Network Deliverables: Tape trends? Audio. Archive tips. How to avoid pitfalls! (3/3)

By David Kaplan

David Kaplan led the Quality Control team for 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 3rd of a 3-part post, David continues his expert commentary on:

  • Leading tape and audio formats
  • Dealing with a variety of archive formats
  • Closed Captioning
  • Recommended practices for producers to ensure that their Deliverables are trouble free

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

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What are the current leading tape Deliverables?

For cable nets using HD, they are Sony’s HDCam SR and HDCam. The SR version carries 12 channels of audio, so it’s ideal for international work.

  • I haven’t made a study of this, but my guesstimate is that Sony has more than 50% of the market
  • It is followed by Panasonic’s DVCProHD and some D5 (mostly for films and offnet series)

Pure digital delivery, such as the systems being used for commercials, should become efficient enough to handle the much larger sizes for actual program segments in the near future.

  • Sony’s XDCam HD optical disc is also being recognized as the first realistic digital deliverable format. It can currently handle a one-hour program’s worth of data

And Audio Deliverables?

Audio is relatively uncomplicated. It has settled into varying file formats that are delivered on DVD

  • These are led by broadcast wav, .aif and Protools projects with embedded time code matching the program original
  • These files are fairly easily imported by today’s edit systems. They facilitate reformatting and repurposing
  • With the rise in popularity of DSLR’s, the main thing is to record the audio at the same frame rate as the video frame rate

What are the evolving standards for ingesting NTSC and PAL archive material for program editing?

If your doc contains a lot of archival 25fps PAL material, then shoot new interviews and material at the matching frame rate of either 25p or 50i, and edit at the same rate

The same goes for 30fps NTSC archival material workflows: 

  • Shoot at 29.97 or 59.94 so that the frame rates match the archival material. You won’t end up with a show that has pulldown or frame-rate converted elements side-by-side with native 30fps material
  • Remember: 29.97 x 2 = 59.94.  These frame rates are, mathematically, perfectly compatible

Frame rate issues raise red flags during digital QC, analysis and may cause a Deliverables failure

I recently worked with a digital distributor who was regularly performing ‘de-interlacing’ and ‘reverse telecine’ filtering to fix films and shows that had undergone previous frame-rate conversions or were otherwise different from their original state

And if you rely on both NTSC and PAL source material?

That is a challenge:

  • First, seek the advice and consent of the network before making any decision about the frame rate to shoot and edit original material
  • Second, create a test of the workflow, including output to the actual Deliverable, to see which of the choices works best, both creatively and technically
    • For example, sometimes you may want a flicker for Special Effects: for example to simulate a home movie. If that’s what you’re after, make sure that your network QC contact knows about it well in advance of Delivery

Do Legacy systems complicate the situation?

Definitely! Production companies and program suppliers differ in their legacy choices of cameras, edit systems, and output decks

And networks differ in what  legacy formats and infrastructures they have invested in.  As technology and distribution platforms continue to evolve, so will your Deliverables

What about Closed Captioning?

Although a little while off, issues related to Closed Captioning requirements for the web are on the horizon for U.S channels due to the passing of the 21st Century Communications Act.

  • These will probably require the delivery of digital content that is already CC’d
  • What used to require just a basic captioning file to facilitate broadcast captions will morph into a set of additional file types containing the same CC data which can then be used by the digital encoding teams
  • Currently, when you transcode a show from Format A to Format B, if you change the frame rate, the CC data is usually corrupted.  The new CC files are compatible with digital captioning and encoding platforms and will fix that, hopefully

You must have worked with producers who have nailed the Delivery process. How are they organized? And what are their best practices?

First, it comes down to experience

  • Producers who have gone through the delivery process are usually more proactive in dealing with issues ahead of time
  • For example, they’ll alert the network to sequences within a program that they know are likely to cause a QC issue:
    • An example is material shot by an amateur or on a substandard camera
    • Another example is a Reality show that contains important dialogue that also has other ‘baked-in’ audio that we would normally like to see split out: for example, a sequence with some sort of musical element going on in the background.  Or a guitar player who then speaks, which combines Music with Dialogue in the same c lip
    • Wireless mic issues are also included in this category
    • A less experienced producer may just take a chance and hope that problems like these won’t be noticed.  They will.  I don’t recommend that strategy

 Second, a key contact is very helpful:

  • Networks like to deal with a Deliverables specialist who represents all or most of a producer’s output.  These are usually the Post Supervisors
  • A very large production company that I dealt with for years has a VP of Post, and we established a strong relationship that enabled us to work through special issues with just a brief phone call.  This person knew their stuff, and we both took the time to understand the impact of any decision and balance the solutions accordingly

Takeaways

  • Content producers and commissioners must work more closely than ever to smooth out the delivery of these critical elements
  • For Program Execs, Producers, Production Managers, Editors, Post Supervisors and Audio Designers:
    • An understanding of Deliverables is a critical part of your job description.
    • It is necessary for a smooth delivery experience
    • It is important to keep abreast of technologies as they evolve.  Develop and maintain good relationships with your DP’s, ‘Data Wranglers’, edit house personnel, audio teams, dub and captioning houses and others who help you to translate technical requirements into Deliverables that work for everyone
    • The more you know about your Deliverables, the wiser and more cost-effective your decisions.

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SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

AIDC
Australian International Documentary Conference
1-4 March 2011, Adelaide, Australia
A hit at Real Screen 2011!
Now the workshop with A&E’s Stephen Harris hits the road!
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. 

And a message to friends and colleagues attending AIDC:
Contact us now to get on the calendar!

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