Report Sky Studios Two Years on...

Over 60 members and friends crowded into Studio 2 at Sky Studio on 17 October to hear and see who the facility had grown and functioned over its first two years of operation.  The audience drawn from young and old and including students from outside London had met and networked over ample refreshments while looking at recordings of the Outside Broadcast / remote experiments that BSkyB have done on UHD1.

Chris Johns – UK section chairman and Chief Engineer Broadcast Strategy BSkyB welcomed all at the meeting – reflecting that prior to the formation of the UK Section of SMPTE, the Royal Television Society had visited two years ago as the building was just coming into life – He was now able to show how the buildings had been filled and developed over the past two years.  

 

He introduced  Matt MacDonald  -  Director of Broadcast Services  who pointed out what BSkyB recent achievements announced  in its first quarter results  - with over 5  million Broadband  customers  , the committeeman to £600Million in investments in UK Made Content and the success for Connected TV – both using the viewer’s existing  Sky HD + box , and Phones, Ipad and the “Sky’s go”  service for those who just wanted Streamed content.

He described his department of 750 staff of whom over a third are broadcast engineers who support the Sky Platforms, Play out and Studios operations as well as brining innovation to the services that Sky provides.

Sky sees SMPTE as being a very important force in the Media community – providing a mass of people to share ideas and stay up to date, and also as the organisation which sets the standards by which the whole industry operates.  BSkyB had decided and he was pleased to announce that BSkyB were to be Silver Sustain members of SMPTE –to add their support to all that SMPTE does in the UK and world-wide. 

He hoped that the audience will enjoy finding out about what SKY studios does and what Sky at large contributes to society and to technological advancement.

He introduced Nishy Lall who runs Sky’s Skill studios which allows school children to get hands on in planning, making and reviewing their own TV programmes.

Nishy Lall outlined how   Skills Susie fits into the many activists that Sky does for the community – from environment and Sports, through eth supports for the arts to schools.

 The Sky Skills studio is aimed at taking 8 to 18 years olds they have 60 students as day coming through and thus over 12 thousand school students have passed through the program.

The aim was to inspire young people through a learning experience which links to the curriculum and  builds life skills in – creativity, Communication, Problem solving , Self-managements and Team work.   The school will have selected which one of the five areas based on the Curriculum - English, Math, and Science, Citizenship or Physical education.   The Teacher is sent ample information to enables the students to research and plan a program on one of 15 topics and prepare for the roles that they will play.

When They arrive at Sky studios they are given a short tour of the facility – showing  the technology involved in broadcasting , before working in the Skills area where  teams work in their own studio  to make and edit part of the programs – The students  operates the equipment’s  guided by BSkyB staff.

 They then review and discuss the issue hey have risen in the Program and the experiences they gained through working together, with the equipment to make the programme.   Full details at http://skills.sky.com/

 

Sky Studios with Wind turbine

 

Then Bruce Kruger, Head of Broadcast Engineering and a long serving SMPTE member, took us through the planning process for what was called the Harlequin 1 building – as it sits by Harlequin Avenue.  It was in 2005 – some 6 years before it opened that planning started on what was to be consolidating the technical areas of BskyB which had expanded through a range of factory units.  This would provide an engineering function fully integrated in with an efficient and flexible layout driven by the operational requirements. An important part of the design  and planning application to the local authority was to make the Building very eco-friendly and just being a good place to work. 

The building is naturally ventilated and has its own Wind turbine and wood fired Combined Cycle Heat and Power generation- which collectively provides a 45% reduction in CO2 emissions – over twice the original requirements of 20%.  But as well as  natural ventilation, the building   maximises the  use of natural day light into working areas , regenerates power from the elevators , uses rain water for the  flushing  in the bathrooms ,  all of which makes it the most sustainable  broadcasting facility in Europe.

 He outlined the layout of the Sky Studios – each floor has  a plan area greater than a football pitch – where there “Make”  on the ground and  first floors with 8 studios and control galleries which can be routed to any studio, and the main presentation and transmission areas for the 24/7 Sky Sports news  channel.  The next two floors are concerned with “Shape” - the equipment rooms, editing within an integrated  MAM systems with the top floor and the roof  being “Share”  with the play out of over 200 channels  and the Master control room and down linking services from around the world.

It is a “less tape” facility –  as there are still very few needs to ingest Tapes into the Systems -  but it has 195 Uncontended 10 G connections I to the MAM system with two tiers of disc holding – the highest tiers with 740TByte and 800 Mbit/ sec od bandwidth through 24 servers. The standard compression is AVC Intra at 100 Mbits.sc.   the lower tier has 1 Petabyte of storages – and there is an archive systems with about 12 Petabytes (250,000 hours) of cannot stored on site and mirrored at the Uplink  site  ( which SMPTE UK visited last spring) – and this LTO system has the capacity of 27 P Byte.   For the new OTT services there are 69 HPG8 servers working 24/7/365

He introduced Colin Sladen who working in Emerging Technology Design to describe Sky’s new Ad Smart products.   This provides targeted advertising to be seamlessly played out in the set top box replacing the advertising which is being transmitted.

Colin outlined the basis of which a household is targeted for the Ad- Smart to take place.

A household is characterised by a Profile – a collection of attribute a discrete piece of marketing or demographic information that is known about the household. Household with similar Profiles can be aggregated to form the segments to which advertising campaigns can be delivered. The sanest defines what advertisement files are recorded in the Set top box from a data stream on the default transponder and the metadata to define how long it is valid to be used.

He then described how the means by which the STB makes the decision  as to what Advertisements are to be replaced by which stored advertisement , and the signalling to enable the frame  accurate  substitution, which ensures that the transmitted stream encoders insert a completed GOP at the splice points – in and out. BskyB current offer this service on 32 channels, and while at the moment is works only with the live transmission – they are working on the also working on recorded or live pause modes. http://www.skymedia.co.uk/sky-adsmart/

 

Colin  ended with a  review  of the  catch up TV services that BSkyB provide though its platforms each one  with the look and feel of the broadcasters service –  from the UK  Public Service Broadcasters the BBC iPlayer, itv player , 4 on demand and  Demand 5 as well as the Sky player covering all Sky’s own and many partner channels.  To provide best quality the service is actually a download and displays rather that streaming – thus giving HD quality, even on variable latency and error prone ADSL connections.

 

There was a lively brief discussion covering the technical features of the building before the audience was divided into 6 groups to tour the building – seeing  the studios and equipment areas and meeting Sky staff who support and operate  the various systems - from the sound engineers – to the MAM supervisor.  

After an almost an hour of tours - The meeting concluded with a gathering over drinks – where many commented on the dedication   and pride of the staff that they had met – and the immaculate tidiness of the many bays of equipment whether it was conventional HDSDI coax or IT fibre and Cat5. They also saw how the addition of a wide range of OTT services had been incorporated into the workflow and apparatus rooms – as there was  “designed in” expansion space.

 

In bringing the meeting to a close Peter Weitzel – Secretary of the SMPTE UK Section  presented Matt McDonald with a “Proud to be a sustaining member” flag – and thanked  him and the staff of BSkyB For the arrangements of a superb evening – and for the refreshments  over which we could discuss  the many things that we had had seen.