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BBC News Streamlines Media Management with Avid iFind

Regional Newsrooms are a breed apart. There is a huge difference between the type of MAM needed for the successful operation of a news operation, and that used for traditional program playout workflows. A regional newsroom is in many ways even more demanding on the system than a central news hub. Although the hours on air may be shorter, the continued downward pressure on already limited budgets mean the system must be fast, flexible, and easy to use. Users may be required to multi-task, the number of operational staff will be limited, the support department may be small and remote, and freelancers may be regularly used with limited time for training.

MAM, as traditionally understood by the majority of broadcasters, is based around a largely predictable and sedate workflow where the timeframe of content arrival through on air playout can be days and weeks apart. But in a fast turnaround environment of a newsroom, it is essential to provide a more straightforward and flexible workflow specifically designed for this extremely demanding set of environments.

Avid's iFind media management system provides all the functionality needed to get news bulletins on air, but its specialist design gives broadcasters the ability to react dynamically to the changing landscape of news stories and bulletins. It even allows broadcasters the flexibility to react to events quickly and make changes without the need to ‘fight the system’.

We do not believe, as some other MAM providers do, that it is appropriate or desirable to adapt and apply to a news operation more traditional playout workflows. A far more flexible and dynamic approach is required for the faster moving, more reactive news workflow that is native to the regional newsroom.

Regional stations provide a mixture of centralized programming supported by news and sports news with regional opt-outs for sub-region news or local advertising. It is essential to have a reliable system comprised of flexible and fast server applications which provide a complete solution for multiple users in the acquisition, management and playout of material. The type of system used in this situation needs to put control into the hands of the person—such as an editor or bulletin producer—who is responsible for that action, and allow them a greater degree of creativity and interactivity in a live news environment.

A fast and flexible system

The iFind system provides fast turnaround software operation on standard IT-based open architecture, integrating with Quantel sQ servers. The modular applications deliver seamless integration from journalist workstations to playout—including ingest, media management and archive.

The BBC recognized that there are significant differences, not only between the systems vendors provide, but also between the types of process management required for a regional newsroom as opposed to a centralized one. The MAM had to work efficiently and seamlessly in a live and very dynamic newsroom environment. An environment consisting of 30 minute evening programs and shorter daytime bulletins, which may require continual changes to the running order during both the planning stages and on air bulletins.

The BBC decided that what they needed was a fast and flexible system that could automate with a minimum amount of intervention, while allowing the flexibility and user control often demanded by a live news environment. With a more traditional MAM system, allowing this type of operation would be complex, and the margin for error, malfunction and basic user frustration would increase to an unacceptable level.

What the BBC didn’t want was an MAM solution that would fight for total control, as that would make it difficult—if not impossible—to react to changes in the ways that were needed. It was essential that the operational staff (many of whom are freelancers and have minimal training), would be able to operate the software easily. Also, because human beings can react quickly to change, the MAM had to be flexible and intuitive.

The best of both worlds

Through iFind, the BBC English Regions have the best of both worlds. They can have an almost fully automated output—with servers, CGs and other devices triggered via MOS—right through to an ‘MAM assist’ type of dynamic operation. This eliminates the complexity inherent in selecting different operating systems or opening different GUIs.

Central to this flexibility is integration with the Newsroom Control System, about which some broadcasters still have concerns—not about the technology, but about the loss of control. However, MOS doesn’t take away control. It helps provide a seamless integration from journalists writing their scripts, setting captions, marking in/out points etc., through to making sure all relevant systems—CGs, cameras and prompters—are triggered at the right point.

Within the BBC Regional newsroom model, all 13 sites operate in essentially the same way—same workflow, same naming convention, same media management rules. With largely the same program output for each region, the BBC felt it was important to standardize on the same technology, architecture, and workflow processes.

When material arrives, the iAcquire application ensures it is ingested straight to the news hub, so that everyone has immediate access to it. Early on in this project, the BBC and Orad (purchased by Avid in 2015) worked together to ensure that users had access to a sensible naming convention for all new clips—essential to the smooth flow of any digital newsroom system. All Avid applications, working in tandem with ENPS, track the ingest, movement, editing, playout and archiving of the material throughout the facility.

Training and processes across the regions are now standardized, giving the BBC greater flexibility—not only with their journalists, but with their operational staff too. By having same technology across the board and offering test and training courses centrally at Wood Norton, media asset management, operations, and support are much easier. In a business enterprise with an eye on saving time and expenditure, this is an important factor, as many stations use freelance staff which may move between regions.

The initial contract was to assess the system for two sites. At the end of those two projects, the BBC was happy to purchase applications for the next five and beyond—indicating that the BBC feels they have got their regional story right in terms of their requirements. Ten years have passed, and the systems are still on air, day in day out, producing cost effective, highly professional output across the UK and an excellent return on investment.

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