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Communicating with VGTRK Russia

VGTRK owns and operates five national television stations, two international networks, seven radio stations and over 80 regional TV centres across Russia. Philip Stevens reports on how the broadcaster has recently expanded its communications set-up to cope with numerous regional centres across its vast territory.

Philip Stevens reports on how a major Russian broadcaster has recently expanded its communications set-up to cope with numerous regional centres across its vast territory.

Vserossiyskaya gosudarstvennaya televizionnaya i radioveshchatelnaya kompaniya (VGTRK, for short) is the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company that was founded in 1990 to allow the then-chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet, Boris Yeltsin, a voice independent of the Soviet Union channels. It currently owns and operates five national television stations, two international networks, seven radio stations and over 80 regional TV centres across the Russia territory. The company also runs the Russian Information agency, RIA Novosti. This portfolio of operations makes the Moscow-based media conglomerate one of the world’s largest broadcasting organisations.

“Those television channels cater for all genres,” says Igor Naum, VGTRK’s head of service department of Information Programmes. “For example, there is a channel for entertainment and news, another for sport, entertainment, a dedicated news channel, and others for children, culture, and documentaries. We also provide an international channel, two pay TV sports outlets and the Russian-language edition of Euronews.”

All of these channels are distributed by a mixture of terrestrial, satellite and internet transmissions. Naum goes on to explain that the Russian regions have capital cities, each with its own television centre. The name of each TV station is GTRK followed by the name of the city or region – for instance, GTRK Yaroslavl, GTRK Novosibirsk, GTRK Tomsk, and so on.

The main centre in Moscow houses 15 studios. Although transmissions are generally in SD, a number of ‘special’ programmes are made and broadcast in high definition. “We have no plans for regular transmissions in HD; nevertheless we are making a few programmes in both high def and 3D,” reveals Naum.

The studios are currently equipped with Sony and Ikegami cameras, Studer and Lawo audio systems and Grass Valley vision mixers. Future plans call for Snell vision switchers to be added to the mix.

VGTRK has recently undertaken an upgrade programme that has involved a move to a tapeless environment and improved newsroom workflow systems. A major part of the upgrade included the purchase of communications equipment from RTS/Telex.

“The main purpose of this acquisition was to create a totally reliable intercom network between our central location, and existing systems in Kremlin, White House and TV Centre in Shabolovka,” states Naum.

Nico Lewis, senior sales manager for RTS Telex, picks up the story and provides some more detail about the installation. “We provided Cronus matrix systems with RVONC VOIP technology, different keypanel mixes, panels with new Cyrillic displays and a central trunk master to manage all regional data to be available over RVON to all regions.”

RVON – or RTS Voice Over Network — allows the connection of the more than 80 planned regions by means of a dedicated matrix and panels that are merged through Ethernet trunking into one large system. This protocol is employed by broadcasters around the world, and because it is used with fixed IP addresses and on its own protected local networks, it is fast, stable and reliable.

The RTS Cronus intercom is a modular, 32-port digital matrix intercom in 2U format capable of holding up to four AIO analogue or RVON-C VoIP cards with eight ports each. Using an advanced DSP architecture, the technology permits up to four Cronus units to be linked to create a unified 128-port matrix. When connected as a single matrix, the individual Cronus intercom controls remain autonomous and independent at each matrix. This, points out Lewis, maximises reliability.

The system in Moscow is based on the ADAM (Advanced Digital Audio Matrix) that has more capacity, processing power and features, but can be added in the same way like the Cronus to the RVON trunked network. This makes it possible for every panel to communicate intelligently with every user over RTS RVON – no matter which regional centre is involved. In fact, there are no distance restrictions when it comes to using this network.

“In the central facilities in Moscow, where the broadcaster has ADAM technology, we offer for the future the possibility to implement our new RTS MADI technology for up to 64 channel MADI connections on one single card to third parties,” says Lewis.

Because of the diversity of cultures within the country, VGTRK broadcasts in a number of languages besides Russian. So, does this make a difference when it comes to labelling keys and other equipment? “The software that is controlling the different matrix systems – AZEdit — uses English. The responsible engineers are trained to work with that language. We offer the possibility to use four, six and eight characters in English and Cyrillic on the key panels. Indeed, the intelligent key panels with new Cyrillic display technology are both backward and future compatible,” states Lewis.

Better workflow

Back at VGTRK’s studio centre, Naum is keen to underline that the new communications system will help improve the workflow of the broadcaster. “All studio locations and all OB vans now work in common intercom space. On each production we need strong and flexible communication between a great many locations. In fact, as I said earlier, we have to connect very important places – not the least of which are the Kremlin and the White House.”

He goes on: “Now we have existing 4-wire network over the whole of the Russian regional GTRK. In addition, we have started to use VOIP with RTS Telex RVON technology with OB van transmissions from the field using Cronus Rvon Ethernet. Although all Russian television is historically adapted for several time zones, we now have the possibility of easy communication between each GTRK from the west in Kaliningrad to the east at Vladivostok.”

In the big scheme of things, communications systems probably do not produce the same ‘glamour’ as cameras and sophisticated electronic effects, yet as Lewis concludes, comms are crucial. “A good non-blocking reliable working intercom is vital to have in any production set-up. It is, in many cases, the resource through which problems are resolved when things go really wrong. That’s why broadcasters need a stable talkback system to link together all their production units.”