Global TV, which is owned by CanWest Global Communications Corporation, is Canada’s largest media company with 14 local and national television stations throughout Canada. Global TV reaches approximately 96% of all English-speaking Canadians, and has 21 specialty networks. Global’s programming is a mix of news, entertainment, and sports. Global National broadcasts from Ottawa and boasts the most-watched news show in Canada with over 1 million viewers daily.
Reducing operating costs while enhancing graphics
Global entered 2006 with a number of challenges. The company was preparing to enter the world of HD conversion while dealing with a fairly high debt ratio. The situation was further complicated by aging facilities, high payroll and the need for significant capital improvements to facilities, sets and control rooms. The most difficult challenge was maintaining and upgrading some of the smaller tier markets with little expectation of a fast ROI. In order to remain competitive in markets large and small, the company’s broadcast stations needed a face lift and a significant technology upgrade.
In the face of these challenges, the company employed a truly innovative approach to meet multiple objectives. The company needed to significantly reduce operating expenses, make extremely cost-effective capital improvements, and significantly upgrade their on-air appearance. The following case study details how Global TV turned a daunting challenge into an opportunity to increase ratings, save millions of dollars in capital and operating expenses, and provide a fresh new look to its broadcast stations.
In 2006 Global TV approached their systems integration partner, Applied Electronics Limited (AEL), and asked them to examine the use of Avid (purchased by Avid in 2015) across a broad range of locations. AEL was also asked to investigate all other virtual set options. After a period of due diligence, both Global TV and AEL determined Avid—in cooperation with other vendors, such as Grass Valley (news systems), Telemetrics (cameras), Ultimatte (chromakeying), and several other partners—could meet their objectives.
Big market looks for small markets
Global TV (through CHTV) already had experience with virtual set technology, having purchased Orad’s CyberSet NT solution 7 years ago. The station used the virtual set for all its news broadcasts quite successfully over this period, leading them to consider virtual set technology to solve their current challenges. They recognized that building a new set required a minimum amount of time and cost, and changing an entire set takes less than two minutes. They also enjoyed the flexibility they found with Avid’s virtual set technology.
Initially, it appeared that the broad geographic spread of the Global properties across Canada would create a new challenge. The varying time zones and the number of facilities presented a significant cost in terms of communications, equipment, support, and labor. In cooperation with Global’s broadcast technology department, Avid developed a method of downstream studio operations, rendering, and keying. The model was reduced from 10 control centers to 4 strategically placed control rooms across Canada, with the capability to centralize even more control centers in the future. Each control center would be responsible for a certain number of studios, and control center staff would manage all aspects of the broadcasts from the operational side. At the station level, local news gathering and local anchor presence was maintained. It was very important for the company to maintain a strong local presence in every market.
Centralized virtual studios with remote production
Avid’s ProSet virtual studio graphics solutions were chosen to centralize Global TV’s production and seamlessly integrate with its existing newsroom, studio, and control room workflow. In order to enable the most efficient use of the systems in the control rooms, Avid developed a simple application called “Allocate.” Allocate allows the operators to “allocate” its ProSet virtual studio systems from studio to studio as the day’s schedule progresses. This simple innovation created a significant workflow improvement for the overall project.
Avid’s ProSet is integrated with ENPS, which was installed with a MOS Gateway and a floating license to accommodate approximately 25 producers and 100 journalists in Vancouver. Global’s four control centers are located in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. The proper data paths and compression methods—developed in cooperation with Avid—significantly reduce bandwidth requirements and associated costs while ensuring an accurate data pass.
The data flow includes unparalleled camera tracking information from Telemetrics H-Frame and Televator cameras. Camera video and camera tracking data is compressed and passed to the control room via a fiber optic connection. The camera tracking data and video are fed into Avid’s HDVG HD/SD video graphics rendering platform, where Avid’s unique tracking set software processes the tracking data and renders it against the set graphics. The HDVG also provides mapping of live video and video clips to monitors and other objects within the virtual set. This allows use of large monitor walls and other video features, without any investment in set video hardware.
This plan actually leveraged the geographic spread to dramatically reduce production costs. For example, the Vancouver control center—furthest West in Canada—manages properties in the east and central time zones. By employing two shifts of production staff, one control center is able to manage up to 4 stations. This allowed a significant labor, operational, and capital expense reduction. Eastern control centers will manage western properties.
Each control room manages critical functions, such as camera operation and keying of the virtual sets. In addition, each control center manages remote studio camera control and data tracking while simultaneously controlling the entire virtual studio creation, production management, on air graphics, and playout.
Furthermore, with top quality virtual sets from Full Mental Jacket—the primary graphic design firm for the project—the on-air look of each station has been dramatically improved. Viewers were completely unaware the sets were virtual until the company unveiled how the new look was achieved. This led to early ratings increases at the National News in Ottawa—the first station to go online with an Avid ProSet virtual set system on January 29th, 2008.
Avid’s solution is particularly unique because of its ability to control camera functions, camera position, tracking, and video from a remote location. The HDVGs in Vancouver are 5000 km from the broadcasting studio, with fiber-optic lines connecting them. These lines handle video signals and robotic head control information, which are first encoded and then decoded. The rest, including positioning and tracking data, is transferred via Ethernet with the keying done in Vancouver.
All broadcasts are done from the remote control centers, while all robotic camera signals and positioning are networked from the studio directly to the control center. A project of this nature, with video signal being networked to the Vancouver control center and camera tracking over the Internet, has never been done before.
We are thrilled with Avid’s remote virtual studio solution. Not only did it meet our requirements, it surpassed our expectations.
STEVE WYATT, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF NEWS, INFORMATION AND PROGRAMMING, CANWEST MEDIAWORKS
Captivating graphics, enhanced efficiency and cost savings in one solution
Avid, in cooperation with Global, AEL, and the other partners in the project, prove that virtual studio technology enables large broadcasters to save tens of millions of dollars across networks, and that virtual studio technology allows a network to improve its on-air look. The improved look, combined with the cost savings, enables a highly competitive operation with much higher margins than with traditional brick and mortar sets and facilities.
This enables a network to be much more competitive in the marketplace. With today’s tight economies and an ever-expanding base of competition from cable and other media types, Global is exceptionally well positioned to succeed in the market.