production, into a networked environment does not simply start and end with connecting disparate pieces of hardware. The data exchange platform and application software are the key and crucial cogs that effectively make sure that true integration is possible.

Blake explains that Pinnacle’s live production solutions are built on the BroadNet platform, which allows both Pinnacle and third party solutions to exchange data in the live production environment. “Our production switchers come equipped with Thunder browse software, which permits users to view and manipulate graphics from any BroadNet compliant system,” Blake explains.

The strength of any networked broadcast environment is really only as strong as its weakest link. This means that broadcasters need to ensure that the standard languages on which connectivity is based runs true, wherein devices can talk to each other seamlessly across the entire broadcast facility. Using software that permits comprehensive file sharing gives the production switcher its status as a central hub in the live broadcast process. With the use of networked application software, the entire workflow is streamlined significantly.

In practice, creative staff edit and push content into the switcher ready for immediate use, which has significant importance for high pressured, time constrained programming. The benefits of successful networked broadcasting are being reaped by a number of programmers across the region. Even within the context of one piece of hardware, the production switcher, the impact is significant. However, a crucial aspect of networked strategies is ensuring the scalability of the infrastructure.
||**|||~||~||~|Essentially, it means putting in place solutions that offer true flexibility in relation to future expansion and upgrades. Rotana TV made this an absolute critical aspect of their ongoing drive towards greater networked broadcasting. Having deployed Pinnacle Deko character generators and PDS6000i production switchers at its Beirut and Cairo live production studios, Tamer Abdelaal, technical consultant for Rotana TV says: “Creating a completely networked workflow environment was absolutely critical to us. We were also keen to ensure that we created the maximum level of efficiencies both in time and cost as well as providing a future-proofed solution capable of handling any future expansion.”
By using Pinnacle switchers at the heart of the live production across their studios within the region, the station has embraced the open solution concept and this in turn has given it the potential to extend the scale and diversity of its programming across the Middle East.

The resolute production switcher has come a long way in its development from a simple source switching device to a fully fletched hub of live production. The continued rollout of networked environments is clearly helping to move this along, laying down a clear vision as to where these stalwarts of the industry will sit within the modern broadcast environment. Production professionals clearly have greater power to exercise control over live programming with the latest, powerful networked production switchers.

Coupled with the flexibility this generates, workflow gains are proving evermore abundant. In all, the feasibility of activities such as trans-country broadcasting is increasing, allowing programmers to make dramatic leaps forward in delivering output to viewers across the Middle East.||**||

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