Billing itself as the first teleshopping network for men, since 2012 pearl.tv has been bringing viewers a range of tech, computer and audio/video products. On 4 September 2015 pearl.tv became the first European broadcaster to transmit in 4K to ASTRA.
Based out of the EnStyle Studios in Buggingen Germany, pearl.tv has aimed to be at the forefront of broadcast innovation, and since 1 March 2012 the network has provided its viewers with 24 hours of programming daily. From day one this has been in HD quality, a European teleshopping first.
￼￼Focusing on computers, consumer audio/visual equipment, and cool gadgets pearl.tv targets a market segment largely ignored by other teleshopping networks — men between 40 and 99. This dedicated focus has proven a success as pearl.tv has presented its viewers over 10.000 products in three years. With availability over ASTRA, the Unitymedia, KabelBW, and Primacom cable networks, as well the Zattoo App and online, pearl.tv covers the entire German speaking world reaching potential customers in 27 million households.
Investing in reliable and powerful equipment has always been important for pearl.tv. At the studios in Buggingen, six UHD studio cameras are used in recording and two well-trained film crews are on location every day filming product presentations with 35mm 4K cinema cameras. In total, pearl.tv produces more than two hours of cinema-style 4K content and over six hours of studio productions daily.
ToolsOnAir’s just: play running on a MacPro 8-core as been a key part of the pearl.tv workflow since inception. When all content is ready to air, the playout signal is broadcast using a Blackmagic Design UltraStudio 4K in full UHD resolution. Thanks to the real-time scaler which is part of the just: play engine, legacy HD productions can be scheduled side by side with new 4K content. This feature was used extensively during the transition to 4K. Now pearl.tv is broadcasting exclusively in UHD.
At IBC2015 ToolsOnAir announced 4K playout support in the upcoming 2.0 Version currently scheduled for full release Q1 2016. Commenting on the pre-release installation at pearl.tv, George Deisting, product manager for playout systems at ToolsOnAir, said: “As development on the new 2.0 Version progressed we began looking for beta test sites. It must have been telepathy because Michael Sichler gave us a call and said he wanted to start broadcasting in 4K and could we do it. We jumped at the opportunity to have such a loyal customer volunteer as a test site and after some initial hiccups the system was up and running in under a week.”
ToolsOnAir visited Dr. Michael Sichler, general manager at pearl.tv, to hear his perspective on the first weeks of 4K broadcast, find out why he has always placed high importance on being on the cutting edge of broadcast technology, and how ToolsOnAir’s just: play meets his production needs.
You have always focused on being at the forefront of broadcast. What are some of the challenges you have faced in adopting cutting-edge technology?
I find a project interesting when everybody tells me it can’t be done. Launching a live UHD channel at first glance appeared technically feasible, we soon discovered, however, that there are a limited number of useable 4K products on the market. Frankly, regarding 4K the broadcast industry is to date, at best, in an early development stage.
This isn’t surprising given that many TV stations are still struggling with the transition from SD to HD and that the industry continues to make good money with HD technology. Correspondingly there is little incentive to bring the next generation of devices to market. After all, this would place the current migration to HD in question, especially if newer technology was an even better option.
Against this background, working with established broadcast system manufacturers was extremely difficult. With the exception of Blackmagic Design no supplier had market-ready devices or a unified 4K production workflow and even here, not all products presented online and in marketing material were actually available.
Beyond the difficulty in getting access to components, we also faced numerous technical and deadline barriers including routing the live signal over 400km from rural Südbaden to Unterführung and exchanging all of the studio equipment. The biggest challenge was ultimately ensuring a smooth switch to UHD without significant transmission loss. We managed to replace the entire transmission technology with less than 30 minutes of off-air time and switch the studio equipment without losing a single production day.
Regarding the ToolsOnAir setup, all hardware and software components were replaced during a two-hour live broadcast, tested and put into operation. This was an easy switch and ToolsOnAir provided remote support via TeamViewer.
Tell us more about your decision to create a teleshopping network for men. What were some of the challenges you faced?
The German teleshopping market is geared toward female customers and is dominated by two major networks, QVC and HSE24.
Additionally, there are some smaller stations focusing on female viewers as well. It didn’t make sense for us to try to compete in an already saturated market plus the Pearl Group already had a broad and attractive range of products that traditionally appeal to male customers. It was a logical decision for us to target this neglected male audience. We focus on this target group not only in product selection but also in studio design, the presenters and ultimately in the overall look of the programming.
You also looked at competitive products offering similar solutions. What were the unique benefits offered by just: play?
In moving to 4K, ToolsOnAir was our ideal choice from the start as we had worked well with the system for three years in HD broadcast. Unfortunately, it initially looked like ToolsOnAir would not have an UHD solution available in time for our transmission start. Forced to look for alternative providers, we soon discovered that ToolsOnAir is one of the easiest to use solutions on the market, and ultimately the one that best met our expectations. Plus it is Mac-based which is important since our entire operation runs on Apple systems.
Happily, ToolsOnAir pulled out the stops and delivered the UHD version of just: play in time for broadcast start. It has now been in operation for two months of largely trouble-free continuous use.