Discovery Italia is one of the main features on the national television landscape, offering a multi-platform portfolio of 14 channels, as well as two OTT platforms: Dplay and Eurosport Player.
The group owns seven free-to-air channels (NOVE, Real Time, DMax, Giallo, Focus, K2, and Frisbee) and seven pay channels (Discovery Channel, Discovery Science, Discovery Travel&Living, Animal Planet exclusively on Sky, Eurosport 1 and Eurosport 2 on Sky and Mediaset Premium, and ID – Investigation Discovery exclusively on Mediaset Premium). This is an organisation capable of reaching an overall share of 7 % of individuals and 9 % of the commercial target audience aged 25 to 54.
In particular, Dplay is a free OTT service launched in June 2015 that has already exceeded 12.5 million unique users. In Italy, Discovery gained a foothold thanks to its ability to create a unique integrated system, with multi-platform brands that represent a social destination for a dynamic audience, for experimental talent shows and for companies seeking an important and innovative partner. In addition, Milan is home to the southern Europe headquarters of Discovery Networks International, representing Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. Discovery Media (www.discoverymedia.com) is the internal operator responsible for advertising revenues, which, in just a few years, has made a name for itself among the key players in the Italian advertising industry.
A need for efficiency
We met Ivan Giussani, 31, System Administrator of the Post Production & Media Services Operator division of Discovery Italia given that, as the engineer officer of the structure, he oversees all technological aspects and the production workflow. Giussani has been working at Discovery for about two years, after several years of experience at Viacom and a stint as a technical consultant for Sky Italia.
First things first, what is it that you do at Discovery Italia?
The core of the work related to Avid systems is the constant production of TV teasers. We’re talking about at least a hundred clips a month, including the different cuts for the different uses of the programming schedule, which need to be thought up and created continuously. These are clips with a final duration ranging from 15 to 30 seconds, but they can also include longer teasers of up to 60 seconds. This workflow involves viewing a huge amount of footage. Just think that, for each clip, you need to watch anything from 25 minutes to 2.5 hours of footage, from which you draw your inspiration and keep the most effective parts to be condensed in the teaser. So this adds up to several days’ worth of footage to watch, after which the actual editing process can begin.
How do you structure such a big amount of work every day ?
From a logistics point of view, we have about 20 working rooms, including editing rooms, graphics studios and sound rooms. There are five key roles in our functional organisation chart. One is mine, as the System Administrator, which means that I am the technician who deals with the material functioning of the whole system. Then we have the three standard roles of Producer, Copywriter and Editor. The Producer coordinates production, the Copywriter logs the multimedia content (such as metadata, comments and tags) and works in low resolution, and then there is the Editor, who obviously takes care of editing, managing the projects and delivering the finished product.
These roles have been complemented by a new one: the Media Manager, who deals with the actual management of the multimedia contents. The Media Manager is responsible for archiving, and is the only person who can delete outdated or redundant material from the system (if already archived, for example). The Media Manager also manages and organises the tree structure provided by Avid Interplay.
For the record, these days Discovery Italia manages its teasers production using an archive with a growing capacity, based on an LTO system with 2.5 TB cartridges, while the online archive has 20 TB of capacity dedicated exclusively to the production of teasers out of a total installed capacity of 30 TB. The programming archive of our platform is managed directly from the London office.
Spotlight on Avid
We also talked to Kostiantyn Volkov, Senior Pre-sales Manager at Avid, who oversaw the setup of the system.
What was perceived as the need to upgrade the Avid system?
Creating a better connection between the several production steps was clearly the most important thing, in order to include an efficient, faster and well-defined workflow among copywriters, producers and editors. Discovery Italia had a traditional post-production structure, with one shared drive, so the audiovisual material had to be processed by the different editors manually, with no automation.
The core phases of approval, logging and timing were still executed with a hands-on, highly complex approach, just like in the past. The client wanted to automate some of the processes, have a shared search system, be able to log with low resolution, and automate the production process as a whole.
An operation of this kind can require a basic, even relatively inexpensive solution, which reinforces the system and makes it more flexible. Then, of course, you can invest more to enhance the overall security of the system and increase redundancies, which means ensuring content permanence. These integrations are highly scalable.
How important is training in these cases?
For Discovery, at the end of installation we held a training session, which is definitely a required step for making sense of the new technology and to providing maximum efficiency. But before the final training session comes a crucial preliminary step: workflow design. An effective workflow project is the crucial premise to making the ideal system configuration meet the client’s expectations. Practical and technical solutions are defined at the end, but before that you need a clear vision of the goals you want to achieve. The workflow design phase follows the orthodox presales phase and assumes that one or more meetings with the staff stakeholders are held, involving all levels. It requires some experience in team management and a great deal of flexibility. Avid Italia has a dedicated Workflow Manager role, assumed by Alessandro Calabrese, who oversees the executive phase of the project and finally brings competencies in house to create a more well-rounded vision.
Going back to Ivan Giussani, he remarked: “Before this integration, we had to resort to the professional role of an editor, that had to work on a dedicated machine and occupy a working room, even to just view some images. Now, using a web browser that is much simpler for everyone to use, this time-consuming phase no longer interferes with the actual technical structure. The online database is common and shared and allows us to free the working rooms from less qualified operations, such as viewing and importing/exporting. For these, the integration with the company’s network was sufficient. People work from their own workstation and only use the working rooms for actual high-quality editing operations, voice-overs and CGI processing”.
Giussani concluded: “The system was installed in July 2016 and, after running some tests in the summer, we started using it in mid-September. But only Avid Interplay at first, allowing editors to start familiarising themselves with the innovation, and then Avid MediaCentral was activated in late October, enabling copywriters to use contents directly. One of the copywriters acted as a pathfinder and then “converted” his colleagues. Now, the system is up and running and we have confirmed a significant increase in production speed, reducing the time needed to create every individual clip. The interconnection and the sharing of materials work seamlessly; the same content can now be viewed simultaneously by the copywriter, editor and producer, creating a definite boost in efficiency. Each person can also check the progress of the job in real time and see the editor’s timeline, while the copywriter is able to give instructions on the fly, for example by adding markers and other features. One final note, which I consider of extreme importance, is about the messaging service between the people involved in the production. This is yet another tool for speeding up the work and creating increased harmony among the stakeholders”.
Interview by Andrea Rivetta, specialized journalist