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BBC Production Gateway trial reports

19 October 2006

The BBC’s six-month long Production Gateway trial, which was investigating tapeless transfer between the Corporation and six selected post houses, has concluded with a recommendation that an open, secure and industry-wide network should be established, writes Andy Stout.

The Production Gateway trial is one of three projects, along with the Creative Desktop and Starwinder, that the BBC has been running as part of an overall strategy that sees it aiming to become a tapeless organisation by 2010. Gateway’s specific goal has been to investigate the benefits, costs and potential risks of digital content exchange between the BBC and post houses.

Always a politically difficult project, Gateway tested a number of different network architectures and tapeless workflows, concluding that a system that will blend centralised network management and security on the one hand along with direct transfers such as ftp on the other is the optimum way forward. Crucially, the aim is to throw the network aspect of the project wide open to anybody that wants to connect to it. And that means other broadcasters as well as facilities.

“We want to sit down with other broadcasters before Christmas, that’s the key thing to us,” says BBC Head of Production Technology, Paul Cheesbrough. “Providing there’s interest then in taking this forwards, the earliest that we could get going together is April next year.”

A tender for the network to be established and operated by a third party, such as an existing network supplier (Sohonet has already stuck its hand up and said it would be interested), will be issued next year under the label Gateway II. And while the business models are yet to be seriously investigated, it is likely that connection to that network will then be available at either a flat fee or per gigabyte cost to any facilities wishing to join.

Gateway II still has some technical issues to sort out though. “One of the things we’ve got out of the trial is that we have some common views on file formats and bitrates,” says Cheesbrough. “What we’ve agreed within the BBC and with UK Post is we’ll jointly shape up some standards for trading digital content. In our view is that MPEG-4 is the right standard to do it with, varying the bitrate depending on what we’re doing with it.”

Then, of course, there’s HD. “HD poses some significant challenges,” he continues. “Ideally, we would want to utilise an SD workflow as much as possible and not be moving that HD content around.”

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