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How to solve a problem like integrated workflows
15 June 2015

How to solve a problem like integrated workflows

Although many manufacturers are improving their support for data interchange, a solution appears at best, a long way off. Broadcast facilities that want to be more productive need to ensure that their editing systems work together without fuss. Unfortunately that is easier said than done.

Editing software packages are all the same. No, I know that is not right, but in terms of doing 90% of what most editors need to do most of the time, they all offer similar functionality.

To some extent editing software is now a commodity and is interchangeable. Editors are usually efficient and comfortable using one product to complete a project and facilities are increasingly allowing staff to use their tools of choice. Yet, inevitable differences between edit platforms and challenges arise when different parts of the same workflow are managed by different staff with each wanting to use a different platform. Managing such ‘cross platform’ workflows is a challenge due to the many integration issues. Both editors and facilities want and need ‘anything to work with anything’. Yet, this is far from the reality today and therefore integration is one of the greatest barriers to improving productivity that facilities face.

 

To break down and simplify the workflow: media needs to be found, edited and delivered. Each stage presents its own issues.

Finding Media

Ideally, to find media easily, it would be stored in a single centralised location with a consistent, searchable metadata schema. In real-life, multiple departments and locations usually prevent this. Even broadcasters who do have a single, centralised location can end up merging with other facilities and similar issues result.

We recently came across a Quantel-based broadcaster that had acquired additional facilities, some using Avid and some using Apple’s Final Cut Pro (and in the process of transitioning to Adobe Premiere Pro CC). Their question was ‘how do we pass jobs from one platform to another if one department is doing a promo for a programme created on another?’

Ideally, facilities need to be able to search, browse, select and bring media into edit, without copying, transcoding or re-wrapping. However, at the moment, not every edit system is able to handle every flavour of media. This situation is getting worse as new capture formats frequently appear. It is hard to imagine that a solution to ensure ’everything works with everything’ will exist anytime soon.

Mammoth storage

Broadcasters appreciate these challenges and many are moving towards one type of storage, format and set of management tools. Yet, creating a mammoth single media storage and MAM presents its own issues as by its nature it is fragile single point of failure.

The bigger the media store, the more critical the metadata search capability; there is no point having several petabytes of media online if you can’t find what you need.

The global nature of today’s broadcasters compounds this problem. Washington may want to edit something that has been created in Singapore. It might be stored on Avid but needs to be edited in Adobe Premiere Pro. With multi-storage locations and platforms how can media be stored without unnecessary duplication?

Storing and finding media is one thing: ensuring it is in a format ready for editing is quite another.

Inventive work around

Take for example a company that came to see us at NAB: one of the largest and well-funded broadcasters on the planet. It used Avid Media Composer for news editing but Adobe Premiere Pro for syndication.

To move content from one system to the other, the Avid operator renders out the story and saves it as a flat file to Dropbox, from where the Adobe Premiere Pro editor can try to find it! It is certainly, an inventive work around but we were left thinking surely there could be a better way. From our experience this broadcasters is not alone in facing such issues.

Delivery can also present the same cross manufacturer integration issues but in reverse.

There will be a set of requirements for the delivered media and metadata. For example, delivery to a news system may need to be to a pre-created placeholder. Metadata needs to be sent to the MAM but metadata schemes are unique to each facility, making multi-location workflows complex.

Battle of the file formats

Comprehensive solutions are only going to become available if the manufacturers of the various systems and tools support all available media formats, can exchange and preserve metadata and rich sequence information.

Although many manufacturers are improving their support for this data interchange, based on many years of experience battling with file formats, that solution appears at best, a long way off.

Some manufacturers have recognised the need for federated search: the ability to search across multiple storage platforms and MAMs. A sophisticated federated search would not only allow you to find media in Singapore, but could let you know if someone else locally has recently moved it closer to you or into the format you require.

Manufacturer collaboration will need considerable customer pressure to drive it forward. It will also have significant cost. Until then, point solutions will have to do.

At Marquis we have recently developed Edit Bridge, which integrates Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Interplay ISIS. It enables Interplay to be searched and the media to be edited directly in Premiere without copying.

Unique workflows

Many broadcasters used to tell me ‘we have a rather unique workflow’. I used to think that this was either technical bragging or unnecessary over engineering. How could it be sustainable that every broadcaster, who appeared to be doing essentially the same thing – ie broadcasting television programmes - should have a unique workflow?

After a recent TVBEurope roundtable at the Groucho Club, about the adoption of 4K and the cloud, I came to the conclusion that every broadcaster is likely to make their own decisions based upon commercial opportunity.

An example would be BT Media & Broadcast collaborating with Star India to broadcast the Cricket World Cup in 4k to India where the sport is highly valued and there is a ready audience.

So what will broadcast workflows in the future look like? In a word: chaotic. Constantly adapting to opportunity and using technical innovation in order to attempt to gain commercial advantage. Who will win out? The agile ones, whether their editing software packages are all the same or not.

First published in TV Technology June 2015

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Chris Steele

Managing Director
Marquis Broadcast

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Marquis moves media and metadata between different systems in broadcast and post-production workflows.

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