Advanced Television

Digital production initiatives from UK broadcasters

September 27, 2011

The Digital Production Partnership (DPP) – a partnership between ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC, with active participation from Channel Five, Sky, UKTV and the Independent Production sector – has revealed two major initiatives in digital production in Television.

The first is the release of a report – The Reluctant Revolution – Breaking Down Barriers to Digital Production in TV. The second is the announcement of common Technical and Metadata standards for file-based delivery of TV programmes to all major UK broadcasters.

Painting a picture of a technical and creative revolution that is struggling to ignite, the Report argues the reason is not the indifference or ignorance of producers, but rather the failure of broadcasters, suppliers and manufacturers to understand the practical realities and frustrations of the production community.

Gathering the views and experiences from a broad range of production companies across the UK, the Report, commissioned by the DPP from industry analysts Mediasmiths International, concludes that for all the new technology of recent years, there is no easily workable and affordable model for end-to-end digital production available to independent producers.

“The move to end-to-end digital production is inevitable,” says the report, “but the pace of change is limited by the lack of clear signposts, or standard ways of working, and therefore a reluctance in the production community to set off on the journey… The key to ignition for this slow-moving revolution is the acceptance by all concerned of the day to day realities faced by production communities, and an understanding of where and how the benefits can be identified and achieved.”

The report identifies a number of opportunities and interventions that could bring about revolutionary change in digital production. These include pay-as-you-go models for web and cloud based tools and services, a new role for existing trusted providers such as facility houses, and a more pro-active role for the Broadcasters.

Mark Harrison, Controller of Production, BBC North and BBC lead for the DPP, said that evangelists for the creative and business benefits of fully digital production had been mystified by the slow pace of change. “This report explains that slowness, and offers practical suggestions for how change can be accelerated – not least by recognising that Broadcasters must get more involved.”

The second initiative reflects the commitment on the part of Broadcasters to get more involved: the DPP has unveiled the key features of its Technical and Metadata Standards for File-based Delivery, which will be published in full at the end of this year.

In response to producers citing ‘unnecessary complexity and lack of standardisation’ as one of the key barriers to digital production, the DPP, as a starting point to gaining greater simplicity, has clarified the UK Broadcaster’s technical expectations around file based delivery.

Through the DPP, six broadcasters have agreed the UK’s first common file format, structure and wrapper to enable TV programme delivery by file. These new guidelines will complement the common standards already published by the DPP for tape delivery of HD and SD TV programmes.

By agreeing one set of pan-industry technical standards for the UK, the DPP aims to minimise confusion and expense for programme-makers, and avoid a situation where a number of different file types and specifications proliferate.

The common metadata standards, which form an important part of the new file-based delivery guidelines, have been developed with reference to the European Broadcasting Union’s ‘EBU Core’.

The DPP has also worked closely with the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) based in the US, on a new standard for HD files. ‘AS-11’ is planned to be published by AMWA by the end of the year, and the DPP guidelines will require files delivered to UK broadcasters to be compliant with a specified subset of this internationally recognised file structure.

The new standards aim to remove any ambiguity during the production and delivery process. A key aspect is the inclusion of editorial and technical metadata, which will ensure a consistent set of information for the processing, review and scheduling of programmes. As part of this requirement, the DPP is planning to provide an application to enable production companies to enter this metadata easily.

Kevin Burrows CTO Broadcast and Distribution, C4 and DPP Technical Standards Chair, said that having one set of standards for file-based delivery across the industry was of “huge benefit” in ensuring ease of exchange, and would also reduce costs for independent producers as well as minimising confusion amongst programme makers.

The agreement of these new ‘file based technical standards’ does not signal an immediate move to file based delivery. Instead, the DPP provides clarity now around which file formats, structures and wrappers will become the expected standards for file-based delivery as it is phased in.

From 2012, BBC, ITV and Channel 4 will begin to take delivery of programmes on file on a selective basis. File based delivery will be the preferred delivery format for these Broadcasters by 2014. This announcement represents long notice lead-time to the industry, and will enable production and post production companies to ready themselves for this transition.

Bal Samra, Director BBC Rights and Business Affairs and Director, Vision Operations and Executive Sponsor of the DPP, said that facilitating the development of digital production across the industry was a major priority for all broadcasters and producers.






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