Sky Italia and SVG Europe examine workflow innovations and 4K/HDR production at Milan summit

Sky Italia’s head of engineering and innovation, Massimo Bertolotti

On June 19 Sky Italia and SVG Europe hosted the second Sport Innovation Summit at the Sky Italia production centre in Milan. Around 80 representatives of major Italian TV production service providers, broadcasters, consultants and other key groups attended the event, which included a series of illuminating panel sessions on current trends and technologies.

Sessions and presenters included: the new SkyQ and Multi Platform by Sky, delivered by Massimo Bertolotti (head of engineering and innovation); a look at the Ocean Rescue project by Cristina Fenzi; a presentation on Deltatre by Roberto Sciaretta; and an analysis of the Agile Software Lab by Carlo Romagnoli. There were also sessions on Sky TG 24 Milan and Rome by production broadcast and creative director Riccardo Botta, remote production and its use in Formula 1 by head of sport production & operations Manuela Baraschi, and 4K in sport by Massimo Bertolotti.

After an introductory presentation by Emanuela Baraschi, SVG Europe general manager Joe Hosken thanked Sky hosts Emanuela Baraschi and Riccardo Botta, and all other the participants, before giving a brief presentation on SVG Europe and its current activities and projects.

Riccardo Botta: ‘A virtuous circle that is telling the news in a different way’

Riccardo Botta explained how in just 18 months the Operation Migration project and the Sky TG 24 Milan and Rome technologies were implemented. As a result the production centre becomes “the official liaison” between editorial needs across different areas of output (news, sport, entertainment), providing the means to tell the story in the possible way.

The coordinated management of news 600 km away (Milan-Rome) is a serious challenge. The traditional way of telling news has changed and now we all receive information from various media, even before the traditional TV bulletin, confirmed Botta. Today it is essential to explain, through the support of innovative technologies, the reason for a certain event, with each broadcaster seeking to differentiate the offer further by adding opinion, context, analysis and storytelling.

The “multi-set” design of the studios underlines with stylistic elements this concept of “better storytelling”. Therefore the need was to “reposition” the news with inclusive technologies and techniques, as well as a more welcoming desk for presenters and guests, and the integration of Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Studio 10 in Milan symbolises modernity and innovation and incorporates a high-tech setting with “floor to ceiling” images on three large video-walls consisting of 100 x 55” displays by NEC, plus three totems.

Meanwhile, the facility in Rome includes an impressive LED wall with views of the Montecitorio façade from two reconstructed windows and images generated by a live camera. In total there are 40 displays composing an ‘L’ as well as a square desk to host a large number o guests.

Production, explained Botta, is in 4K and the system that manages the projections is from Vizrt integrated with Mosart, and is capable of managing 14 different formats.

The product process is complex with three interconnected studios and with a remote production capability in Rome managed with the Mozart-based Gallery Automation System. The operation is based on five people: the audio mixer, the journalist, the redundant MOS operator, the production manager, and a studio floor assistant who controls robotic cameras if manual operation is required, as well as the microphones.

Manuela Baraschi: “The success of the project: collaboration and new ideas”

In this session Baraschi reflected on Sky’s ongoing activities around remote production, including the impressive results that have been achieved with the use of these techniques for Formula 1 coverage. Cost-savings in the 2016/17 season were around 20%, while the number of personnel required was also reduced (to 74). Then, in 2017, further refinements increased the cost-savings to 30% with team members reduced to 65 in total.

2017 model of remote production, savings raised to 30% and 65 people were involved. This last season saw Sky Italia deciding to move the directorial area and all the people involved from the venue to its production centre in Milan, including the director, editorial coordinators, producer, EVS operators, graphic designers and editors.

Seven people are no longer physically on the F1 circuit and, without having a negative impact on the TV product, they can use all the resources of the Sky production centre, which has been fully optimised and upgraded with the latest technologies. During F1 production the centre receives 14 signals: some direct from the circuits and some from the London Sky UK media hub (with access to the F1 archive).

Before the official debut a transmission in remote production was simulated to understand how to handle everything and, in particular, to check the delays of the signals that caused concern. For disaster recovery purposes, satellite delivery was prepared with the international signal plus the signal of a personalised camera with audio, as well as a “plan B” with a simplified management approach in case of problems, based on seven signals.

The units that worked on the Sky Italia group project were: engineering, the PCH structure for editing and graphics, MCR and playout, signal management, IT, human resources, procurement and finance.

Massimo Bertolotti: “4K but only with HDR”

In 2013 Sky Italia was already addressing the topic of 4K in order to plan ahead comprehensively and ensure that all the technologies and personnel would be in place in good time. Five years on the talk about 4K has moved on significantly and is focused on the latest generation of STBs, including SKY Q.

Bertolotti traced the development of the service, which included initial tests in 2013 and 2015, with Sky Italia and Sky Germany collaborating on the analysis of different formats to support HDR for live production. Unlike some other countries, where the competition on 4K was already ‘on’, in Italy Sky took its time to fully understand every aspect of production and the consumer experience, including the size of TV screen needed to make the most of 4K/HDR. After the high quality HD experience, the launch of 4K had to provide the public with a real and tangible difference in quality and, above all, colour reproduction.

As Bertolotti explained, HDR was integral to Sky’s production plans because it enables a range of colours that is perceptible to the viewer, while the overall effect is truly superior. The choice of “what HDR” to deliver to homes was problematic and HLG, even in view of a backward compatibility required, was chosen after extensive analysis. It was also necessary to identify the best possible way to upconvert the content already available in 4K but not in HDR.

Numerous tests were conducted over an appropriate time frame regarding the required HDR technology, the signal chain, metadata management, and on the logo – and the new brand – intended to provide a marker between HD and 4K. The new visuals were designed to avoid confusing viewers in a rather congested market of abbreviations around 4K.

In practice, Sky Italia took some time before launching 4K HDR to ensure it fully satisfied the broadcaster’s reputation for quality and to ensure the best possible result for all segments. Simultaneously the viewer interest in the new formats was continuing to grow, underlining the validity of introducing a 4K HDR offering.

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters