For FRANCE 24, the challenge was clear: how quickly could they launch the first French-based global news network while attracting viewers used to getting their world news from established broadcasters such as the BBC and CNN?
Just months later, FRANCE 24 and the rest of the world knew the answer. On December 6, 2006, the network--complete with a staff of 450, including 220 journalists from around the world--officially launched its Web site. A day later, the channel's news content was available around the globe to satellite and cable television viewers.
The network offers a French perspective on world events with the aim of providing a fresh new look at international developments to ensure greater pluralism in a multi-faceted, information-focused world. The network initially aired in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the cities of New York and Washington D.C. Coverage is ultimately planned to extend worldwide.
For FRANCE 24 CEO Alain de Pouzilhac and the rest of the French speaking world, the network is more than just an also-ran channel chasing CNN and the BBC. France is a country where it is possible to say anything you want, everywhere, and on all subjects, says de Pouzilhac, who believes that viewers worldwide will find news generated from France to be informative and compelling. Citing extensive research that was conducted in 12 countries to determine the needs of FRANCE 24 viewers, he continues, People said that if they are given an American vision [through CNN] and a British vision [through the BBC], that's fine. And if they get the Arabic vision, an opposing vision, from Al Jazeera that's great too. And, in between, they would be delighted to see the French vision as well.
-Alain de Pouzilhac, CEO, FRANCE 24
Matching the Technology to the Vision
As if the quick launch of one channel wasn't impressive enough, FRANCE 24 launched a second English-language channel simultaneously. De Pouzilhac believes this step was important because it allows the network to truly widen its reach, making it easy for the English-speaking world to receive a French viewpoint on international news. To further extend the impact of FRANCE 24's coverage, an Arabic language version was launched on April 2, 2007, and a Spanish language version is in the planning stages. FRANCE 24 is also exploring distribution options with video-on-demand providers in Europe as well as telecommunications providers for mobile applications.
A sophisticated broadcast launch of this scale required equally sophisticated technology and service to handle a quick ramp up of news production for multiple channels and distribution outlets. FRANCE 24 turned to Avid, not only for its experience in providing enterprise-level, end-to-end broadcast workflows, but also for its expertise in delivering comprehensive system integration services through its Professional Services organization. The Avid staff oversaw the installation of its own broadcast systems, as well as installations from other IT or traditional video suppliers such as Thomson/GVG, Cisco, Harris, HP, and IBM.
The project was the first of its kind for Avid, as it challenged the company to meet tight deadlines, overcome corporate cultural and language differences, and sit at the center of designing, coordinating, and implementing all technical resources. We selected Avid because we believed that the company would be a real partner, says de Pouzilhac about the company's ability to provide technical expertise as well as high-level business services. We were more than impressed by the quality of the people, the quality of the team, and the expertise of the team. Trust was also an essential component in establishing the relationship. It was important for us to know that if we had any problems, the Avid people would react immediately to correct what was wrong, he says.
This level of responsiveness was essential to the success of the project. Avid was awarded the $9.1 million contract for the ambitious project in May 2006--with just six months to manage the launch of the dual-language broadcast channel and Internet site.
The need for tight systems integration became apparent immediately with the introduction of a broadcast workflow designed to enable a single team of journalists to create, edit, and supply content to both the broadcast channels and the Web site in three languages. This twin-track approach has never been achieved in France before, where it is common for broadcasters to operate a separate production group to supply Web content.
Journalists believe that when they work at a television channel that the broadcast side is the most important, not the Internet. People at the beginning were very skeptical of launching on the Internet, but we have been very happy with the decision, says de Pouzilhac, who points out that FRANCE 24's target audience of younger adults often prefers to get its information online.
The network achieves its news-production goals using a completely file-based workflow, pulling in content from partners TF1 (a private French television network) and France Télévisions (the French public national television broadcaster) as needed. Content from the Web can also be easily brought into this unique production environment. With all of the content and story elements available from their desktops, journalists can easily reformat content for distribution via cable or satellite television, the Internet, or mobile phones. The journalist environment includes Avid iNEWS newsroom management systems as well as Avid NewsCutter editing systems, which enable users to create voice-over and voice-over-plus-sound on segments without tying up edit suites. The iNEWS systems can also handle subscription newswire feeds and make them available to journalists' desktops or even laptops, enabling these stories to be incorporated into the station's own news stories. At the same time, Avid NewsCutter XP and Deko systems are used by editors and graphic artists for comprehensive creative editing and news graphics.
The 1,000-square meter (3,280-square foot) newsroom also uses an Avid Interplay production management solution to tie together the workflow, including Avid ISIS shared-storage systems and Avid AirSpeed systems; the newsroom's Avid Thunder servers and the Omneon Spectrum Media server handle on-air playback.
The combination of Avid Unity ISIS and Avid Interplay systems ensures real-time media access and media management throughout the newsroom for fast, efficient story creation.
An Avid DekoCast edge-graphics system handles master control and channel branding as the same news bulletins are broadcast on three streams simultaneously in French, English, and Arabic by news presenters at opposite ends of the newsroom. Five studios are also on hand (three are located in the newsrooms) while 100-square meter (328-square foot) and 30-square meter (nearly 100-square foot) studios are used for talk shows and magazine programs.
As with any news network, FRANCE 24 is only as good as the journalists in its newsrooms and their ability to master the tools to get stories to air quickly. To provide the most effortless transition to the new technology, Avid's Professional Services department trained the news and production staff of 350 and continues to work with them to ensure they have an optimized workflow for both television and Internet delivery.
-Alain de Pouzilhac, CEO, FRANCE 24
Influential News Making
The entry of FRANCE 24 into the market has already had an impact. In its first three months of operation it had acquired five million Internet users and 10 million television viewers. Beyond the rating success, early surveys conducted by FRANCE 24 show the public is enthusiastic about this innovative 24/7 news source. When asked about the value of launching a French international news channel, 75 percent of survey respondents in France, 84 percent in Senegal, 85 percent in Algeria, 73 percent in Italy, and 58 percent in the United Kingdom replied that they considered the availability of a 24/7 French news channel to be useful or very useful.
We are very pleased with the reaction, says de Pouzilhac about the launch. This means that people want to see a different opinion.
* CREDIT: Images courtesy of FRANCE 24.