Three days to launch a TV station


Neil Hutchins# TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online
by Neil Hutchins
Issue 104 - August 2015

We go on-air in less than 100 hours is an alarming statement when the studio and control room in question contain no technical equipment whatsoever. But this was the situation that we faced upon arrival at the new Local TV channel in Manchester for the first time as we began to unload the van late on a Thursday afternoon at the end of May, we knew that the station had to go live on Sunday evening, just three days later. And not only did the new channel plan to launch with a live studio show, but it would also have to remain on-air with its own transmission output continuously after that. We have worked on projects with quick turnarounds before, but the speed and scale of this one were quite breath-taking.

Of course, the story really began much earlier than that. Thats Media have already launched local channels in Portsmouth and Oxford, although they had only relatively recently taken responsibility for the former Your TV licence in Manchester. We, aQ Broadcast, have a great deal of experience of other local launches, including Mustard TV in Norwich, Latest TV in Brighton, Bay TV in Liverpool and Big Centre TV (BCTV) in Birmingham. Thats and aQ had already worked together at Thats Solent when it launched in late 2014, so it was an obvious step to consider collaborating again on the Thats Manchester project. But there were some significant targets to meet, including a launch date of 31st May defined by Ofcom as a condition of the transition from Your TV to Thats TV and the requirement for a single technical solution to meet the entire needs of the whole new station.

Discussions actually began about the Manchester launch in late April, but many factors including having to locate and adapt suitable studio space meant that the system couldnt be installed until immediately before the on-air deadline. With such a tight turnaround, it was clear that the only viable approach would be for us to build, configure and test a complete system off-site in a wheeled rack, and then simply roll it into location, plug it in and then turn it on. We had used the same method to deliver a system to BCTV successfully within a short timescale earlier this year, but the technical requirements for this new project were rather more complex.

Perhaps unlike other Local TV (LTV) stations, Thats Manchester is required by its licence to be on-air twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, primarily with locally-generated content. With such a short window before launch, it was vital that the technical solution would provide flexible production operation tightly integrated with reliable transmission automation. It was also crucial that the whole system would be easy and straightforward to use, both by larger teams during peak times and by individual operators during early and late shifts. In more general terms, the project required a very wide range of functional elements:

¢ Shared storage for recorded content, for finished pieces ready to be played out and for use as a working area, with access from any networked workstation.
¢ Production capability for the studio, handling both live and pre-recorded shows. This should include video and audio mixing, CG graphics (i.e. lower-third captions), still-store handling, internal clip playback and recording, all using material on the shared Store.

¢ Video Server functionality, providing conventional clip recording and playback (also to/from the shared Store), primarily for transmission play-out purposes i.e. playing sequences of recorded content.

¢ Branding graphics handling, allowing station logo, clock, ticker and sidebar to be inserted, managed and controlled on the final video output. Elements such as the logo and clock should be controlled as part of the transmission schedule, whilst other elements, such as the content of a ticker, would be managed by a producer.

¢ Down-conversion of the final video output signal to Standard Definition suitable for connection to the transmission encoder.

¢ Newsroom scripting and rundown handling to allow news and other programs to be prepared and produced by the editorial team, including integrated prompting.

¢ Production Automation, providing studio automation for live production, including scheduling and control of video clip, CG and stills playout, based on automation event information entered into the current running order.

¢ Transmission Automation for the main program output, including the ability to switch between automatic, sequenced playback and live studio production.

This varied functionality involves a number of different technologies and we are probably the only British company able to offer our own range of software and hardware components as a single solution for this type of environment. Although we have already worked with a number of other LTV stations, this launch is the first where we have provided elements from across our whole product range to fulfil all of the technical requirements i.e. where no other equipment is involved. The pre-configured rack that we delivered contained an aVS (our Video Server, providing 5 TB of shared storage), a primary aPS (our Production Suite, supporting all live production and transmission playout), a backup aPS (for additional resilience and flexibility) and a QSeries Database Server, supporting both QNews (our newsroom computer system including news automation) and QTx (our transmission automation software). We also provided a complete gallery solution, consisting primarily of three standard PC workstations one for production control and monitoring, one for news automation control and one shared for use by the prompt operator or producer and for monitoring the transmission schedule.

Whilst it obviously took some time beforehand to install and configure the various servers within the rack, once on-site it was simply a case of plugging in mains power, networking, video from the cameras and audio from the studio, and connecting the rack output directly to the transmission encoder, in order for the whole system to become fully operational. As the functionality is designed to be controlled from multiple instances of a user-configurable interface, it was straightforward to set up the gallery workstations, along with other PCs in the newsroom, to meet the teams operational requirements. And the remote access capabilities built into the system meant that we could continue to monitor, maintain and reconfigure the functionality even after we had left the site.
There are many benefits from adopting a single technical solution, including having a single point of technical support and removing any of the issues normally associated with interfacing between equipment from different manufacturers. But the main advantage comes from the fully-integrated workflow, which makes operation of the system very efficient and effective. In this case, the single shared Store means that media never has to be moved in order to be used for different purposes, the support for a wide range of formats means that clips dont need to be transcoded before use and the fact that transmission originates from a local server means that content doesnt have to be uploaded before being transmitted. It is also significant that the newsroom and transmission functionality are controlled via the same software, as it makes it extremely quick and simple for users to share content between both live and automated playback.

Whilst the approach of using a pre-configured rack made the physical site installation extremely quick, it was also crucial to have this very fast and flexible workflow available otherwise it wouldnt have been possible to train the team within the time available nor to sustain the continuous on-air operation required after the launch.

With the system delivered on Thursday afternoon, and having completed installation and testing on the Friday, the first studio pre-record took place on Saturday morning. Rehearsals continued during Saturday afternoon and Sunday, along with final configuration changes. The first live news programme went out successfully, and on schedule, on the evening of 31st May and the station has been on-air ever since thus proving that it is possible, if not perhaps recommended, to get a new station live within just three days.
Dan Cass, Thats TVs Chief Executive, was happy with the result. We are very pleased that we chose the fully-integrated aQ Broadcast system for Thats Manchester he said. aQ provides us with the integrated scripting, production and automation functionality that we require to deliver our substantial mix of live and original programming for Greater Manchester. The system is intelligent, robust and intuitive. Cass added weve also been really pleased with the support from the team and their openness to adding specific features to meet our own particular requests."

aQ is currently in the process of building a similar system for another channel. Thats Lancashire, to be based in Preston, is expected to launch later this summer, although we are all hoping to be on-site slightly earlier this time!

Tags: iss104 | aq broadcast | that is manchester | tv studio | local tv channel | transmission | Neil Hutchins#
Contributing Author Neil Hutchins#

Read this article in the tv-bay digital magazine
Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

Related Interviews
  • aQ Broadcast Production Suite at BVE 2014

    aQ Broadcast Production Suite at BVE 2014

  • AQ Broadcast Company Update at IBC 2017

    AQ Broadcast Company Update at IBC 2017

  • QNews Newsroom system from AQ Broadcast at IBC 2017

    QNews Newsroom system from AQ Broadcast at IBC 2017

  • AQ Broadcast News Room System at BVE 2016

    AQ Broadcast News Room System at BVE 2016

  • AQ Broadcast Broadcast Engine at BVE 2016

    AQ Broadcast Broadcast Engine at BVE 2016

  • AQ BROADCAST at NAB 2015

    AQ BROADCAST at NAB 2015

  • AQ Broadcast at NAB 2014

    AQ Broadcast at NAB 2014

  • ATEM TV Studio Pro HD from Blackmagic Design at NAB 2017

    ATEM TV Studio Pro HD from Blackmagic Design at NAB 2017

  • Sony HXR-MC88 palm-sized camcorder shown plus UWP series wireless transmission at NAB 2019

    Sony HXR-MC88 palm-sized camcorder shown plus UWP series wireless transmission at NAB 2019

  • Wireless 4k transmission from BOXX TV at NAB 2019

    Wireless 4k transmission from BOXX TV at NAB 2019

  • Boxx TV Wireless Transmission with Meridian, Atom and Zenith on show at IBC 2017

    Boxx TV Wireless Transmission with Meridian, Atom and Zenith on show at IBC 2017

  • Facility Management Software from Xytech at NAB 2017

    Facility Management Software from Xytech at NAB 2017

  • Dejero at IBC 2016

    Dejero at IBC 2016

  • Guntermann and Drunck at IBC 2015

    Guntermann and Drunck at IBC 2015

  • PacTV Truck at NAB 2014

    PacTV Truck at NAB 2014

  • Thomson Broadcast at NAB 2014

    Thomson Broadcast at NAB 2014

  • Dejero on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

    Dejero on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

  • SIS LIVEs Martyn Hopkins on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

    SIS LIVEs Martyn Hopkins on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

  • Cobham on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

    Cobham on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

  • Guntermann and Drunck CrossDisplay switching and CCD at IBC 2013

    Guntermann and Drunck CrossDisplay switching and CCD at IBC 2013

  • SIS Live at IBC 2012 Part Two

    SIS Live at IBC 2012 Part Two

  • SIS Live at IBC 2012 Part One

    SIS Live at IBC 2012 Part One

  • Thomson Broadcast at IBC2011

    Thomson Broadcast at IBC2011


Articles
Digital Video Tech Innovation - The Game Changer for Live Sports
Lorna Garrett Since the first live television sports event in 1936, when the Olympics was broadcast from Berlin, the sports industry has been an early adopter of the latest technology. The goal continues to be to deliver compelling content around the globe, now to multiple viewing platforms. It’s become a must-have that’s embedded in fan expectations and broadcasters’ marketing strategies.
Tags: iss137 | garland | gpl | liveU | sports | lu600 | hevc | lu300-hevc | Lorna Garrett
Contributing Author Lorna Garrett Click to read or download PDF
Behind the Scenes of Wild rose
KitPlus Financed by BFI Film Fund, Wild Rose tells the story of a musician from Glasgow who dreams of becoming a Nashville star. The only thing in the way: her own penchant for crime and violence.
Tags: iss137 | blackmagic design | davinci | ursa mini pro | KitPlus
Contributing Author KitPlus Click to read or download PDF
What is the JT-NM Tested Program
Bruce Devlin - new The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show 2019 has come and gone with the usual onslaught of product announcements, launch parties, demonstrations and the usual high-density crowds preventing any high-speed movement between halls. The IP showcase, this year, featured a JT-NM tested program. If you're unfamiliar with the JT-NM, then it's worth checking out their website jt-nm.org where you can find out about the work being done to coordinate the different aspects of building an inter-working ST 2110 eco-system. The JT-NM tested program catalogue can be downloaded from the website and it highlights a series of tests that were performed prior to NAB on various products to see how they performed against the written standards upon which the ST 2110 eco system is based.
Tags: iss137 | st2110 | class | jt-nm | nab | ieee | secuirty | amwa | Bruce Devlin - new
Contributing Author Bruce Devlin - new Click to read or download PDF
Preparing for the holiday peak
Jamie Adkin The summer holiday getaway of 2018 hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A UK airport's non-functional departure boards left travellers unable to find their flights. Meanwhile, an airline cancelled over 2,000 flights due to a computer glitch. One European city closed its airspace entirely.
Tags: iss137 | adder | kvm | server | Jamie Adkin
Contributing Author Jamie Adkin Click to read or download PDF
Cinegy Channel Playout
David Wright Canis Television & Media is a UK-based specialist broadcast services company, providing its clients as a one-stop shop for everything from production facilities to asset valuations to traffic control. In response to growing demand from its clients, Canis identified a need for channel playout facilities.
Tags: iss137 | cinegy | canis media | David Wright
Contributing Author David Wright Click to read or download PDF