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New studio makes news

When the UK’s Channel 5 launched in 1997, the news service was provided by ITN. In 2005, Sky News took over the contract and produced bulletins from its centre in west London. Now, as a result of a tender process during 2012, ITN has won back the contract to produce Channel 5’s news programming for an initial three-year term.

When the UK’s Channel 5 launched in 1997, the news service was provided by ITN. In 2005, Sky News took over the contract and produced bulletins from its centre in west London. Now, as a result of a tender process during 2012, ITN has won back the contract to produce Channel 5’s news programming for an initial three-year term. Included in ITN’s bid was a commitment to produce distinctive news programming operating from a bespoke state-of-the-art newsroom and studio that incorporates the latest graphics, technology and desktop editing facilities. That 250 square metres (2600 square feet) studio and the associated newsroom, in the City of London, came online in November and is now fully functional.“We are located in the building owned by Channel 5’s owners, Northern & Shell – in what used to be store rooms,” explains Ben Wickham, studio director, 5 News. “It has been quite a transformation!” In keeping with other news output from ITN, the studio uses Virtual Reality (VR) technology developed by VizRT. “Three Sony HXC 100 cameras with Canon lenses are used in the studio. Two are pedestal mounted, while the other is on a dolphin arm,” states Wickham. The pedestal cameras are operated robotically using Shotoku TG-18VR heads on TP-90VR pedestals equipped with TI-12VR remote height drive units. These can function as purely remotely controlled camera channels with full VR tracking on all axes or, at the press of a button, as manual units without any further intervention or referencing. Control for both cameras comes from a touchscreen located in the gallery. The use of VR is ‘invisible’ to the operator who simply operates the cameras as normal. The third camera is mounted on Shotoku’s TK-59VR manual tracking jib that provides three-dimensional tracked movements. The jib is mounted on a simple tripod/dolly, which is not tracked. However, Shotoku’s SPI-Touch system allows the tripod to be quickly repositioned anywhere in the studio while off-air, and rapidly re-calibrated in a matter of seconds. It is then ready for on-air use from the newly calibrated floor position. This re-calibration is done entirely by the camera operator with no intervention by the Vizrt system. This means the crew is able to employ the movements that are only available on a jib system from anywhere in the studio, without the added cost of a realtime tracked pedestal. “When it came to selecting a vision mixer for the studio, we opted for the Grass Valley Karrera. It is simple to operate, but provides a high level of depth for those who want to develop further effects. It also has similar software, functionality and GUI as the higher end Kayenne and is easily upgraded, if need be.” For the main evening bulletins, there is a dedicated vision mixer sitting next to the programme director, but for the shorter lunchtime, late evening and weekend updates, the output is handled by a technical director (TD) who carries out both functions. Wickham continues, “The mixer is highly automated, and drives the internal K2 Solo server for video clips, as well as the virtual studio, Viz Content Pilot – for template graphics, and Spot On – for sound triggers. In addition, it fires GPIs into the sound desk, so the TD can fly mics and audio channels via on-air desk tallies. This enables audio from server video clips to be faded up and down easily as required.” The audio desk is an SSL C10, and according to Wickham, is currently the only one in use in the UK. A bespoke panel enables the TD to operate the desk, even while directing and vision mixing. Other studio equipment includes Snell routers, Telex communication systems and Autoscript prompts. Lighting considerations When it comes to lighting, certain presenter positions such as the lectern and rostrum have Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) within them as an effect, but the studio is lit overall with tungsten lighting. In addition, there is a bank of cool fluorescent lights to give a soft effect to fill in any gaps and reduce shadows. To overcome the twin problems of limited head room in the studio and no accommodation for a separate lighting room, ITN selected Philips eS21 Dimmer Bars, with the dimmers and relays inbuilt. The modular design of the eS21’s enables the lighting to be balanced with some other bars that are fed directly from an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). When it came to programming and playback the ITN lighting team chose to go with a Philips Palette VL Console. The lanterns are a mixture of Arri Softs, Selecon Cyc and ETC profiles. Like other parts of the ITN operation (it also provides news output for ITV and Channel Four), the Channel 5 production uses an iNews Newsroom system. “We have long been with iNews, and as a system we find it has the right blend of usability and technical integration with our automated systems such as graphics, prompt and Avid editing. “In fact, iNews is at the centre of a highly integrated system. Clipcodes in iNews are used to reference Avid sequences for live playout, promoting is live updated from the running order, and template graphics are pushed to the VCP playlist via plugins to the system. It suits our purpose well.” VCP also works in conjunction with an additional plugin to Artbox – ITN’s stills management system – so templates pre-created by the graphic designer can be filled with text and images by journalists. This means there is no need for additional input from the graphic designer. Crucially, this allows ITN to play out complicated graphics live, and make last minute changes quickly. The whole of the ITN/Channel 5 operation is tapeless, with Avid Assist and Newscutter being the preferred editing system. “Simple edits are done on most terminals, on which Assist is available. We also have 16 Newscutters, and two Nitris terminals that are used variously by producers, reporters and editors as needed to cut the packages. One of these Newscutters is at our Millbank offices located close to the parliament buildings at Westminster, while another is located in the gallery. All are connected to the media server, so edits are completed on the fly. In addition, multi skilled camera men edit on laptops in the field.” Wickham also reports that there is a dedicated editor, who functions as a floor walker. Dependent on the complexity of the edits on the day he is assigned to enhance and troubleshoot sequences, or produce packages from scratch in conjunction with a reporter/producer. Challenge met Wickham sums up the first few months of working in the new facility: “The 5 News virtual studio is an evolution of the work ITN has done in the past with VR sets. Building the new studio required drawing heavily on that knowledge, and applying it to an entirely new operation. “The switch to HD in a VR set was a challenge, as there is significantly less room for error in the lighting and shooting of the set. We essentially plugged in the virtual set into a whole new operation, as the entire gallery, along with the cameras and tracking system, was new and different from the operation at the main ITN facility. The fact that this went as smoothly as it did is down to the work ITN has done in the past with VR, both on long term contracts such as ITV and Channel 4, but also outside clients such as the BBC“ – Philip Stevens