RAI’s main production studio features Sony BVW-550 digital studio cameras, while field acquisition is done with Sony XDCAM PDW-510 cameras. Photos by Michael Grotticelli.
When the RAI, the American subsidiary of Italian public broadcast provider RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, had outgrown its old, mostly analog facility, the decision was made to find a new location. For Michael Harabin, head of production, and Sal Paglia, chief engineer, it was a chance to learn from their previous, labor-intensive workflow and get it right this time.
About a year ago, they secured the top floors of a space formerly occupied by AT&T on the Avenue of the Americas in New York. From their location, RAI's signals would always be available to Rome headquarters, no matter what type of catastrophe might befall the area. The NOC is bulletproof. The building has four diverse video paths, including redundant fiber, for incoming and outgoing signals, and 24/7 operation is protected with three massive backup generators.
A need for speed
The company has maintained a North American news bureau in New York for more than 40 years, producing every type of story — from the Gulf Coasts flooding to the New York City Marathon — from an Italian perspective. Recognizing increasing demands, Harabin and Paglia set out to replace some of their tape-based systems with a shared storage network that would be robust enough to support five Italian networks (RAI 1, 2 and 3; RAI News 24; and RAI International), as well as other RAI subsidiaries.
With help from The Systems Group, RAI moved into a new, all-digital facility in June 2005, while continuing to operate from the old facility in midtown Manhattan. The complete changeover occurred about a month later. The idea was to replace all the sneakernetting and yelling down the hall in search of videotapes with an IT-centric system that would enable editors and producers to be more productive and get stories to Rome faster.
The result: a production workflow design that has fostered a closer synergy among the journalists, producers and production staff. They have more communication and collaboration on stories than ever before. Now when they do live remotes for late-breaking events, getting a journalist on the air takes as little as 10 minutes. In most cases, stories are produced in New York within an hour and sent to Rome for insertion into a larger newscast throughout the day.
The new newsroom
RAI's legacy facility had a tape room for recording news feeds and four linear A/B suites, two of which were combo control rooms for the two studios. Feeds were recorded in groups of four decks, each to provide copies to those involved in creating the programming, resulting in time-consuming duplication and stacks of tapes everywhere. The new facility reduces RAI's reliance on videotape, though it is not gone from the workflow completely.
The digital newsroom, based on Grass Valley digital news production systems, features the ability to prepare and organize media and materials in a highly efficient manner. The facility includes Grass Valley Kayak DD video production switchers, Concerto series routers with an Encore control system, NetCentral monitoring software, and Kameleon and Gecko modular products.
The new space boasts one linear edit room, five NLE suites, two production studios, control rooms (which are often shared via fiber), an announce booth, a radio interview studio, graphics workstations, a master control area and a machine room. There are also three incoming satellite feeds and a CBS NewsPath server with plans to add CNN as a news source in the near future.
Cat 6 fiber connections allow reporters to review segments from their desks. And broadcast service panels, with audio and video connections, have been installed at strategic locations throughout the building for added flexibility. This includes a panel on the roof to provide a panoramic backdrop for stand up stories. There are also two POV cameras inside the newsroom.
Faster field to finish
At RAI, signals are managed with Grass Valley Concerto routers, controlled by Encore software, to get signals to the proper destination at the proper time.
Footage is shot with Sony XDCAM PDW-510 camcorders, and every producer has an XDCAM PDW-1500 compact deck on his or her desk. The XCDAM systems' use of proxy files speeds up the process of selecting desired shots, creating a rough EDL and getting them into the edit suites for conforming and finishing.
Once footage comes from the field, editors, working on Grass Valley NewsEdit XT NLE systems, have instant access to those materials via NewsBrowse software at 16 seats. This enables editorial decisions to be made quicker and stories to contain more elements, making them more well-rounded than they would have been from RAI's previous location.
The new facility includes five NewsEdit XT systems, two NewsEdit LT field laptop systems, 200 hours of NAS storage, 1000 hours of low-browse storage, four M-Series intelligent digital video recorder (iDVR) servers (supporting eight channels of ingest and eight for playout), an ingest station and a smart bin server.
Using the iVDRs and eight potential channels, the staff can record six simultaneous channels, leaving two for redundancy. The clips are sent to the smart bin server. Within a minute, refresh begins transferring files to the NAS for use by the NLE editor workstations. Finished sequences are pushed to the iDVR or NewsQ Pro for scheduled playouts, or used as roll-ins for live feeds to Rome. For major breaking news, RAI can go live to three networks with three different journalists at the same time.
Storage to go
The biggest challenge for RAI is managing storage and moving clips between online and offline storage. For now, this process is carried out manually, but it will become more automated as time goes on. Finished stories, raw footage and B-roll images are archived on the same XDCAM optical discs used in the field.
When RAI set out to build a dream facility that would support its wide-ranging production needs, there were a lot of uncertainties. How would the technology work within an SDI infrastructure that included some tape? How soon would the staff get up to speed on the new technology? And how much would it improve the news creation process?
The RAI staff shouldn't have worried. The end product has delivered on the promise it held during preliminary planning sessions and has made RAI more productive, which is exactly what the team was after.
Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.
Michael Harabin, head of production
Sal Paglia, chief engineer
The Systems Group
Technology at work
Concerto routers with an Encore control system
Kameleon and Gecko modular products
Kayak DD video production switchers
Profile XP Media Platform servers
NetCentral monitoring software
NewsEdit XT and LT NLEs
NewsQ Pro news playout
Pinnacle F/X Deko CG
Betacam SP VTRs
BVW-550 Studio cameras
XDCAM PDW-510 camcorders
XDCAM PDW-1500 compact decks