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Four keys to rethinking migration

In this industry we have tended to see digitalization as a new collection of problems or as the continuation of the previous ones, and by inertia we try to solve them with the tools we have traditionally used. But, in order to efficiently manage the migration to new production models, it is necessary to start thinking about the business in a different way.

Key I: Planning

Isn't it sad to use videotape to transport material between graphics stations and editing systems? Many newly assembled facilities have to resort to procedures of this type, due to lack of planning.

Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of feeling firsthand the effects of some wrong decision in the process of modernizing production and post-production systems.

What do these problems have in common? They almost always come from an imprecise analysis of the needs that new production systems must meet. To say that the diagnosis fails for lack of information about futuristic models is unfair, to say the least. And it is a fact that no producer can afford to make equipment renewal decisions without sufficient documentation.

Apart from the indispensable effort to stay informed and analyze the market constantly, the character of digital production systems demands a very serious work of planning. For many years we were used to updating our equipment by adding things. The way to "catch up" an editing room was to acquire a new effects unit, or buy a fashion format recorder.

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Digital systems are much more demanding: Before starting to choose new toys you have to define a structure, a way of organizing things. In a digitized environment you can not grow in a disorderly way: Before starting to update you have to define where you want to go.

Key II: Flexibility

The goal of the business is no longer to deliver a cassette with a finished product, but to help transport information. More and more distribution alternatives to conventional broadcasting will appear.

The modernization of post-production equipment, rather than a risk, must be assumed as an opportunity: the design of a fully digital post-production system can become a pilot experience to contribute to the design of the transmission operation of a local station, or to help define the real needs of the channel's news service.

Some producers tend to think that the digitalization of production will not affect the production area so much, that it would essentially retain its current form, adopting only the necessary changes to integrate into fully digital environments. Although this assumption may be well founded, the possibility of a change of character in fieldwork must be included in plans for the near future.

The tendency of news operations to increase their handling of "live" content, as a resource to remain competitive, is significant. And even significant changes can be expected in the production systems of story or sports programs. Is it possible to think of interactive programming without extending the resources of non-linear editing to the realm of production?

The proper design of a digital post-production system based on a solid structure of storage and distribution of material must be the foundation of the fully digital operation of the coming years. Flexibility is, more than ever, the key word. Space must be left to accommodate the growth and needs of new programming proposals.

On the other hand, in order to correctly size the modernization of production systems, it is essential to consult the market. It is necessary to combine the trends of the industry with the spaces and the real needs of the market.

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The success of a digital production system is not necessarily in having a large bandwidth and a lot of storage. Sometimes, the right answer may be to think small. But always reserving expansion routes and breaking with the traditional concept of separate work centers: In a completely digital environment, the lines that separate the different phases of realization become blurred. Each nucleus contributes its own to make it possible for the product to reach its audience through different distribution networks...

Key III: Homologation, diversification and distribution

Each year, the theme of the NAB convention helps bring to the fore a new "magic word," which helps describe the state of the industry and can be a good resource to stimulate the process of learning to think differently.

Convergence, connectivity and rightsizing are some of those that are in vogue. The connotations of these terms in the design of digital production systems are quite evident, but very often they escape the most warned characters.

For example, the lack of training of technical staff is clearly related to the inability of organizations to respond to the evident convergence between personal computer technology and conventional production equipment.

Discomfort on the job sites, and their obvious impact on productivity, may be related to the tendency to underestimate the locative costs associated with a relatively small investment in new equipment (the well-known "after all it's just a computer" syndrome. let's leave it in the office... ").

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Our own words

In addition to adopting foreign magic words, we should create our own slogans. For example, what if we start thinking about homologation? In the framework of globalized television we have to start thinking about achieving quality levels that allow us to go out and compete in international markets.

The bitter experience of Latin American producers seeking to gain a position as suppliers to subscription television conglomerates has shown us that, for many of us, reaching the standards of this market is an extraordinary effort.

Another interesting word is diversification. Competition between broadcast television and cable, fueled by powerful U.S. corporations, will force broadcasters to look for new business. Despite the economic downturn affecting our countries, this is the time to learn about value-added services and new media.

It is not that our star cameraman learns overnight to make Web pages, but it is necessary to look for opportunities to survive on a different television. We have to find our own versions of the movement toward telemarketing, infomercial and corporate video, which made it possible for the video industry in North America to continue to fuel thriving businesses despite the total saturation of free-to-air television channels.

If we stay in the technical field, the most important magic word is distribution. This term encompasses all topics related to digital video, even those as feared as compression and storage.

One of the most important aspects of digital production and post-production systems is that they are devices at the service of the distribution of audiovisual material that can be "packaged" in many different ways. Thinking about distribution makes it easier for us to remember that the production process is based on the manipulation of digital information flows , and that therefore it is necessary to forget about the notion that we work to make programs.

The same material can be used to generate many different products . And each product has its own niche in the market. At this point we discover that distribution is really becoming the essence of this business... and the development of new distribution systems became the most important trend in the industry in the last eight or ten years. And who knows how many more years to come.

Key IV: Proportions, conversions and data

Using "magic words" can also be a good resource for qualifying new equipment and helping to make purchasing decisions. In NAB'99 it will be necessary to start applying some new words, because the truth is that there are no magic equipment.

If we think about production equipment, it is very important to consider proportions. Even to work in our market, we must already think about having the ability to generate 16:9 video, and preferably of sufficient quality to be used in digital television applications.

This topic is also important if we think about post-production: for some of us, it may already be time to acquire some "wide" monitors; after all, we can't spend our whole lives looking at our material in "letterbox". And about this, have you already found out how much it can cost you to convert your non-linear editor to "wide" format?

You also need to start doing concrete research on conversions. Soon, products delivered to U.S. broadcast television will have to be in some DTV-compatible format.

Surely, the most popular systems will be those that convert PAL or NTSC signals into SDTV signals... Although it is necessary to observe very well if the big networks are going to continue with their original idea of broadcasting most of the programming in the 480p format.

Another important word is data. Finally, is the distribution of "raw" information through conventional television channels feasible? Will we have any future as Internet providers or as sellers of pager devices?

Also 1999 will be the year of media servers , operations automation and hybrid technology, which will allow us to support our slow migration to the DTV environment for years to come.

And speaking of specific products, it will most likely not be the year of formats. On this front, magic words do not work. The great confusion still continues, the same as in the last four or five years. Surely we will have to start getting used to the fact that universal use formats are a thing of the past...

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