Channel 4, a British public-service television broadcaster, was established to provide a fourth television service to the United Kingdom in addition to the BBC's two license funded television services, and the single commercial broadcasting network, ITV.
Channel 4 was not satisfied with their existing channel branding solution and felt they could no longer work effectively. 4 users were required to create pages and graphics for the next day’s broadcasts—resulting in hundreds of pages of daily creation, for every conceivable scenario and type of data. Moreover, the system was inflexible to last-minute changes, which usually resulted in the channel branding being entirely omitted.
Channel 4 was looking for a channel branding solution that would embrace their existing workflow of manually inputting data, integrate with their existing automation system, and be more flexible. After carefully evaluating the solutions in the market, Channel 4 chose the 3DPlay (now Maestro | TX) channel branding solution for all its 12 channels. It met all their initial requirements, provided increased efficiency, powerful real-time graphics capabilities, and ease of working in HD or SD mode.
Powerful template design
With the 3DPlay channel branding solution, Channel 4 can design their own graphic-templates and consolidate them into their graphic scenes locally using 3Designer (now Maestro | Designer) authoring software. The graphic scenes are then stored on a shared server which allows the graphic designers to work together on their scenes.
The template can change according to the data typed in. In cross-promotion, for example, Channel 4 had to create multiple pages to support the endless options per graphic. 3DPlay solves this by using the same template over and over again. Channel 4 can change the visuals according to the drop down user selection, thereby saving them considerable time.
Use of existing workflow
3DPlay met Channel 4’s requirements of maintaining their existing workflow of having one operator go through the scheduled playlist and assign graphic events from the pre designed template.
Scheduling to remote playout
Once the next day’s schedule is completed, a graphics event is created—including relevant promotional graphics, data, video clips, and audio files. Using 3DPlay’s archive functionality, all graphic-events and correlating data is archived into a zip file which can be easily transferred to the remote playout facility. In the remote playout facility, all that remains is to unarchive the file, which will provide the same identical environment containing all graphics and files used in the creation process.
Developed specifically for Channel 4, 3DPlay enables the graphic designer to render graphic-templates with its correlating data into a video clip. The clips can be easily distributed via email for preview and approval. The designer can choose a rendering profile which defines the clip’s resolution, bit rate and format.
Once the scenes are ready and approved, the operator can use 3DPlay to create script-less production panels. When finished, the graphic-templates are transferred to Red Bee—Channel 4's playout provider—where they run on 3DPlay integrated to Snell Morpeus automation system.
3DPlay offers a unique validation capability which is initiated by the automation system. Once the playlist is loaded, automation enquires with 3DPlay as to its events' status. 3DPlay checks that all related graphics and media are present, and notifies Morpheus accordingly. If there is a problem with the event or associated media, the operator is notified several hours in advance—giving him time to resolve the issue. In other systems, validation occurs during the cue a few seconds before the event is played to air, which doesn't leave the operator time to react and forces him to skip the graphics.
Embedded audio and clip playout
Thanks to Avid's HDVG video rendering platform, Channel 4 can control and manipulate 8 stereo embedded audio channels which can be mixed with additional inputs and with audio clip files to a single output. Channel 4 has full control over the volume level, crossfading, and other mixing features of embedded audio. When used with squeeze back graphics, the source feed’s audio can be faded out while promotion video clips are faded in for the duration of the squeeze back. Channel 4 can also trigger 4 clips in HD simultaneously, and combine them with real-time graphics.
In promoting the new film Prometheus, Channel 4 requested viewers to tweet comments on their Twitter accounts regarding the film. The relevant tweets were then fed to Channel 4’s on-air graphics and displayed on screen. Channel 4 also partnered with 20th Century Fox to show the latest Prometheus trailer, and featured related live tweets during a following ad break.
This ended with a Channel 4 announcer requesting that viewers tweet about Prometheus and the trailer using the hashtag #areyouseeingthis—with the chance for the best tweets to be featured in the next ad break. The promotion was a huge success.
New 4Seven channel
Recently, Channel 4 launched a new channel called 4Seven. Once again, they relied on the 3DPlay channel branding solution. The new channel’s branding is designed with a new 3D concept with graphics that change depending on the hour. For example, the graphics are brighter in the morning, and the text is lighter than later in the day. As the day progresses the graphics darken. This is done via a simple script where the system compares the time of day to a table and changes the graphics accordingly.
Channel 4 meets its regulatory requirement of continuous broadcast by using an HDVG video rendering platform which serves all 4 channels. Graphics are loaded to the flexible backup HDVG, and in the event that one of the channels has an issue, the flexible channel can quickly replace it. This flexible channel is used for fast preview of all the scheduled graphics.
As they are obliged to operate 24/7, Channel 4 relies on 3DPlay to provide a fully redundant, continuous broadcast. 3DPlay is based on Avid's HDVG rendering platform, which was designed to address the specific needs of the broadcasting industry—including RAID 1 configuration of the Linux operating system, hot-swap power supply, plus mechanical and software bypasses for faultless production.
Today, 3DPlay is used for all of Channel 4’s channel branding for Channel 4, More 4, Film 4, E4, and 4Seven—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Its success can be seen by their Gold Lion award at the 2012 Cannes International Festival of Creativity for rebranding all Channel4 channels.