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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 September, 2003, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
TV production's 'revolution'
By the BBC's Peter Feuilherade
At the IBC in Amsterdam

If the BBC's pioneering digital production pilot starting this autumn succeeds, it will transform broadcasting as radically as the way desktop publishing changed newspapers in Britain in the 1980s.

That is the vision of Michele Romaine, the BBC's director of production modernisation, at this week's IBC in Amsterdam, Europe's biggest broadcasting trade fair.

Watching interactive TV
The digital production pilot could benefit viewers
The new production system, called Onevision, will be tried out at the BBC's Natural History Unit in Bristol, creators of hit series such as Blue Planet.

"One of the odd things about creating television programmes is that the process has never been subjected to the kind of Wapping revolution which hit newspapers when they abandoned hot metal," says Ms Romaine.

Flexible and creative

The BBC pilot is aimed at making broadcasters become flexible and more creative providers of content for multiple platforms, able to refashion material for interactive TV, internet-based distribution channels, Wap-enabled mobile phone access and DVD-video.

New footage will be catalogued after it is shot, so different producers can access the same content simultaneously.

"In theory, all newly shot material will be digitised so it can be made available to all BBC programme makers. Think of the advantage: you don't have to go to an editing suite with four hundred tapes," Ms Romaine explained.

Computer-based production can allow programmes to be enhanced with additional information (metadata) enabling archiving and content searches based on internet technology.

It should lead to better ways of using programme footage that is currently discarded, to get more value from the original idea.

It will also make it easier in the future to give British TV licence-payers access to the BBC archive, an idea close to the heart of BBC Director General Greg Dyke.

'Passive' TV

Broadcasting analysts say the move to IT technology and low-cost production will affect everyone in the chain, from the researcher and producer through to operational staff and viewers.

"The days of linear passive TV broadcasts are numbered. If heads remain stuck in the sand then companies will fail and people will be without jobs," says IBC conference producer Neil Dormand.

Tapeless world

An all-digital workflow is the holy grail for broadcasters. But for it to work, there will have to be open standards and interfaces that make it easier for different bits of equipment from various manufacturers to communicate with each other.

Philip Laven, the European Broadcasting Union's Technical Director, says the computer world has many things broadcasters would love to use.

"But we have to be very clear about the different requirements between office automation and broadcasting production, which is much more demanding," he warns.

Ms Romaine is convinced, however, that all major broadcasters will have moved to an end-to-end tapeless world by 2010.

"It will change the way we work forever," she predicted.

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