4K, 4G, four bureaus and growing: With NDI®, Celebro makes sure broadcasters can have it all – over IP
Not many companies can claim to have been one of the first independent studios in the UK to be fully 4K-ready, and one of the first to be fully capable of IP live production.
Celebro Media can claim both.
While it’s clear the London-based production services provider stands squarely at the cutting edge of technology, don’t be fooled into thinking they do it merely for the bragging rights. The company’s tech-forward approach is strictly about maximising what it does best: running bespoke broadcast operations reliably around the clock, and serving clients with an international presence anytime they need it.
Transforming the industry
Celebro’s unique business model was conceived by CEO and former BBC journalist Wesley Dodd in 2014 as a way to hire out mid-sized multi-camera facilities to broadcasters.
When the company first entered the market, says Dodd, “We wanted to offer medium-sized studios where a client could run a daily news program, a current affairs show, or a talk show; something between the very small single-camera studios specialised in news, and at the other end of the scale, the enormous studios you could drive a car into.”
That had been his original, if modest, vision. Then his career-long interest in emerging technologies led him down a different path: multi-location, international presence.
“Increasingly towards the end of my period working for the BBC,” says Dodd, “so much of my time was invested in technology and how we would get a story back to the location”—a headache that has plagued broadcasters for decades, whether their journalists are across town or across the globe.
So the moment he saw NDI® and NewTek’s IP ecosystem in action, he says, “I knew it was going to transform not only Celebro’s business, but also the industry.”
It became evident to Dodd that as quickly as the industry was evolving, the equipment he invested in would need to not only future-proof Celebro for the long term, but also be flexible enough for him to adapt his business model to the market. With NDI®, he found he could change his working practices and immediately become more efficient and cost-effective.
“When we first started here in London, each floor would have a number of tie lines running between them to allow video or sound to run from floor to floor,” says Dodd. This put physical and logistical limitations on his or her ability to add new equipment, make infrastructure updates, or swap equipment among studios.
Using NDI® meant all the connections could be made over the network—and he says this transformed their processes instantly. “We don’t have to run new cables. We can channel different video to different parts of the building much more easily and much more intuitively, we don’t have to go and ask our technical staff to plug in and reroute a signal. Everything’s already there for us.”
During production, using NDI® to send any real-time video source to any connected PC means that Celebro’s clients can sit in the newsroom and look at any of their sources coming from any part of the building, whether it’s an outgoing source or an incoming source.
It also gives Celebro a very fast “pop-up” ability, says Dodd. “Let’s say a client suddenly needs to build a small workstation for a special event like an election,” where the producer want to temporarily monitor a variety of sources or record multiple information feeds. With NDI®, staff can set it up within seconds using a laptop and a single Ethernet cable.
“We’re getting the cost advantage of an inexpensive monitoring setup,” he says. “Our clients are getting the advantage of a very, very rapid deployment.”
IP to upstairs and around the globe
It’s one thing to envision having instant, frame-accurate and real-time access to all sources in a building. After all, your productions are merely a room or two away, easily connected with a familiar green Cat 6 Ethernet cable you can see and identify and touch.
But Celebro had a longer vision for its business. Specifically, 1,555 miles longer, from home base in London to its second location at Red Square in Moscow. Rather than provide live feeds via satellite—an expensive capital investment anywhere, but especially so given licensing and infrastructure complexities in Russia—the company turned once again to IP delivery.
Says Celebro’s Chief Operating Officer Sarah Gibson, “Previously at the BBC, I was tasked with launching the BBC News Bulletin for a Russian partner,” which her group launched with Wesley’s assistance, using IP. She says that now, when Celebro launches new sites, the business benefits of IP can be transformative.
“First, without delivering by IP, the obstacles to delivering in more traditional ways would be just too great. Cost is the biggest thing,” says Gibson. “Infrastructure is another. The infrastructure that would have been required in Russia would have been very difficult to install. And finally, with a traditional model, we wouldn’t have had the level of flexibility and resilience that IP offers when things change quickly.” And responding to rapid change, she says, is a critical element of Celebro’s business model.
“Every day, we look to offer clients high quality service, reliable service—but also a service at a reasonable cost,” says Gibson. “Delivering by IP allows us to pass on that saving to clients without compromising either the resilience or the quality.”
Less risky, more connected
Today, Celebro operates three fully robotic, multi-camera TV studios in its London location; seven studios in Washington, DC and Los Angeles (also fully automated); and the studio in Moscow with ten standup positions overlooking Red Square—naturally a popular reporting spot during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but also as a bureau extension for news outlets looking to expand their global visibility.
In the absence of a provider such as Celebro, the expenses—and the stakes—are high for broadcasters building a studio in any new market. “Our clients are typically international broadcasters who need a presence in a big city like London or Washington, but don’t want to go to the expense of opening their own facility,” says Dodd.
Celebro seeks to mitigate much of broadcasters’ risk by offering pay-as-you-go, shared-use production facilities, services, equipment, vehicles, and staff—like a co-working office space, but for professional production—so broadcasters can avoid the expense, effort, time, complexity, and licensing required to operate in regions they’re not already in.
Among its various locations, the company offers ingest and playout facilities, tape-less content delivery, a crewed outside broadcast fleet and portable flypacks for hire, and multiple galleries for fully staffed live studio production.
What’s more, it’s linked up over fibre for transmission via BT Tower, Reuters, and EBU, as well as both KA-Band satellite and 4G cellular from its OB vehicles—all in addition to its in-house LAN and a dozen external internet connectivity options.
That means Celebro’s master control room (MCR) can receive any kind of feed 24/7 from any camera, studio, location, assignment, event or breaking news story anywhere it’s happening around the globe.
And that’s when NDI® delivers another dose of pain relief.
Any source, anywhere
Ryan Deans, Lead Director at Celebro’s London location, says “We have one goal, and that’s to meet our clients’ production needs.” And that involves using the video feeds and files clients provide, no matter which formats they send.
But, he says, “Being a worldwide TV studio and production facility, we get clients from all around the world, and that would pose a new challenge with every project. Is the video feed NTSC? Is it PAL? Is it i (interlaced) or is it p (progressive), and is it 50 frames or 25 frames per second? Is the file HD, or 4K?”
In the past, the issue was how to make any file type, transmission format or image resolution work within their workflow in order to stream or broadcast in the UK. “You’d have to buy the right converter, or get some more cables, and it always turned into a hassle to make it work,” Deans says. “It became very expensive and time-consuming, which is not good for you or for the client.”
But with NDI®, he says, “I can take in any feed from around the world. It doesn’t matter what format or source it is, it just works. NDI automatically recognises the type of video it is, and converts or conforms it to whatever project I have in the TriCaster. It’s completely revolutionised the encoding process.”
Each of Celebro’s [five] London studios is paired with a control room, or gallery, for live production switching (as are the studios in Washington and Los Angeles). Each of them uses a software-driven NewTek multi-camera production system—a TriCaster 440, a TriCaster 8000, and the most recent, an IP Series solution. The latter enables Celebro to provide its clients with 4K UHD live production capabilities for mega-large hybrid SDI and IP programs, including up to 44 real-time sources over IP.
In addition to the wide variety of external feeds and sources sent globally, a typical workflow for a news or talk program can rely on in-studio camera sources, cameras from other studios or standups, and as many over-the network sources as the client wants in production.
Celebro’s hundreds of NDI® sources include broadcast graphics from Vizrt graphics systems; Skype calls from around the world, captured in a number of NewTek TalkShow video interview systems; files stored in other TriCaster systems; and even cameras coming in from its other global studios.
“Having NDI tie everything in our productions together allows us to connect to other sources outside of the building as well, just via a simple Ethernet connection,” says Deans, “and NewTek’s software interface makes everything easy,” a fact that he says has given the company’s MCR department the freedom to manage important technical issues and not be hassled with manual routing requests.
CEO Wesley Dodd, a long-time TriCaster customer, says that he used to tell people “There isn’t a product out there that can do everything the NewTek systems can do,” and he believes that’s still very much true. “What’s good to see is that NewTek have not rested on their laurels,” he says.
What’s clear is that Celebro hasn’t either. The company has remained at the forefront of emerging technology, and continues to adapt traditional business models into a long view of what’s to come.
For instance, social media streaming is a massive growth area, Dodd says, and Celebro is finding that more and more of its outside broadcasting work is by brands, rather than broadcasters; and is delivered to big platforms such as Facebook Live, Twitter Live and YouTube Live.
“It’s certainly not the end of traditional broadcast,” he acknowledges. “But it’s the convergence of two areas really, of traditional broadcast technology with the IT world, that are coming together here. The technology we rely on really needs to be the best of both worlds.”
He cites the rapid, broad adoption by manufacturers in the broadcast sector with whom NewTek has formed technology partnerships for NDI’s growing acceptance—as well as NewTek’s openness to incorporating feedback about Celebro’s innovative use cases into ongoing R&D.
“New technology emerges all the time,” says Dodd, “and NewTek keeps developing along with it. That’s particularly obvious when we look at NDI®.”
I am always looking to connect with creative industry professionals who share my passion for the technologies and processes of media creation. If you are keen for a coffee and a chat about what you are seeing going on around you – some new technology or policy; its impact and implications – please feel free to reach out and connect.