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Newsroom Systems: TV journalism on Jupiter

The scale of BBC News output poses a unique challenge for which its own Jupiter Tools provided the solution – with a little help from third parties, writes Robin Rees, Managing Editor, BBC.

Journalism sits at the heart of the BBC’s output and there’s a constant need to innovate in order to drive efficiency and maintain a lead. The scale and breadth of output poses a unique challenge for which the BBC’s own Jupiter Tools provided the solution – with just a little help from third parties. By Robin Rees, Managing Editor, BBC.

The BBC, together with Quantel, has used an enterprise production platform known as Jupiter for several years at the core of its journalism operations. Jupiter enables the storage and access of story assets easily and quickly. However, until the development of Jupiter Tools, this functionality was largely restricted to main sites and its full potential remained inaccessible to the majority of users.

The introduction of Jupiter Tools has now opened up the BBC’s production platform to a wider pool of users. It extends the BBC’s rich production environment beyond its newsrooms, delivering functionality to its regional sites, remote bureaux and newsgathering operations. It enables users to access remote media at any location, move it between sites and systems in an intuitive way and to pipe content and metadata to and from the field retaining a file-based workflow using IP connectivity.

Developed through close technical and editorial collaboration, Jupiter Tools provides a suite of low cost commodity, web-enabled, solutions. It makes end-to-end file-based workflows from and to the field possible, hiding the technical complexity from the user and delivering solutions that ‘just work’.

JEX, or Jupiter Exchange (pictured in use), has been developed to manage the transfer of files with their associated metadata around the news operation replacing a laborious manual process. JEX holds a list of sources and destinations for the content — which network they are on and at what address. It knows the formats used in each area and what transcode or transformation operations must be performed to ensure compatibility between systems. All of this is automated, ensuring the safe delivery of the material. JEX handles the flow of material in both directions.

Secure protocols

At all levels, complexity is hidden from the journalist user. The BBC System Development Team wrote the software that joins the systems together and, in close collaboration with Rhozet, integrated its Carbon Coder product into the core architecture to handle the transcoding of media

JFE – or JEX Field Edition – fulfils a similar need, away from main sites. Like JEX, this was again coded by the BBC System Development Team in Java to ensure cross-platform compatibility with Windows, Mac and Linux. It mirrors the functionality of JEX, but in order to keep costs down the open-source FFMPEG application was used to transcode media.

The JEX developers added innovative features to ensure the files arrived as quickly and safely as possible. JFE allows for file upload to begin well before transcoding has finished, saving a significant amount of time. It also uses secure http protocol rather than FTP in order to circumvent practical difficulties including hotels blocking FTP. JFE splits the file into multiple sections sending each one via a separate http connection. Clever automation and an elegant look ensure ease of use for journalists who may be filing under extreme conditions.

JEX sees most use on main BBC sites. But when allied with Davina (Digital Audio Vidio Interactive News Archive) it is an effective tool for producers working off-site. Davina is a web-based application, which enables users to search main content stores and export or transfer material to wherever JEX will let it – and beyond. A simple search reveals rich metadata including browse media, keyframes and detailed text and an export, or site-to-site transfer, initiated with a few clicks and a little knowledge on the part of the user.

Raven and PNg

The Raven low-cost video server device, built by the BBC’s System Development team, can record and replay four streams of SD or two streams of HD video. Costs have been driven down by the use of open-source software and commodity hardware, yet Raven meets exacting broadcast standards. A typical Raven server costs a tenth of the cost of comparable commercial alternatives – making it cheap enough to equip all BBC satellite trucks and be used at all major news OBs.

Underpinning Raven is an Ubuntu Linux Server running the BBC’s own code, called Nuget. Again, FFMPEG software means it can handle a wide range of formats. JFE is integrated within Raven to enable file-based workflow. The web-based user interface, which runs in the open-source Firefox browser, allows Raven to be controlled through a web page running on a PC, Mac, or even a mobile phone. It can be controlled and searched remotely, for example, by production staff at base.

The device can play media from tapeless camera cards, providing an alternative to buying expensive manufacturer-specific playback devices (which can cost more than a single Raven server). High-capacity commodity hard disks means Raven can also serve as an archive in a bureau and, with its ability to record large amounts of news content, form the core of disaster recovery systems. Raven is built around the needs of production staff and its operation needs no specialist knowledge.

Finally, PNg (Portable Newsgathering) is the BBC’s solution for sending video, stills and audio straight from a mobile phone into Jupiter. PNg runs on Symbian and Apple devices (iPhones and iPads) and is now being developed for Google’s Android operating system.

Jupiter Tools enable PNg to send content to any destination on the JEX network. Click the ‘update settings’ option on a PNg enabled mobile, and the mobile will receive an instant update on all the possible destinations across the entire BBC global news operation. Once a still is taken or video or audio recorded, it can be edited on the phone if necessary, and then by simply selecting ‘send to the BBC’, and giving it a name off it goes, together with a rich set of metadata, directly into Jupiter and, optionally, on to the destination of choice.

As before, this is all accomplished automatically, with JEX handling the conversion of media and data, as well as the routing. The journalist receives a reassuring text message confirming a successful delivery.

PNg has been developed in close collaboration with BLStream, a Polish company that specialises in software solutions for mobiles. The BBC System Development Team made all the necessary interfaces available to BLStream to enable them to write software to the broadcaster’s specifications.

This integrated toolkit, developed by the BBC and supported by close industry collaboration, delivers to BBC journalism the innovation that is driving a transition to file-based working. Jupiter Tools is empowering staff, generating efficiencies and delivering new and truly revolutionary functionality.