In less than five years, DR in Denmark has emerged from near financial meltdown to develop a state-of-the-art news operation. In the process, it has become the first broadcaster to select a production architecture combining Snell Morpheus and Mosart newscast automation. Richard Dean reports.
DR is Denmark’s public service broadcaster with a heritage dating back to 1932, when it started life as Danmarks Radio. As one of the 23 original broadcasting members founding the European Broadcasting Union in 1950, DR began TV test transmissions in 1958 and now broadcasts six TV channels plus 14 radio channels.
As well as maintaining a network of regional radio studios, the broadcaster has a TV production facility based in Aarhus in the geographical centre of Denmark hosting seven TV studios and four film production studios.
In 2005 DR relocated to lush new DR Byen (the DR city) headquarters complex covering an area of about 180,000 m² and based in Ørestad just outside Copenhagen – so lush in fact that by 2007 the costs had escalated by some 25% over budget to £560 million, mainly due to construction overruns on the large concert hall at the heart of the development designed by fashionable French architect Jean Nouvel.
While the machinations of DR Byen grabbed the headlines, DR itself was literally making more news with an expansion of regional news departments from nine to 11 and the launch of DR Update, an all-day TV news channel broadcast on the internet and via satellite, in June 2007. After a series of painful cuts, asset sales, dismissals and resignations, the concert hall – now no longer owned by DR – finally opened to the public in 2009, and went on to win a string of architectural awards.
But by the time Denmark became the seventh European country to complete digital switchover on 1 November 2009, DR was back in the driving seat – with a doubling of the number of free-to-air (FTA) TV channels to the current six including the launch of DR HD, Denmark’s first FTA air HD channel. Airing successful shows from other DR channels, DR HD has a strict ‘true HD only’ policy, with no image up-scaling.
Given the expansion in services and the emergence of a multi-screen and multi-platform market, DR made the decision last year to upgrade DR Update from a web TV stream to cross-platform TV news channel distributed via satellite, terrestrial and internet streaming with a live news update every 10 minutes.
Increasing consumer reach and output were not the only objectives, however, as DR had also set itself the onerous task of creating a workflow that could be operated by a maximum of just two staff members. “To meet this target, we needed a highly automated news programme production facility that could be controlled by easy and intuitive software,” says Rene Bøhm Jensen, technical project leader at DR TV. “It was also important that the system offered sophisticated functionality to allow the playing back of a loop to be delivered within a very limited time frame after recording.”
The MOS gateway
After due consideration, DR became the first broadcaster to select a production architecture that combines Snell’s Morpheus automation and the Mosart newscast automation system from Mosart Medialabs.
“Support for Snell’s Morpheus is a new Mosart feature unveiled at this year’s NAB that expands the system’s capabilities by automatically transferring the Mosart news as-run logs to Morpheus,” says Jensen. “This offers a much more flexible operation that takes full account of changes to story-itemised looping playlists running on Morpheus.”
At the heart of Mosart is the XML-based MOS (Media Object Server) protocol for transferring information between newsroom automation systems and other associated systems such as media servers, enabling several devices to be controlled from one central point or piece of software.
The MOS gateway tightly integrates DR’s Newswire newsroom computer system with Mosart to facilitate not only the creation of individual story elements, but also to drive the devices necessary to deliver the desired output. The newscast producer meanwhile maintains full control of the newscast with the press of a few buttons.
By using Mosart with Morpheus to switch between DR Update’s live news production and its alternate 20-minute looping sections, the studio can work on new production while retaining the ability to simultaneously modify the loop being played out from continuity, with both the media content and its associated metadata transferred to Morpheus from Mosart and Newswire at the same time.
In essence the integrated systems manage the transition between live gallery production and the looped segments in continuity, with Mosart able to pull together a wide range of scheduled or on-the-fly story elements listed on the control panel, along with news rundowns and a countdown to the next story. These include studio camera shots and positions, DVE effects (such as a 2-box), packages, voiceovers, full screen graphics, upper and lower third supers, bumps, live external feeds and clips.
“Before the integration of Mosart we spent a lot more time preparing material, because the planning, editing, and final preparation of the programme all had to be done within a traditional workflow,” says Jensen.
“Now a lot of the work can be done automatically – for example graphics used to be prepared in up to three stages, depending on complexity, but now the producer has a simplified tool to define the graphics scheduled to go on-air.”
Normally the 10-minute live segment actually lasts about 9 minutes and 30 seconds, and this is put into a loop mode in Morpheus that then inserts a news headline graphics on air between each.
The project included the installation of a Snell Kahuna vision mixer, claimed to be the first to offer simultaneous SD/HD, which has also been integrated with Mosart.
“We have a long track record of working successfully with Snell products, so a solution that integrates a Snell vision mixer with Mosart and then adds Morpheus with its powerful control and scheduling software to govern transmission server playout was the right choice for us,” says Jensen. Although an external systems integration (SI) company may be brought on board where deadlines are tight, DR completes almost all its own project management and installations, this one included.
“There are big advantages in having SI and Projects in-house, as all project managers have their own systems responsibility. Also, staff have a high level of knowledge about the different products and specific applications we use, which usually translates to shorter downtime if and when a fault does occur.” Similarly, while cable and IPTV distribution is handled by third-party service operators, both the programming and development of internet-based services – including on-demand and catch-up TV– are managed by an in-house web applications department.
The new production workflow was finally commissioned in February this year, and with a brand new production system, automatic camera control, graphics, server playout and automatic audio and vision mixing, it would be natural to expect a few teething problems. However according to Jensen, the system has operated from day one with virtually no snags or glitches.
“Already we can say that TV production using this system is more cost-effective and we have shorter deadlines,” says Jensen, adding that the old traditional workflow hampered the production of late-breaking news. “We are very happy.”