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TV broadcasters sign death knell for tape delivery

TV broadcasters sign death knell for tape delivery
Staff Reporter
28 September 2011

Digital files rather than tape will be the preferred delivery format for broadcasters by 2014, the UK’s leading broadcasters said today.

The Digital Production Partnership (DPP), a partnership between ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC, has unveiled two initiatives to speed up the move to digital production in television.

Firstly, the DPP announced common technical and metadata standards for file-based delivery of TV programmes to all major UK broadcasters.

At present, broadcasters still require programmes to be delivered via HDCAM SR tape, which means that it’s not possible for producers or post houses to yet work in a fully file-based way. The new DPP standard will open the door to a fully file-based workflow.

The DPP has also released a report, “The Reluctant Revolution – Breaking Down Barriers to Digital Production in TV”.

Painting a picture of a technical and creative revolution that is struggling to ignite, the Report argues the reason is not the indifference or ignorance of producers, but rather the failure of broadcasters, suppliers and manufacturers to understand the practical realities and frustrations of the production community.

Gathering the views and experiences of production companies across the UK, the Report, commissioned by the DPP from industry analysts MediaSmiths International, concludes that for all the new technology of recent years, there is no easily workable and affordable model for end-to-end digital production available to independent producers.

“The move to end-to-end digital production is inevitable,” says the report, “but the pace of change is limited by the lack of clear signposts, or standard ways of working, and therefore a reluctance in the production community to set off on the journey… The key to ignition for this slow-moving revolution is the acceptance by all concerned of the day to day realities faced by production communities, and an understanding of where and how the benefits can be identified and achieved.”

The report identifies a number of opportunities and interventions that could bring about revolutionary change in digital production. These include pay-as-you-go models for web and cloud based tools and services, a new role for existing trusted providers such as facility houses, and a more pro-active role for the Broadcasters.

Mark Harrison, Controller of Production, BBC North and BBC lead for the DPP, said of the report and its outcomes, “Those of us who have been evangelists for the creative and business benefits of fully digital production have been mystified by the slow pace of change. This report explains that slowness, and offers practical suggestions for how change can be accelerated – not least by recognising that Broadcasters must get more involved.”

Meanwhile, the DPP’s technical and metadata standards for file-based delivery will be published in full at the end of this year.

Through the DPP, six broadcasters have agreed the UK’s first common file format, structure and wrapper to enable TV programme delivery by file.

The new guidelines will compliment the common standards already published by the DPP for tape delivery of HD and SD TV programmes.

By agreeing one set of pan-industry technical standards for the UK, the DPP aims to minimise confusion and expense for programme-makers, and avoid a situation where a number of different file types and specifications proliferate.

The common standards have been developed with reference to the European Broadcasting Union’s ‘EBU Core’.

The DPP has also worked closely with the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) based in the US, on a new standard for HD files. ‘AS-11’ is planned to be published by AMWA by the end of the year, and the DPP guidelines will require files delivered to UK broadcasters to be compliant with a specified subset of this internationally recognised file structure.

Kevin Burrows CTO Broadcast and Distribution, C4 and DPP Technical Standards Chair, said, “Having one set of standards for file-based delivery across the industry is of huge benefit in ensuring ease of exchange. It will also reduce costs for independent producers as well as minimising confusion amongst programme makers.”

The agreement of these new 'file based technical standards' does not signal an immediate move to file based delivery. 

From 2012 BBC, ITV and Channel 4 will begin to take delivery of programmes on file on a selective basis. File based delivery will be the preferred delivery format for these broadcasters by 2014.

Bal Samra, Director BBC Rights & Business Affairs and Director, Vision Operations and Executive Sponsor of the DPP, said, “Facilitating the development of digital production across the industry is a major priority for all broadcasters and producers, and I am delighted that the DPP has taken such a strong lead in supporting that change. I am struck by the truly collaborative approach made by all member broadcasters and the success of their work thus far in HD delivery and now file-based and metadata standards. I believe an enormous opportunity is emerging for the whole industry to go digital.”

All comments
Adrian Scott
Adrian Scott  | September 30, 2011
To contribute a less knee-jerk reaction than my previous one, I's afraid that this is all so much well-intentioned hot air without full buy-in from the manufacturing community. Only when a critical mass of manufacturers...Avid, Sony, Grass Valley, Harris, Apple and all the rest...have accepted the new standard and produced affordable compliant systems will it become a de facto let alone a de jure standard. So when the report blames slow progress on "the failure of broadcasters, suppliers and manufacturers to understand the practical realities and frustrations of the production community" I would say that it is equally due to the "failure of broadcasters and the production community to understand the practical realities and frustrations of the manufacturers." Suppliers have got to be convinced there is a real paying worldwide market for a standard before they will commit the very considerable resources it takes in terms of R&D to generate systems which comply with it, and important as the BBC, ITV and C4 are as customers, it will take more than an alliance of three UK broadcasters to convince the manufacturer community that there is enough of a global market to justify the development outlay. What is more likely to happen in the short term is that companies which already offer "file-wrangling" software and services to provide conversion between formats will have a field day. And the question has to be asked why, if the DPP group have been talking to AMWA and agreeing on a "specified subset" of AS-1, they did not just throw their weight behind AMWA and FIMS (Framework for Interoperable Media Service), an initiative with the full backing of the EBU, which has precisely the same overall aims as the DPP, and which has growing global support from all sides of the industry. Don't get me wrong...this is a step in the right direction. But without ALL the stakeholders being involved, I'm afraid it has little chance of becoming the global norm the industry so badly needs, and will become yet another "standard" that has to be coped with alongside all the other versions, flavours and variants that bedevil the industry right now.
Adrian Scott
Adrian Scott  | September 29, 2011
Just what we need...yet another standard.

MIke Brennan
MIke Brennan  | September 29, 2011
I trust the quote from Mark Harrison that he is mystified as to why the role out has been so slow is out of context.
BBC staff know full well that the freelance workforce have had no gaurantees from BBC production that BBC's current flavour of the month format will endure long enough for freelancers to pay for the new equipment.
However, the facts remain that file based recording involves the use of expensive cards or hard disks, the new Sony 1TB card costing US$6000.
What is needed is consumable priced recording media ( ie$50 for 50 min) that does not need cloning on location during or after the shoot so the cards can be reused.

It has a long way to go yet!

mike b

Tim  | September 28, 2011
How can this be the death of tape? The headline is misleading. HDCAM SR IS a digital format. Broadcasters still like tape as it's a hard copy with a proven workflow and will sit in an archive far longer than a hard drive. How else would we deliver programmes, send a hard drive in the post which rattles when arrives because it's been dropped? SSD hard drives have lower capacity than tape and far less cost affective. Memory cards are also far more expensive than tape, even more so if you want fast write speeds for full low compression HD. Anyway, delivery and acquisition are two different things and there's plenty of tape still being used to shoot regardless of delivery format, so tape is still very much alive. The death of tape has been mooted for years, a vast exaggeration.

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