by David Kaplan
David Kaplan has led the Quality Control team for the A&E Television Networks for the last eight years.
He has worked with “hundreds of producers on thousands of hours of programs in dozens of evolving formats.”
In the second of a 3-part post, David Kaplan kindly shares with DocumentaryTelevision.com his expert understanding of the key issues related to Deliverables.
This week in part 2/3:
- The impact of new digital distribution platforms, like iTunes
- Have network digital workflows stabilized?
- Frame rates, and more
What has been the impact on technical Deliverables of new digital distribution platforms like iTunes?
Networks and content licensers needed to exploit digital platforms such as brand websites, VOD, and partner sites such as iTunes, AOL, XBox, Hulu, and others.
These platforms are still evolving, so the preferred format of those Deliverables can vary greatly and change over time.
- At first, many network Deliverables simply migrated from basic SD tape to HD tape for encoding, since broadcast remained the main revenue generator
- As pressure built, producers were hit with demands for new Deliverables:
- These were comprised of various short-form materials that were submitted initially on tape, then on DVD
- These files could then be more efficiently ingested by the digital platforms
- The digital Deliverables also underwent changes depending on the video player being used by the platform:
- For example, what was once best exploited as SD Letterbox became preferred as SD Full Height Anamorphic or HD as those systems and processes developed
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Have network digital workflows stabilized?
The changes are accelerating as networks refine and adjust their infrastructures to keep pace with a rapidly evolving technical environment.
There are a lot of different workflows still being hashed out. No single workflow panacea is on the horizon:
- For example, some networks encode shows in one piece
- Others encoded segment-by-segment
Some channels use outside vendors:
- A New York vendor built a great business filling the gap for non-broadcast network encoding
- Many nets lacked the in-house systems that could handle the time-consuming and specialized tasks of encoding or transcoding various media into the necessary digital formats
- These formats changed so fast that it made more sense to wait until things settled down
- That created a great environment for savvy dub houses and media encoding companies
For years Metadata has been looming as a major challenge for producers? What’s going on with metadata as a Deliverable?
Most major platforms require differing forms of program metadata
Another major network outsourced this labor-intensive work to a vendor who had invested in a metadata tracking and mapping system
Other channels encode in-house, handling the various formats and frame-rate needs of both the actual content and the metadata
- NBC provided 2,600 encoded hours of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and exported it to sixteen On Demand destinations
- We all looked closely at their model, and this accelerated the industry-wide adoption of systems that handle both media and metadata
- NBC showed us all a glimpse of the future
Networks have set up many unique models and workflows to reflect their individual enterprise choices
I expect that producers will soon be required to fill out metadata forms as part of their Rights Bible submissions, since this is all part of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) issues that are currently in play
Is Standard Def history?
With U.S. HD TV set penetration at around 60-65%, SD continues to be phased out as networks upgrade their infrastructures to accommodate ingest and transcoding (i.e., reformatting the material from one format and/or frame rate to another)
- However, we have to use SD archival materials that were acquired in the past
- So while SD may be disappearing from Deliverables, it is still very much with us as source material
The question becomes how best to utilize that SD material within the new HD shows that are being delivered
- There are various upconvert techniques available but the best method to accomplish this task continues to be hardware converters rather than edit system software
- Most networks are now creating their own SD versions for air from the HD Deliverable
- Their aim is to efficiently and automatically exploit the program assets by deriving the necessary HD, SD and digital versions that may be required for intermediate post production and delivery
How do networks ingest the various Deliverables?
That’s a big question with multiple answers:
The main HD show is usually encoded directly for air or to be formatted for air. There are also teams who encode the shows and edit them for overseas use. Others create the digitally distributed versions
- Depending on their edit systems the shows can be edited in various ways, taking various forms
- The main codecs used for editing are ProRes for Final Cut and DNxHD or XDCam for Avid
- There are also distribution formats which can include variations of Mpeg2, H.264/Mpeg4, Quicktime, Flash, Windows Media, and others. These vary depending on the platform that will be playing out the file to the consumers
- Generally, the split track versions are used for International repurposing. If they encounter a problem, formatters will use the individual split audio from the DVD audio deliverables
- The short form material generally goes to website groups who encode them for use as ‘value added’ material on web platforms or for use as DVD extras
- Original footage is usually warehoused for later use as archival material that can be licensed out at a later time or for in-house use.
- A few years ago, when file based shooting started taking hold, I designed a deliverable so that this file-based footage could be saved rather than just lost to time since no tapes existed for that material
What’s the thinking about Frame Rates?
As the QC of digital files has become more refined, producers ask questions like:
- ‘What is the best workflow to choose if my program is shot at 23.98 or 25p and I need to deliver at 59.94i?’
- ‘Which audio frame rate should I deliver?’
The simple answer is that producers must make every effort to remain in the same frame rate throughout their projects. Of course, each project is slightly different and should be looked at individually.
- One filmmaker I assisted recently was thrilled to hear that he could deliver us a 23.98 progressive master. That way, he could use the pilot footage he had already shot at 23.98 and not have to convert it to deliver at 59.94i.
- That helped his overseas value also, since no conversion from 23.98 then to 59.94 then back to 50i would be necessary, and the show looked its best in all markets. This made for a more valuable asset all around.
Next Post: Deliverables 3/3
David Kaplan continues his expert commentary:
- Leading tape formats
- Ingesting archive
- Closed Captioning
- Recommended best practices for producers
Workshop with A&E’s Stephen Harris
January 31, 2011, Washington DC
Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus:
A Network Insider’s Guide to
Greenlighting a Factual Program
Improve your chances of success as you learn what’s inside the minds of network executives as they take pitches, buy in to them, promote the strongest concepts to their colleagues, budget productions, and fight for the final sign off.
Australian International Documentary Conference
1-4 March 2011, Adelaide, Australia
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New Directions in Human Rights Documentaries
11-13 March 2011, Prague, Czech Republic
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Great info Peter 🙂
There’s an overlap between digital asset management, engineering and information science in these workflows that’s not easily nailed down. It makes me wonder if there will ever be a standardized method to file-based production across the industry.