Working with small teams and on limited budgets, local TV stations have faced some tough choices over the technology and equipment they need to get on air.
Just over three years ago, Jeremy Hunt outlined his vision for a network of local TV stations around the country.
This year, most of the first wave of channels granted licences by Ofcom will launch on Freeview channel 8 in England and channel 26 in Scotland and Wales.
Careful planning and consideration has gone into the equipment and technology these channels will use to create and deliver content for their local communities.
This will range from news and current affairs to sport, entertainment and acquired programming.
Despite being in different starting positions, with some of the licence holders already live on the web and others starting from scratch, the channels have had similar considerations when selecting their equipment: flexibility, connectivity, limited budgets and small teams.
Cutting the mustard
Estuary TV, which was established in 1997 as Channel 7, was the first local TV station to launch on Freeview in November last year.
Controller Lia Nici says that despite its limited resources, the channel was able to launch due to the quality of its team.
“We are an incredibly small operation and we haven’t got the number of bodies to be extravagant. We needed people with experience to be able to do it properly.”
The Estuary TV team are working with Sony cameras such as the Z1, Z7 and PMW-EX3 in the field and across the two-studio set-up.
Mustard TV was the first of the stations created after the initial Ofcom licencing round and launched on 24 March.
Named in reference to Norwich’s famous Colman’s mustard factory, Mustard TV is able to reach 320,000 people across the city and wider Norfolk area.
As well as a core team of four video journalists and a news producer, print journalists from parent firm Archant’s newspapers have attended TV production courses so they can contribute to the channel.
Like Estuary TV, Mustard TV has built on a base of existing equipment that was used for web content prior to its Freeview launch.
On air as an IPTV channel since January last year, it uses DSLRs to capture video, while investment has been ploughed into cameras such as the Canon XF105, while the station’s more experienced operators use JVC GY-HM650s.
“The GY-HM650 is a really exciting camera,” says Mustard TV managing director Fiona Ryder.
“We intend to use its wireless capability, although we won’t from launch as we want to refine all our technical processes first.”
Ryder says broadband and wi-fi are “not always where you want them to be” in Norfolk, and “3G is patchy and 4G non-existent”.
“So we will put in fixed camera points or make sure there are places with a decent broadband connection, but there is still work to be done there,” she adds.
Perhaps the most interesting camera choice has been made by London Live, the largest of the local TV stations with a potential audience of 9 million.
Nikon D4 cameras will be used in its news and interview studios, along with a robotic system developed by Mark Roberts Motion Control.
Journalists in the field will use Nikon D800 devices for a fullframe, 35mm cinematic effect.
Technology director Bryn Balcombe says he is aware of DSLRs being used for one-off live events, such as a TX in Sweden during the last World Cup and some music concerts in the US, but he believes London Live is the first live TV broadcast studio to fully integrate DSLRs as its primary cameras.
Balcombe says the cameras were a “creative choice”. “They will help to create a distinctive look.
“A lot of commissioned material will be shot on this type of camera, so using it means news will stand up to that content.
“We are not an Arri Alexa house but we can achieve a similar look on a budget.”
The Nikon’s shallow depth of field was not easy to sell internally, says Balcombe.
“It took quite a lot of effort and energy to push it through but it has made a massive creative difference and now it has been accepted,” he says.
It will, however, place greater demands on the lighting system: a core set-up of Kino Flos and Dedolights supplied by Cirro Lite that will evolve to “take full advantage of the high sensitivity of the Nikon image sensors”.
Balcombe describes the standard live TV news look as a “technical imposition” rather than a creative choice.
“This is about changing the visual grammar of news. My aim is to make sure anything shot in the studio stands up against our high-quality, post-produced material.”
London Live’s headquarters house one edit room for promos and another for compliance and reversioning, with both rooms kitted out with iMacs with broadcast-quality monitors.
The rest of the channel’s editing will be completed by journalists in the newsroom.
AP’s ENPS system will be used for newsroom control, while Sienna playout servers will be used for ingest and asset-management system, with its Tarot system used to ingest card-based media.
Like London Live, Made TV is building its broadcast operation from scratch.
The group has licences to operate channels in Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Newcastle, with the latter (Made in Tyne & Wear) the first to launch in “mid to late summer”.
Launches of the other channels will follow at two to three-week intervals.
Made Television director of content and delivery Dave McCormack says that for newsgathering, it will use JVC’s “cost-efficient” GY-HM650s.
As Broadcast TECH went to press, McCormack said he was “90% likely” to place an order of 30-35 cameras for the fi ve stations.
The cameras will be coupled with portable mi-fi devices, with local venues providing wi-fi hotspots that should give crews the ability to broadcast from key local locations and allow video journalists to deliver one or two packages each day.
Working in the field
“We had to look at how we can incorporate live without the huge expense of outside broadcast trucks,” says McCormack.
“It is cost-effective to work in the studio, but these are local channels so we need to be out and about.”
As at London Live and Mustard TV, Adobe Premiere Pro is the editing system of choice at Made TV, with two craft edit suites per station and the expectation that VJs will produce rough-cut packages in the field or at their desks.
To capture action in its studios, Made TV will use gallery-controlled pan-tilt Sony PTZs and lock off some of its fi eld cameras, depending on the shoot.
Made TV is not the only channel adopting the GY-HM650 for use in the field. Bay TV Liverpool, which expects to launch in June, is also set to use the cameras for shooting on location.
Bay TV Liverpool has been operating an internet-based TV service since November 2011 and the Freeview channel is expected to reach around 890,000 homes when it launches in June.
Chief executive Chris Johnson says usability by video journalists who will often be required to operate single-handed on the road is the prime consideration for its kit choices.
He expects the balance between studio and outside broadcasting to be around 50/50.
“We do not plan a large amount of live OB at the outset. Our approach is to record ‘as live’ as much as possible in studio and on location,” he says.
Bay TV will have two studios of its own as well as access to production facilities at Edge Hill University in West Lancashire, which formed part of Bay TV’s bid for its licence.
Aside from the benefits to media students studying at the university, who will have the opportunity to work on the station, the arrangement has geographical advantages.
“It means we can have a political debate in Ormskirk with politicians from Wigan and St Helens without expecting them to travel to Liverpool,” says Johnson.
Bay TV has been using Canon DSLRs and Sony Z1s to produce web content, and was considering using the GY-HM650 for its studio operations as well as in the field, but Johnson says the camera may not be best suited for studio use and he is now looking at other devices from Sony and Panasonic in a bid to avoid putting “all our eggs in one basket”.
He adds: “We have had good experience with Canon DSLRs, which provide highquality pictures. And in certain settings, such as low light in places like nightclubs, they outperformed the JVC by a country mile.
“One size definitely doesn’t fit all.”
Mustard TV, which will broadcast from a green screen studio, has selected the NewTek TriCaster 8000 for its studio operation.
Managing director Fiona Ryder highlights the system’s social media functionality and says it has given the station the ability to create “highly professional content with an affordable budget”, using fewer production personnel.
Made TV’s Dave McCormack says that like most local TV licencees, it is trying to build single-operator control rooms.
“The kit we were trialling is all controlled by the presenter, which means not as many people are needed in the studio.”
But he has doubts about the NewTek system. “We may use the TriCaster - it’s an impressive piece of kit - but if you opt for a studio-ina- box system, there is a risk. We’ve not ruled it out but I am conscious of having a single point of failure.”
To control its two studios, London Live has two independent galleries equipped with a Blackmagic Design Atem vision mixer, which was selected because of its open API
Playout and channel management
“It can take 1,000 individual video files to make up 24 hours of content, so the first thing we looked at was the playout and channel management system,” says Made TV’s Dave McCormack.
“The idea is to make it seamless for anyone in the company to jump in and do a rough cut, or for producers to see where they are with certain stages of the edit without sitting in a suite,” says McCormack.
“So, if there is an incident in one part of the country and we need all hands to the pump, our teams in Cardiff or Bristol can help edit packages for a station in another part of the country.”
All of the Made TV group’s channels will be encoded at its playout centre in Leeds. From there, the broadcast streams will be sent to Comux UK’s Birmingham playout operation for multiplexing.
Comux, which operates and manages the infrastructure for local TV and provides a sliding scale of playout services, recommended Made TV use Media and Broadcast Technologies’ Phoenix scheduling and automation system.
“Comux is good model for standalone channels but we originally bid for 11 licences, so it was more cost-effective for us to have our own playout centre,” says McCormack.
“If we have a late-delivery programme, it’s our problem and we can leave it till the last minute, so that gives us more freedom. With Comux, it would need to be delivered 24-48 hours in advance.”
- This article was taken from the March/April issue of Broadcast TECH. Click here to read the digital edition.