New digital process brings 10,000 programmes

Mark Harrison Mark Harrison explains how the major UK broadcasters united to make the process of programme-making entirely digital

In the past, there was a nagging problem that the broadcasting industry needed to solve. Though we had become digital in our production of TV programmes, we were still delivering at the final step as video tapes.

This meant that production teams would shoot digitally, edit digitally and finish the programme without any video tape having been involved in the process. But then it would be converted to tape and sent to a broadcaster who would, once again, turn it back into video tape. It was a dog-leg in the process.

This existed in broadcasting the world over and was the main obstacle preventing the industry moving to fully digital working.

So the UK broadcasters, including ourselves, ITV and C4, formed a digital production partnership called the Digital Production Partnership (DPP), of which I was founder and managing director. Our aim was to advance what we called "file-based delivery".

Key facts one year on

  • 3,192 - total files received since launch
  • 3,277 - total files transmitted since launch (including repeats)
  • 76 facilities and post houses have been on-boarded
  • 36 files received on 2 September, the busiest day since launch

We worked with stakeholders from across the industry to define a common standard for this. The reason why it had never happened was not because there was any particular technological barrier, but because there were so many different file formats.

The lovely thing about video tape was that it was standardised and exactly the same. Sony's HDCAM SR (high definition camera film, the SR standing for "Superior Resolution") was the industry standard for delivering programmes in high definition and all the production systems were geared towards using it.

But as we wanted to move to digital, we realised there was going to be an infinite number of variants of huge complexity and no broadcaster could face it or afford it.

So the UK broadcasting industry, through the DPP, decided to create the equivalent of an HDCAM SR via a single common digital file format that everyone could use to submit finished programmes.

We came up with a common standard called AS 11 DPP. All UK broadcasters bought in and we (the DPP) managed a change of process across the industry so that all production companies and manufacturers followed.

From 1 October 2014, all UK broadcasters started taking delivery of programmes as digital files. One year on, around 10,000 programmes have been delivered using the file-based format.

Benefits

The industry has been able to move to an end-to-end file-based method of working in a way that simply was not possible before. And that was holding up the benefits of working digitally like being able to copy, store and manage programming as a file.

It has been a major benefit for archiving and moving programmes about. Before, if you'd wanted to send a programme to somebody else, then you'd have to send it by video tape which would then have to go into a video tape machine, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds. We are now enabling all that outmoded tape infrastructure to be phased out.

In the past, people were not creating proper digital archives because it was too laborious. Now they can create digital archives and, while that in itself creates a cost, the money we spend now is on future-facing technology.

The next step for us is ultra-high definition (UHD) file-based delivery and we (the DPP) are currently in the process of defining a UHD standard which we will be publishing at the end of the year.

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