Getting 11 separate regional studios to communicate seamlessly with zero disruptions to on-air time is no small feat, but ITV has accomplished that with help from Clear-Com’s® IP-based wireless communications systems. Working with primary system integrator IPE, the UK broadcaster recently converted three studios to the FreeSpeak II® wireless intercom system, completing its company-wide adoption of Clear-Com that began in 2014.
ITV noted it chose Clear-Com’s technology for its flexibility, easy deployment and ability to deliver clear audio quality between studios and remote locations.
“The Clear-Com system provides the basic building blocks we need to cost-effectively add functionality while increasing operations efficiency and productivity with minimal learning curves,” said Steve Teague, Head of Technical Services, ITV News Group. “The system has proven to be efficient to configure and install, with the staff at each studio able to maintain their familiar workflows.”
The first phase of ITV’s conversion was completed in 2017, accomplishing the broadcaster’s goals of establishing a MADI and IP production workflow foundation across all its sites. A Clear-Com solution – consisting of Eclipse® HX-Delta digital matrix platform with V-Series™ control panels, MVX and MADI cards – was rolled out across ITV Tyne Tees (Newcastle), ITV West Country (Bristol), ITV Central (Birmingham), ITV Anglia (Norwich), ITV Wales (Cardiff) and ITV Channel (Jersey and Guernsey).
“We’ve established a reliable and flexible communications backbone for the distribution of audio and data signals across hundreds of users within an intercom system network,” Teague said.
The initial system was unique in its ability to seamlessly integrate with IP-based software intercoms for remote users on virtual panels, using Agent-IC, with intelligent trunking over CAT5, POTS, IP, Fibre and MADI. The system installed at each regional site also provided talk-back to the news studios and satellite newsgathering trucks. The V-Series panels installed at ITV’s remote sites connected to the main studio via IP, giving them the MADI capability to connect directly to ITV’s Solid State Logic audio desks.
The addition of FreeSpeak II earlier in 2020 to three more sites—Meridian, Granada and Yorkshire (replacing systems from Trilogy, which has since been acquired by Clear-Com in 2017)—now allows ITV teams to produce news packages more efficiently and communicate among all sites and field reporters in a more streamlined way.
The addition of LQ® Series IP interfaces and the Agent-IC® mobile app for remote productions contributes to the flexibility of ITV’s capabilities and has proved critical during the COVID shutdown, enabling studio-based roles to be performed at home.
“The adoption of Clear-Com technology has significantly enhanced the ITV production workflow,” Teague said. “A typical broadcast day begins at 5:30 a.m. and ends close to midnight, with the system in operation throughout as the ITV studios and remote field teams continually produce live bulletins and prerecorded segments and insertions.”
For example, one program might be produced in a studio with five cameras, two presenters plus studio technicians on the floor using Clear-Com beltpacks. These may include the prompt operator and a manual camera operator. The gallery environment also has a Clear-Com system with at least five panels (for sound, video, director, producer, etc.). The newsroom, located outside the gallery, will have another producer’s panel plus channels for contributing regions. According to ITV, the Clear-Com system ties everything together perfectly.
ITV uses it for remote and base communications and as a SIP interface, so it is a central part of their daily operations.
The most recent phase of the Clear-Com/ITV collaboration is highlighted by ITV’s adoption of the Clear-Com FreeSpeak II system, which also helped ITV make more efficient use of frequency space cleared in the 700 MHZ band. The broadcaster was able to prioritize what needed to stay in the spectrum, such as radio mics, as well as better allocate the space to largely deal with production talk-back among regional stations via an IP backbone. The Clear-Com system allows ITV to use more rechargeable batteries versus disposables, and also requires less power consumption. Plus, the fact that it’s essentially one network reduces the need to interface with other systems, further reducing power consumption.
With FreeSpeak II, ITV has more flexibility to manage the limited staff resources across its news operation. The beltpack’s ability to also act as a panel allows more tasks to be done in parallel. Having IP connectivity between remote sites enables the system’s “trunking” nature, making it seem that there is one seamless network connecting all of ITV, rather than separate networks for each site. For example, one site can act as a national hub feeding content to the regions when handling large national news stories.
“The conversion to Clear-Com completes ITV’s ‘future-proofing’ as an all-IP environment,” Teague added, “allowing us to implement not only a flexible and seamless communications workflow across our entire operations, but also a logical and cost-effective plan for future growth.”
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