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Applied Electronics Delivers New Core Production Workflow to Groupe Média TFO
TFO: Content factory for social and digital media
Télévision Francophone de l’Ontario is an independent agency of the provincial government of Ontario in Canada, set up originally to run a French-language television channel. In recent years it has dramatically developed its remit and now delivers bright, attractive and engaging content quickly, across multiple platforms, from multiple origination sources. To mark this shift, it is now known as Groupe Média TFO.
The challenge for TFO was to create a huge amount of timely content within a constrained budget. The company sought a new technology platform which would boost productivity. The success has been remarkable: a few months after its implementation and with the same staff, the freelance bill has been reduced by 50% at the same time as the amount of content produced in house has risen by 40%.
The key requirements for the platform were that it should be accessible by all. To achieve its goal, TFO had to move away from the traditional workflow of camcorder/ingest/edit suite/deliver and transcode. Shooting had to be on the most appropriate device, from an iPhone to an HD camcorder; editing – at least shaping the program – had to be by the producer or journalist and in the native shooting format; and delivery had to be fast and automated.
To achieve this, the TFO technical team worked with Canadian systems integrator Applied Electronics to develop a core workflow. Central to this was Curator from IPV, which provides the production asset management layer. It manages the flow of content around the system, providing seamless integration with the business systems, and with the desktop editing.
TFO chose IPV Curator with confidence, not least for two key reasons. First, it had excellent interfaces with other technologies in use, and most important with Adobe Premiere Pro, ensuring that desktop editing could be implemented in a way that required no management overhead. Second, these were not theoretical interfaces, but were already proven and could be demonstrated to TFO staff at major broadcasters around the world.
The new system went live in the late summer of 2013. Content can now be shot on virtually any device. TFO has added to its existing P2 camcorders with Canon C300s, but also provides stringers with iPad shooting kits which allow them to capture video, clip it up and, using a Signiant app, file it direct into the Curator network ready for further work or for immediate publishing.
Video material shot on any device is available for editing, using a browse resolution proxy, within a few seconds of the ingest starting. A journalist or producer can come in with the story fresh in their minds, sit at any computer, and start putting the package together. At a stroke, TFO moved from three craft edit suites to 50 or more edit workstations.
A render farm, managed by IPV Curator, is attached to the network. So simple packages can be completed at the desktop at browse resolution, then conformed and prepared for delivery fully automatically.
All editing is done at the native resolution of the content. If archive material is being added to something newly shot, Premiere Pro allows mixed formats on any timeline. You do not define content by its target resolution: you tell the story then publish it to whichever platforms you choose.
Curator appears as a window in the Premiere Pro user interface, so it feels naturally integrated to the user. It saves versions of edits, so the producer or editor can go back to an earlier cut if necessary. You can also create different versions of the same piece of content for different destinations.
Stories, programs and packages can be completed at the desktop, or a shaped piece can be sent to one of the existing craft edit suites for polishing. According to TFO editor Suzanne Nuttall “it is simple to pull in the projects that have been started by journalists. They pick shots and create a rough assemble and we finish it. The journalists are basically doing what they would have done on paper: choosing the shots to tell the story.”
Producer Alexandre Levert added “everything is much faster now. I can log my shots, rename them as necessary, then in Premiere I can do a rough cut or, if it is a simple piece, I can complete it and it will be automatically rendered. The editors do not have to spend time on the structure, so they can be more creative. And I can leave them a lot more flexibility in the way they use B roll, which I hope is more interesting for them and for the viewer.”
TFO also has two studios in its Toronto headquarters, and as part of the project built a new control room. Rather than a conventional crew, the new platform allows the complete production to be managed by two operators alongside the director and PA.
The production operator calls up any material to be played in using the IPV Curator, and records direct to the server using the same software. Graphics and captions are created in Adobe in response to Curator requests. During breaks in recording the same operator on the same workstation can clip up recordings and assemble edit as the day goes, so a complex show can be completed in virtually the studio time.
Any active content is available to be delivered to any platform. So journalists and producers are encouraged to put clips and trailers on their personal blogs and to post to social media what they are doing, to promote the work of the broadcaster and to drive further viewing.
Curator manages all the work in progress material on a network cluster of Isilon nodes. Alongside storage, the production and render farm are completely format agnostic.Producers never need to think about delivery formats. The content is created in a completely standardised workflow, then delivered to whatever platform or platforms are appropriate. The delivery – transcoding, repacking of the metadata and so on – is handled automatically by Curator, according to defined business rules.
Where content is to be archived long-term, it is handed from Curator to TFO’s existing Pro Consultant Informatique business system.
TFO’s executive producer Nadine Dupont described the new workflow as “genius. We have access to content virtually instantly, and that impacts on our ability to put stories together. We want to be very much in the here and now: we cannot consider taking three or four weeks to do a piece. Television cannot be done the way it was 30 years ago. Today we will send someone out of the office at 9:30 in the morning with an iPhone, and the finished piece is online by noon. That sort of immediacy – which IPV Curator has given us – has exceeded my expectations.”
CTO Éric Minoli added “the IPV team was active in tailoring the technology for us, and for helping us make the transition. They went through every possibility of what might happen, and what we might need to do. They took the old workflows, and they took what was on people’s wish lists. Over the last year the push has been to increase output by 50 to 100%. That was why we had to find a better way of working, and with Applied Electronics and IPV we have achieved it.”
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