The fundamental business case for moving to a modern, file-based architecture is common to all broadcasters. It enables the move to full HD production and playout, together with serving multiple platforms; it eases the integration of digital islands; it reduces the cost of tape administration; and it addresses the very real difficulties in continuing to source and maintain VTRs and related equipment to access the archive.
The corporate plan of Raidiò Teilifis Éireann (RTÉ), the national broadcaster in Ireland, includes the ambition that “to stay ahead of the competition and to remain relevant to our audiences we must continue to embrace new technology”. The smooth but decisive transition to a completely file-based infrastructure is part of that ambition.
To do that we needed not just a new technology layer but a new way of working. In turn, that meant we had to keep all our key staff involved, not just in the implementation of the new system but in its continual development.
Once implemented, our new architecture would provide a quantum leap in operational performance across every part of the RTÉ television service. That is why we coined the project name FAST.
The heart of any file-based architecture is the asset management system. Our intention was that we would invest in a powerful asset management platform that, as well as giving us the maximum flexibility in the metadata schema, would also act as the workflow engine, driving automated processes through the system in order to obtain the operational benefits we had identified.
As a public broadcaster we had to be transparent about this major acquisition, and we went through an open tender process to identify the product that was the right technical and commercial choice for us. Our selection was Mediaflex from TMD.
Mediaflex had proven interfaces already available for existing key products at RTÉ, including channel management, playout automation, storage networks, post production and access services. More important, TMD was the only vendor who could offer a configurable workflow engine.
Mediaflex incorporates a software module called Mediaflex CI (content intelligence) which provides intelligent process automation and business analytics together with workflow development tools which allow the user to create new workflows, rather than revert to the vendor for potentially expensive additional development.
The benefit of the analytics is that workflows can incorporate intelligent decision-making according to defined rules, further reducing the need for manual intervention and thereby releasing staff for more productive tasks. The decision-making uses metadata harvesting and search management driven by the content files themselves. It also generates a comprehensive audit trail to help business reporting.
Training and Development
If TMD provided us with the tools to create our ideal system, we also took an innovative approach to the project implementation. We instigated a distinct first stage of the project to prove the concepts through a pilot programme.
In this first phase TMD provided a “vanilla” Mediaflex installation including five workstations. Working closely with TMD and RTÉ our systems integrator Eurotek, who designed and integrated the broadcast equipment infrastructure and system platform, provided the necessary interconnectivity to allow this small system to develop applications and workflows in key processes like promo creation, compliance viewing, quality control, transcoding and delivery. The installation was also capable of mass ingest from tape (using VTRs in a Flexicart) and from file-based delivery (SmartJog), and interfaces to the other systems in use at RTÉ.
This stage delivered a number of real benefits to us. First, as well as a proof of concept to the project team, we could use this sample system to demonstrate potential features and capabilities to the RTÉ board, allowing them to see that risk in the project was minimised.
Second, it meant that we could involve real users in the development stages of the full implementation, so the staff were firmly on side and identified with the project. We could be sure that workflows on the new architecture would work, because the people who owned those workflows are the ones who developed them, using Mediaflex CI tools.
Third, this development and training system remains a part of our installation but not on the front line. This means that we can use it to sandbox new releases and develop further workflows as well as fulfilling the continuing need for user training. If the project advantages of the first system are in minimising risk and ensuring staff buy-in, the investment is protected because of its continuing role in testing and training.
RTÉ may be considered to have come to the file-based world a little late, but it does mean that we benefit from being able to implement a coherent system using the latest technology. In FAST we have an end-to-end content management system for all of our activities, but one which applies the latest automated workflows for maximum operational efficiencies.
Thanks to TMD Mediaflex, those workflows are not set in stone but can be designed and developed by the staff who will use them, allowing advanced automated decision-making to be applied where it is best required. The business analytics element of Mediaflex also provides continuing commercial information to RTÉ senior executives.
The concept of a first stage which proved concepts and allowed users to get started on designing workflows paid off handsomely, removing risk from the project and leaving us with a secure but authentic environment for testing, development and training.
Our primary business objective in implementing FAST was to move away form tape-based, labour-intensive operations. Already it is clear that this objective is being met, with FAST delivering estimated savings to RTÉ of €350k in the first year, and €450k in subsequent years.