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Cross-media production at SRG

On 1 January 2011 Schweizer Rundfunk und Fernsehen (SRF) became a legal entity. SRF is a result of merging Schweizer Radio DRS and Schweizer Fernsehen -- a major step in the SRG Deutschschweiz convergence project, writes David Stewart.

On 1 January 2011 Schweizer Rundfunk und Fernsehen (SRF) became a legal entity. SRF is a result of merging Schweizer Radio DRS and Schweizer Fernsehen — a major step in the SRG Deutschschweiz convergence project, writes David Stewart.

Under the umbrella of the SRF, around 2150 employees produce three TV and six radio channels and complementary multimedia content for German-speaking Switzerland. The new organisation thus became the largest electronic media organisation in German-speaking Switzerland and offers high-quality public services. With the merger of the companies SRF can respond to technological change in the media landscape, changing usage patterns of the audience and limited financial scope.

SRF has relied on a standard in-house newsroom computer system called ‘NewSys’ since 1999. The number of users of the system in the SRF editorial offices has grown steadily over the years. Approximately 20 editorial offices use this system to manage their broadcast rundowns for many types of shows: current affairs, sports, weekly topical magazines etc. There are around 840 installed clients on PCs and laptops at SRF of which around 700 are SRF and 140 belong to tpc, (SRF’s technology service provider). Seven hundred logins are more or less regularly used with a daily usage peak of about 120 concurrent users.

No updates have been made to the system since summer 2005, because few of the additional needs of users have been met by the features of new releases of the existing system. After the changeover to a new video production system from Quantel (in 2009) it was time to look for a powerful new newsroom system that could offer effective support for the news and magazine production workflow with Quantel, without hindering the workflows with other post production and playout systems of sports and magazines. The exchange of user data or metadata was the most important requirement to the new NRCS in addition to its internal functionality.

Key systems at SRF and tpc with interfaces to the NRCS are: Web-publishing CMS eZPublish, FARO video archive system, the traffic system Proteus, and video production and playout systems by Quantel, Grass Valley, Avid and Harris.

New requirements

The existing philosophy of a content management system needed to be maintained: a sleek, workflow-oriented tool was required to simplify the entire journalistic process of TV news and magazine production. At the same time, through integration with the Web-CMS, the NRCS needed to fully reflect the parallel workflow for online news from editorial departments. Therefore the journalistic workflow from planning, acquisition, processing and playout through to archiving had to be in focus and, as best as possible, reflect the complete breadth of the editorial and multimedia processes.

The SRF recognised that with changed audience demands regarding news broadcasts, new workflows and processes have found their way into the daily routine of editors and journalists. More and more multimedia content has to be produced and edited for a multitude of distribution channels. Above all, the distribution of news via the internet has led to a move away from linear broadcast structures to a ‘theme-oriented’ or story-centric way of thinking. So when a single story appears on a range of platforms, there is a need to ensure consistency of core content while allowing for editorial and formatting changes to suit different platforms.

For today’s broadcasters, the show rundown is still vitally important – but the linear programme is no longer the only goal. Instead, traditional TV and radio broadcasts are just one distribution platform among others. This means that co-operation across the borders of SRF’s media and editorial departments has become increasingly important. Grouping and exchange of relevant information for a story builds the foundation of solid and consistent reporting across all media forms. This development can already be noticed at many stations. Television, radio and internet editorial offices grow and develop together.

Story and event scheduling

The decision for the OpenMedia newsroom system from Annova Systems brings a flexible multi-level planning system to SRF. The OpenMedia planning system provides an SRF-wide agenda of events into which all departments are able to provide input; this leads directly into the following editorial planning and production process. OpenMedia addresses the need for transparency as well as the requirement for departmental autonomy inside the company.

The OpenMedia modules StoryBin and EventCalendar are key to the workflows: StoryBin provides a container for content and objects, which can be connected thematically for multi-platform reporting. In a later phase OpenMedia content can be exchanged with the Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERP) for planning and accounting of resources.

The EventCalendar is used by journalists to connect events, shows or projects with relevant documents, contacts and video clips. The implementation of a common planning system means that multiple and parallel research should be avoided and synergies in planning and production processes will be created. Specifically, the planner should have the opportunity to plan shows directly within a rundown, but also to determine topics for a day on a preliminary planning (planning list).

Topics – or stories – are developed from known events in time or are abstractly selected from a so-called topic suggestion or a theme idea. Through the classification in event, theme and production planning and the system support of OpenMedia and its container concept the users should be enabled to see what has been produced on a certain topic so far, and which topics are planned for the day.

Target adjustment

In addition to theme and event scheduling, the OpenMedia newsroom system also has a role to play in programme planning and on-air operations at SRF. Realtime news wires from a total of nine agencies are delivered to the OpenMedia ticker display. Within the complex workflow OpenMedia also interfaces with another 13 systems including scheduling, CMS, automation, graphics, teleprompter and video-servers.

Using MOS and XML interfaces as a well as individually programmed scripts, OpenMedia integrates systems from Quantel, Avid Unity, Grass Valley K2, Autoscript, Vizrt, eZPublish and Microsoft Exchange. In addition, EBU dope sheets, Proteus (Traffic and station management), FARO (video archive), Newsoffice (shared contact information) and FAB (title generation) are all integrated via XML into the workflow of SRF.

“The scripting module of OpenMedia allows targeted adjustment of the system to new workflows and customer requests. No other product available on the market can respond so flexibly to new requirements,” says Stefan Wolf, project consultant at Annova. This flexibility, integration potential and modularity were key factors in selecting OpenMedia to replace the previous newsroom system. OpenMedia Version 3.7 from Annova Systems meets the stringent requirements of SRF and enables employees to work in ways that are not only innovative but also more efficient.

The benefits of the integration with office and studio systems are clearly exemplified by the story creation process. SRF editors are able to use OpenMedia to browse and select from a list of ready-cut video supplied by the Quantel and Grass Valley video production systems. Simple drag and drop is used to link a piece of video to a story.

While the video is not yet available, it is possible for a journalist writing a story to use the in-house naming conventions to create a placeholder inside the video production system/NLE. While the video is still not available, this associates a ‘blank video’ with the story. Later the finished-cut and dubbed video will be associated with the placeholder on the production system and automatically linked to the correct story in OpenMedia.

A similar workflow has been developed for integration with the vizRT graphics systems in use at SRF. Inserts such as lower thirds or full-size graphics can be created directly by pressing a button in the story view at the journalist’s desktop. The vizRt ActiveX embedded in the OpenMedia interface allows the journalist to view and select from the vizRt design templates before populating the graphic with data.

Video received by the EBU is recorded directly by a Quantel server and metadata is delivered directly to OpenMedia, where the HTML or XML ‘dope-sheets’ appear in the news wire format. In the dope-sheets metadata view accompanying video is automatically associated with a unique identifier. Thus a search is unnecessary for the correct video and it can be played immediately with the Quantel sQPlay player application.

Querying a Microsoft Exchange mailbox brings email directly into the OpenMedia interface. Messages and attachments can be processed in a story right away.

Yet another interface has been developed, this time for the magazine editors of SRF. These editorial departments use Avid as an NLE and vCube as a sound recording system; this means that the necessary structure for editing and audio production can be created inside Avid from within OpenMedia.

Using a WebService interface in Avid Interplay and a newly developed OpenMedia PlugIn, all relevant information such as title, duration etc. is passed to Avid and at the same time an ISIS directory structure is created on the data store. At the same time a vCube project is generated and the OpenMedia Story-ID is passed to it.

When the ready-cut video is sent to vCube and from there on to Quantel or Grass Valley it will reappear as a finished-cut and dubbed clip in the OpenMedia video-MOS-list. If the video clip has the previously passed story-ID in its MOS metadata it can be linked automatically with the correct story container.

To meet the linguistic diversity in the Switzerland, SRF relies on the FAB subtitle system. Rundowns from OpenMedia are submitted via XML for editing and subtitling. The FAB Subtitles Server interprets the XML data and provides it to all participating FAB workstations.

Legacy replacement

The module ‘OpenMedia Connect’ allows the existing and previously independent OpenMedia systems at Information Radio DRS in Berne and the tri-medial project ‘Kinderwelten’ in Zurich to be connected to the new SRF system. From the user’s perspective, everything appears as a single system — planning and texts of stories from one system can be transferred directly into the rundown of another.

OpenMedia is currently in transitional operation at SRF and will shortly completely replace the legacy system. Dieter Fahrni, project manager for the introduction of OpenMedia says: “The decisive points for the change to OpenMedia were the new planning tools and the broad possibilities for integration with surrounding systems. With the module OpenMedia Connect we also gained the possibility to support the tri-media focus of our company.”

OpenMedia has not only replaced the old newsroom system; it has also enabled SRF to move to a whole new level of modern broadcast IT. Taking advantage of OpenMedia’s interfaces and on-going development, SRF has ensured that they can stay at the forefront of broadcasting today and into the future.