Televisa democratizes news with Quantel
Televisa is the largest media company in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world. Founded in 1950, the Mexico-based multimedia conglomerate has consistently shown itself to be an innovator - both in terms of its programming and in championing new technologies. So when in 2009 the company was looking for a file-based, HD fast-turnaround news production solution, it already had 10 years' experience of tapeless working, having been one of the first broadcasters in the world to transition to digital production in 1999.
Although the initial driver for the project was to launch a new 24-hour HD news channel, the chosen system would also ultimately drive all of Televisa's news production operations, including its flagship 'Noticias' broadcasts on 'Canal de las Estrellas', Mexico's most watched TV channel.
Specifying the system
Key criteria for Televisa were that the workflow of the new system - time to air - should be significantly quicker than the incumbent, and that the journalists and editors would find it easy to learn and use so that a seamless transition to the new solution could be made. Also vital considerations were the system's ability to integrate with Televisa's Tedial archive and iNews NRCS, that it should handle file-based media effortlessly, and that it had the capacity to store enough media online so that most stories could be speedily put together without having to wait for the offline archive system to retrieve the required footage. Finally, the speed at which the chosen solution could be installed and tested and the staff trained in its use were critical too - Televisa was on a very tight schedule.
Democracy in action
"We approached eight system vendors initially, and conducted a wide range of tests, both technical and production. We involved 60 of our staff in the selection process, from both the technical and production arms of the operation. This way, rather than trying to impose a top-down choice on the staff, we knew that we would get much better buy-in to the eventual chosen solution if all the staff were involved in the selection process - real democracy in action!" says Televisa News Technology Manager, Hugo Monroy. "Judging the contenders against our criteria based on input from the whole selection team, we reduced the shortlist first to three and then to two companies, one of which was Quantel with its Enterprise sQ system.
"Quantel emerged as the eventual winner for a number of reasons," Monroy continues. "Our production staff found the Quantel workflow to be very streamlined and user-friendly - easy to learn and use. It is also easy and quick to find media with just a title, and Quantel could offer us the storage capacity to keep all the media we need online in HD. Hi-res editing is done on sQ Edit Plus HD workstations, and lo-res on sQ Edit and sQ Cut desktop applications. The system always keeps the hi- and lo-res media in perfect sync. For playout, we previously needed to copy media across to a playout server before it could go to air, adding delays. But with Quantel, it is instantly ready for playout from the same server on which it is edited - a much better workflow and quicker to air.
"For the editors, the GUI is friendly," Monroy adds. "They can have many clips open at the same time and see everything they need at the size they want it. And it integrates perfectly with our iNews system, with journalists able to review material on a Quantel editor in a window within the iNews screen."
The final factor in Televisa's reckoning was the speed with which the system could be built, installed, tested and on-air. "The previous system took eight months to implement - the Enterprise sQ system only one month start to finish. We had three Quantel engineers on site full-time - up to five at times, working alongside our staff to meet the very tight deadline. Everyone knew exactly what had to be done by when - our staff were totally committed to making it happen and meeting the deadline. As a result we went to air when planned - a tremendous effort," Ruben Vega, Head of News, reflects.
The system is impressive by any standards. With 2000 hours of HD workspace at its heart, it supports 125 simultaneous sQ View and sQ Cut journalist editors, 29 sQ Edit applications, five sQ Edit Plus craft editors and 28 Apple Final Cut Pro stations, fully integrated into the Quantel workflow. The system is divided into two zones to provide operational redundancy. "We run 40 simultaneous file ingests (20 per zone) then clone between the zones for redundancy. Any workstation can look at both zones simultaneously. The great advantage of this configuration is that we can instantly switch zones in case of problems - we've never had a problem doing this - everything goes on as normal as there is always more than sufficient bandwidth in the Quantel system," explains Televisa News and Special Events Continuity Manager, Abraham Estrada.
The system was installed in two phases because Televisa wanted to take a subset of the Enterprise sQ system to South Africa to create highlights packages for its coverage of the 2010 soccer World Cup. Thus the first installation at Televisa headquarters in Mexico City was used only for the 24 hour news channel. In November 2010 the system used at the World Cup was brought back and integrated into a larger single system, and all Televisa's news production then migrated to Enterprise sQ. "On a typical day our journalists and editors will create around 2000 clips on the system, so we push it hard," Monroy explains.
All news footage is acquired as P2 DVCPRO 50 and 100 files, and there is also the usual array of realtime sources for Reuters etc. Ingest of the latter is handled by Quantel sQ Record applications, with all file ingests via sQ Load. Quantel's Mission Transfer application handles all scheduled ingests. Televisa uses its iNews system as the fulcrum of its metadata handling for all its news, sports and dramas. All footage includes date of recording, date of air and names of people involved.
"Another advantage of the Quantel system is the speed of ingest, editing and publish," says Vega. "What took one minute to publish in our previous system takes 10 seconds in sQ, so a story can be finished very close to air. I'm very sure that the moment when we took the Quantel decision, we made the best possible decision for Televisa."
Integrating the archive
All hi-res and lo-res media, including rushes, is archived to Televisa's Tedial system under the control of Artesia MAM. "We send around 110 hours of media a day to the archive, both HD and SD," says Archive Manager, Mario Tejeda. "The Quantel system is very fast - it takes around eight hours to archive each day's media through dedicated Quantel Power Portals. This runs in the background while normal production operations continue uninterrupted. The system also has access to media on our Sony Petasite. Since we installed the Tedial system, we only use the Petasite to give us access to older material."
"The Quantel tools are user-friendly and quick to find media - when we've found it we can get it back at 3x realtime," Estrada adds. "On the reliability front, we know this is not a system that never fails - all systems fail! But Quantel support is excellent - we have the remote support and the Quantel teams jump on any problems we have to get us a solution quickly."
Looking back to the future
"Televisa was one of the first broadcasters in the world to go tapeless back in the 90s, so we have much experience," reflects Televisa Director General of Operations, Elias Rodriguez. "In the end, we chose Quantel for three reasons. First, it's a very strong system and Quantel is also competitive on price with the other manufacturers, so that wasn't a barrier. Secondly, we did many tests but one of our main criteria was FCP integration. We use a lot of FCP here - Quantel had one of the better solutions and in the tests, Quantel also had the best overall workflow solution for our news production needs.
"Looking back two years on, we certainly made the right choice. When you start with a new workflow, you usually have a problem - knowledge, stability, training. At the start we had a problem with FCP integration, but when we focused on news, we were working very well with the Quantel system - it fulfilled all our expectations.
"The most important thing is the level of professionalism of the Quantel team. 95-97% of the system immediately worked very well - 3% of it had issues. But the professional way in which Quantel addressed these problems was very satisfying and rewarding. Quantel never let attention to the issues go - this was very important to us," Rodriguez continues. "A big secret is to have a very clear contract and expectations - something both parties can measure against. The producers - our clients - are very demanding. You have to be able to meet their rapidly changing requirements. Quantel allows us to do this."