Station to Station

A European migration

by Reinhard E. Wagner

Broadcasters are having to search hard for working models of tapeless playout facilities, because only a few stations have actually made the transition. Broadcast Centre Europe is among this tapeless elite. Since December 2000, BCE in Luxembourg has been on air with its newly-designed service. Since 1 January 2000, BCE has been a 100% subsidiary of CLT-UFA. It works as a technical service provider for TV, radio and telecom, with 220 employees.

Léon Marx, VP of Technology Assessment & Consulting, BCE, and his deputy VP Jean Lampach explained the process of finding, installing and running the equipment for the broadcaster's enhanced digital file-based and automated system. Within the RTL Group, BCE provides four product lines: production, film and tape operations, TV and radio programme broadcasting, telecoms and transmission. The target for the new structure and the ambitious project has been the long-term protection of the RTL Group's library and to build up a content database over time, without implementing and migrating existing databases within the new database.

"The manpower you have to invest into the migration, the merge or even just purge of existing databases does not pay back!" says Marx. "The only way you can succeed is if you start from scratch with a new sole database and ingest information (metadata) while you acquire/ingest video, audio and data material.

"The amount of material we have to manage (20,000 hours from 90,000 items) each year requires such a new structure. Old and new databases talk to each other, exchange necessary data and exist beside the others. We cannot merge them, because of the size and the daily increase of data," Marx adds.

Technical and logical centralisation of know-how is one of the main features of the BCE installation. To offer best service to all clients, the installed storage has a redundant site for back-up and disaster recovery. "We broadcast from our site for Netherlands' RTL4 and RTL5, Belgium's RTL TVI and Club RTL, Poland's RTL7 and RTL Television's regional programmes for Switzerland and Austria -- with different approaches like time-shifted playout, full programme or ad insertion," Marx explains. "We also offer support for digital satellite services such as thematic channels --Wishline (group Canal+), Nuvolari, Alice, Leonardo (group Sitcom) -- and special services for CanalPro, Canal+ NL, Europe Online and ENEX. Therefore, we have to ensure for our clients' convenience that no interruptions of the broadcasting programmes takes place."

PLANNING AND INTEGRATION

Over the past 10 years, BCE used DigiBeta LMS as the standard method for playout. With the scenario in mind that support for the LMS machines would be discontinued by the manufacturer, the four engineers in the technical assessment department at BCE began planning the investment in server technology.

From 1998 to 1999, BCE developed several projects for clients based on and around servers. "We have had at least six different servers (GVG, EMC2, Philips, Pluto, Pinnacle, EVS) in house for the evaluation period. Each of them was oriented towards different goals: VoD, timeshift, news, etc. But none of these projects were ever realised," comments Lampach.

"A request for proposal was sent out in January 2000 because we decided to start, although there was no final solution in sight. Rundown and rights management use different databases. We wouldn't wait until a point where everything was working together and finally supported by one big system," says Marx.

Videopromotion (Belgium) was commissioned as systems integrator for the project in April 2000. The existing LMS system would migrate from tape-based to tapeless while the facility was on air -- and material ingested into the library permanently.

Currently, one Sony LMS-80 (six VTRs ingesting in parallel under automation control of DBOS) is used in the filing unit together with two standalone VTRs. All material from this unit is ingested onto one of the Pinnacle MediaStream MM1600 servers. A transfer server is in use for FTP file exchange with external stations over ATM. A router system controls the central routing for all internal and external streams. Together with two DBOS MediaManagers, it is the ideal solution for quality control, trimming, registering, ingesting, restore and retrieval.

The 'Nearline' library is a combination of drives (StorageTek 9840 and 9940) that currently handles more than 6,000 cartridges. The central archive robotic system can handle at least 350 cartridges per hour, which offers an archive capacity of 320 TeraBytes -- equal to 70,000 hours of programme material at 10Mbps. Retrieval time is 18 seconds for short items and 59 seconds for long programme items. The items are transmitted at more than 10 times speed to the MediaStream servers for playout.

With a total storage capacity of 880 hours, all transmission units are fed over three Fibre Channel to Gigabit ConnectPlus 1000 gateways. The central library system runs DIVA archive library manager from Managed Storage International and fulfils the requirements set by BCE. More than 80 hours of programmes can be filed automatically every day and archived in the library.

PINNACLE PLAYOUT

An automatic restore from the library cache and backup server is performed onto the MCS. There are always 40 hours per channel on each Pinnacle MediaStream server at either 4:2:2 and/or 4:2:0 quality. All feature films are at 10Mbps, and advertising is performed at 15Mbps, although all servers have a mixed capability of 6Mbps to 30Mbps.

The system supports trimmed and frame-accurate playout with purge management and secondary event automation. The automation brings an efficient method of operation with complex and synchronous actions. Last-minute playout changes are easy to perform, and the automated program filing helps to get all clips into the system in time. The automation playout management brings overall control of the transmission, either for single-channel and/or multichannel playout.

The new playout infrastructure enables new opportunities. Additional TV channels can be launched at short notice and at marginal costs. The stored content is available for broadband internet broadcasting. There is a significant reduction in mechanical parts because of the server technology, and file exchange with external programme suppliers is now possible.