To get the A from the Greek TV viewers for the news, the informational and entertainment content according to the measurements, for a long time, the combination of Administration, Administrative and Technical Staff, Journalists, Presenters and the Technology Infrastructure needs to be at a high level.
Text: Andreas Tzanakos
Images: Andreas Tzanakos
It's been a long time since our Technology Online Portal presented a complete project that is about fully upgrading the technological infrastructure of a TV Station that has a leading role in the country's television landscape. The project we chose to analyze on our web page was implemented at ALPHA and is, in our opinion, characterized by advanced but proven technology, flawless operation, high performance, and the need to save money in this difficult juncture experienced in Greece.
The trigger for this article was a short telephone conversation a few weeks ago with Mr. David Chalkidis, Head of AmyDV. I remember his words: "We have completed an excellent project aimed at future proofing by covering emerging new formats and technologies, reducing the volume of equipment, a reduction of wiring, full backup mechanisms, reduction of the total cost of ownership and the quick return on investment." In our reasonable question, what it is all about, Mr. Chalkidis replied: "New workflow design with automation replacement or upgrade (video stream), video router, video server, logo inserter, branding and much more.
Knowing past excellent implementations AmyDV has offered to various companies in Greek industry, as well as all of the above, which got our attention, we asked Antonios Stantzos, CTO of ALPHA and David Chalkidis to answer the questions we asked them to "illuminate" all aspects of this so important project that gives the successful TV Channel next-generation technology, making it particularly competitive for the years to come.
radiotvlink.gr: Mr. Stantzos, please tell us why ALPHA TV has fully upgraded its technology infrastructure and what are the goals of this major investment? What were the reasons and the criteria for choosing to cooperate with AmyDV? What were the requirements set by you for the implementation of this project and what needs of which sectors of the workflow of the Station it covers?
Antonis Stantzos: The establishment of ALPHA TV as one of the leading and most popular channels in Greece and in the foreign countries that reach our program, compels us to follow all major technological developments in order to respond to the needs of the television audience both in terms of the quality of the signal produced and the provision of new services.
Following these technological imperatives we have upgraded our TV signal from conventional SD to HD (High Definition). Although we have been working with AmyDV for several years, we have carefully evaluated proposals from various other companies to ensure that we got the best possible solution, both technically and financially. This solution came from AmyDV and Imagine Communications
The project included 10 video streams with branding in N + N redundancy configuration, video routers, interfaces and a Multiviewer.
Some of the criteria for this selection were:
The parallel operation of old and new equipment under thredundancye same automation / playout control software.
Existing know-how of Station Technicians in playouts automation / control software.
The latest technology equipment with future upgrade to IP technology.
The N + N redundancy provided at all levels of television streams.
The automated but also manual switching from the main to the backup chain for all television streams, or just for some specific ones.
One of our requirements was that once we had come up with the design and the formalities, the installation and the proper operation of the equipment would be based on the specifications and the timetable we had agreed on.
One more requirement was that due to the fact that ALPHA is broadcasting its program not only in Greece but also abroad, the capabilities of our television streams must be matched so that we can fully meet the demands of each market.
radiotvlink.gr: Mr. Chalkidis, how is AmyDV approaching such important projects as the complete upgrading of the workflow of ALPHA?
David Chalkidis: AmyDV has been installing and supporting playout solutions since 1994. Our engineers have been trained for over 10 years by associates such as Imagine Communications, Harris, Omnibus, Telestream Enterprise Solutions, Quantel and others.
From our multi-year collaboration with all of these companies, we have developed a project management method that allows us to keep a wide team of collaborators informed and co-ordinated. As a result, we can not only ensure faster and safer integration, but can also manage changes during implementation without delay in the delivery of the projects. Typically I remember the case of MacedoniaTV in Thessaloniki, when we were asked to deliver the project almost a month earlier, which we did in style. And here, at ALPHA TV, the speed and professionalism shown by all the teams was impressive.
We understand how important it is for businesses to have flexibility, and this also includes implementation times. At AmyDV we have great experience from large facilities so we can achieve the desired result safely, on budget and on schedule.
radiotvlink.gr: Mr. Chalkidis, what are the main features that make up the design and realization of this project? When did it start and when was it completed? Have there been some challenges-difficulties AmyDV encountered in implementing this project (installation, wiring, arrangements)? If so, please talk to us about them, but also about the solutions that you eventually provided. We would also like to know your thoughts and feelings from this collaboration with ALPHA.
David Chalkidis: The projects starts when the customer record all current and future needs so that we can first build a series of solutions that we then put on the table to discuss. It is also a good idea to know about the timing and budget of the project as well as these affect our choices.
For this important project, the most recent solutions in the field of automation and branding-video server-master control (Channelbrand) were selected and Imagine Communications team played a leading role in these areas.
On the operational level, this project was initially studied by the ALPHA TV Technical Group, under the direction of Mr. Antonis Stantzos.
Then there were meetings to analyze the ALPHA team on the possibilities and customization of the equipment and on the other hand to inform us about the needs and the tasks that the project had to cover. It was not surprising at all that even until the last minute changes were needed to meet new needs and the design team worked in an exemplary way. There was very good communication and ease of understanding and managing new data and solutions from the ALPHA team. It was a very good collaboration.
It is important that despite the current crisis, AmyDV has kept a clean record with all banks and that for projects of this level it can provide very good financing programs.
Each of our projects is the solution to a set of problems, which can have many solutions, but some are closer to the ideal deal. When the client is well aware of the needs and capabilities of his business he allows us to have good data and find the best possible solution. This is our constant goal of finding the most cost-effective solution for the customer.
As far as the implementation is concerned, the ALPHA team, as it happens every time, chose to implement both the Baseband and IP cabling. Working with Imagine Communications' installer, coordinating the fitting, configuration and interoperability of the equipment, the team once again demonstrated its strength and speed.
I have previously mentioned our way of working in such projects and therefore I believe that I have covered the basic challenges we face in the first phase until installation. These are developments in the needs and requirements of the client-client segments and at the same time their models and capabilities. All of this is effectively solved when there is a good network coordination grid and open communication.
These projects, however, are not completed with the installation. Equally important, if not more fundamental, is the direction and briefing of departmental staff for optimal work, but also how quickly they will overcome the first issues that will arise in such a large replacement of equipment in a running station. Sometimes this process results in changes, or improvements in the operation of the equipment, as has been done in this project, to some features of Master Control proposed by ALPHA. At AmyDV we have a lot of experience in designing and installing similar projects. But we know we will never know it all! That's why we are constantly continuing to be trained in all new systems. We are lucky to work with Imagine Communications.
I have to admit that ALPHA TV's technical division is one of the strongest in the Greek television landscape, an important asset for a media company, as it prepares to be re-emerging in the market storm of the coming years.
radiotvlink.gr: Are you satisfied with Imagine Communications solutions proposed and installed by AmyDV? What in your point of view were the difficulties that occurred during the implementation of the project? Given that the equipment installed and the technological solutions that have been used in ALPHA have been in operation for several months now, we would like to tell us whether and how they have changed the performance, efficiency and speed of workflow. Can you give us some examples?
Antonis Stantzos: From the result, I can say with certainty that indeed the choice we made left us completely satisfied.
The realization of such a big project in an operating TV Station of ALPHA's calibre , as you understand, is very complicated. We can't have any of "black" on air. This in itself is a tremendous challenge.
As far as difficulties are concerned, of course there were and I would not be honest if I said everything was perfect. We were in line with the plant and the solutions came directly. A typical example is that for the master control switch software was written from scratch to meet our desires and goals in just a few days.
Clearly the upgrade helped at all levels. Some of the advantages of the new technology equipment that has been installed are:
Quite a faster total workflow, despite the four-fold volume due to HD.
Compatibility with the old format of Station files without additional conversions.
Easier and more direct use of on-air graphics with plenty of possibilities.
radiotvlink.gr: Μr. Chalkidis, please tell us briefly what are the main features of Imagine Communications's flow control, master control, branding and video server solutions that you proposed to install on ALPHA TV. In your opinion, what features do these solutions separate as compared to their competition? Talk to us about their action and influence in the operation of ALPHA TV.
David Chalkidis: The solution chosen for flow automation is the industry-leading solution and it is ADC Automation. This is the evolution of the Louth system, which gave birth to broadcast automation and designed the VDCP control protocol used to date. ADC Automation offers unparalleled range of compatibility with the widest range of devices and protocols on the market, as well as unparalleled simplicity and reliability. It is indicative that testing new items in the facility can take place within minutes and return to normal flow without any concern for anyone. Having worked and installed third-party systems such as Omnibus / Miranda and Quantel, we know that this is not a given.
For video server in this installation, implementation was selected with the embedded broadcast graphics engine named Nexio Channelbrand. Channelbrand includes Imagine's well-known Nexio video server, and Inscriber's automated Broadcast Graphics (Branding) engine.
We will increasingly see the video server working closely with automation to perform new functions such as master control and branding.
The Nexio machine located in the heart of hundreds of broadcast channels across the world running on a specialized hardware-video I/O and automation control, installed in a common computing platforms (servers) of the IT market, offering the ideal combination of specialized and open platform. This architecture allows maximum security, quality, stability, but also compatibility with company networks and the special preferences of machine rooms and customer data center. Applications work with Imagine Communications' specialized hardware, unless it is a purely IP-based installation, so it does not require specialized hardware and can even work on a virtual machine.
In the installation at ALPHA TV, the software and hardware Master Control Panel were selected so that if the channel had to come out of the automation for something extraordinary or otherwise, the operators would have the choice according to which of their controller is best served.
It is certain that the near future holds major changes, and ALPHA TV is ready to incorporate new features and offer innovative activities.
radiotvlink.gr: Please indicate the advantages of Imagine Communications' Video Router and Multiviewer solutions as well as the distribution and control equipment of the signal you have selected for the ALPHA. In your opinion, what do they offer today?
David Chalkidis: The router selected was from the Platinum series. The Platinum series accepts multiple types of video and audio, while IP3 models also accept IP input / output, all in a chassis and with a common management environment. It also includes special functions modules such as multiviewer, which have the great advantage of flexibility and reliability in relation to implementations in a separate chassis as the signals are handled and communicated directly with the passive cross-point of the router, offering maximum quality and avoiding plug-in wiring and generally all the limitations and risks they present in an implementation.
A key feature of the Platinum family is the ease of customization and the confidence that assures its operator to make changes and upgrades to its original design. We define the administrative types of signals that may include image and audio formats of specific format, and then connect them to inputs and outputs thus creating our subpages. The built-in engines of the powerful Platinum undertake the conversions to make it run smoothly. If we plan an unreachable connection, we will notify.
There have been times when a facility has been locked for long periods of time. It is now necessary to upgrade and integrate new business choices much more often than in the past. That is why it is important to have the ability to evolve and upgrade, add and simplify our facilities. Platinum also helps us because it has a management environment from which we can do everything without the need to change cabling. It accepts and routes digital, analogue, visual video and audio signals which can multiplex and demultiplex to connect any input to any output, with any audio channels.
The advanced Platinum customization can be exploited with the top controllers, and for this purpose the range of smart remote control panels (RCP) called Magellan has been created.
In addition to this, Platinum has yet another unique feature for plant flexibility. It incorporates the ability to add one or more multiviewer within the chassis with routing - without cables - of any signal reaching it on any connected screen. With this we are sure that if we need to monitor we can bring it to one of the monitors through a simple and robust management as each multiviewer engine is located on the hardware module within the chassis and is accessible from any connected computer without need management software installation. With the equipment chosen by ALPHA TV, it has started on a development route that will give it great benefits and choices in the future.
radiotvlink.gr: How do you consider the cooperation with AmyDV, as well as all the equipment and services (study, design, installation, cabling, adjustments to education) offered to ALPHA? Is there anything more that you would like to ask for?
Antonis Stantzos: In order to implement such a project within such a short space of time, it is very important to have good planning.
Wiring was done by the ALPHA team and designed jointly with AmyDV and Imagine Communications.
Our goal was to start the new season with the new equipment and the pressure exerted by us was great enough to make it happen. If we take into account the August holidays and the IBC's international exhibition, which is a dead time due to the preparation of factories for it, our cooperation is judged to be a success. After so many years of perfect co-operation, I know that if I ask for reason, I will always have an immediate response and will do their best to make it happen.
radiotvlink.gr: What other technological investments do you think ALPHA will do in the near future and why?
Antonis Stantzos: The aim of our company is to offer the viewer the best possible picture and sound quality and we work on this plan. We have designed an investment plan that includes partial replacement of the rest of SD equipment with new high quality HD equipment.
radiotvlink.gr: Please give us some details about ALPHA's activities on the internet and in social media as well as on their technological background?
Antonis Stantzos: The official site of ALPHA ( www.alphatv.gr ) is one of the most popular in Greece, with more than 1.5 million users and 20 million page views every month!
The official Social Media accounts (facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube) have hundreds of thousands of people following them, with a stream of news, information and video on their TV program, bringing together very high engagement numbers with the public.
Also, Alpha's social media, for three consecutive years, have been awarded with:
Digital Media Awards 2015 Silver (Best CSR Award)
Digital Media Award 2015 Gold (Best Launch Campaign Award)
Silver Play Button Creator Award for ALPHA TV Channel Strategy at You Tube, which led to 100K subscribers within three years (2016)
Digital Media Awards 2017, Bronze (Best Use of Twitter)
Finally, what I can tell you today is that ALPHA's website and app are undergoing redesign with an emphasis on new technologies and innovation.
radiotvlink.gr: Please give us some information about the excellent building facilities available to the Station and the ability to produce multiple broadcasts within it?
Antonis Stantzos: Our building facilities include 4 studios with a total area of 3,300 square meters with 3 control rooms, MCR, EDIT, GRAPHICS, LINK, ENG, etc., the news administration, as well as the supporting buildings of the administration and all that a TV Station needs to operate.
Some of the benefits are the ability to implement many in-house productions, flexibility in producing our programs and better management of our human resources. For example, we are currently conducting nine live and non-live TV programs on our premises.
radiotvlink.gr: Dear Sirs, thank you very much for the hospitality and the facilitation of our work. We wish ALPHA to continue its successful course, having as its cornerstone the high technology and quality of its content, as well as AmyDV to continue the implementation of such important projects in this efficient way. As a follow-up to this fruitful debate on the upgrading of the technological infrastructure of ALPHA TV, we wish to collect your comments on today's and tomorrow's technology of the television industry and the traditional broadcasters who use it, as well as on our Technology Online Portal.
Antonis Stantzos: We have seen a major change in the world of broadcasting for a little while now, which is quite different from what we know so far.
There is plenty of reason and there is considerable activity in some foreign countries regarding the transition from traditional hardware to products and systems from the IT industry and I refer to the IP.
The real goal, which I think is a one-way street for the future, is the transition to a whole new way of thinking about broadcasting architectures, but also the compatibility with the UHD era that will sooner or later hit us.
However, we need to be very careful and to be informed every day about this new technology that is currently climbing. The adoption of a hybrid network for the transition to IP technology without wasting existing investments is the most appropriate solution for a TV Station already operating with the traditional broadcasting architecture.
In conclusion, I would like to add that it is very pleasant and useful to have in our country an Online Portal like yours that deals with what is happening in the broadcast world. Continue to do what you have been doing so successfully all these years.
David Chalkidis: I agree with Antonis that from now on, we need to be specific and particular in our choices as there are many upcoming changes. Over the next period we will experience the hybrid world, and despite the fact that we do not have the critical size in Greece that makes the choice of IP imperative, the fields of application of the new technologies will increasingly influence various sectors. Therefore, having the experience and knowledge will provide significant help to the effective combination of traditional technology and IP.
Efforts to describe such installations like this here at radiotvlink.com are extremely important as they are at a critical turning point in the evolution of the facilities and the business models they support. The result of this effort is highly professional and complete. In particular, for Greek media companies, the Portal has demonstrated that responds immediately to important issues of legislation and tenders. Information is always made public in time, as soon as the sources have been scrutinized. I trust it absolutely.