MediaCityUK adopts cloud technology

One of the UK’s largest film and broadcast production complexes, MediaCityUK has been at the forefront of technological innovations. Kevin Hilton investigates the use of cloud-based storage for the space’s broadcast post-production facilities…

Sound has a nebulous quality. We are aware of it through our sense of hearing but as far as music recording, broadcasting, and live sound are concerned, when there is no playback the only real pointer to its existence is the equipment involved in its creation and reproduction – mixing consoles, recording/editing workstations, microphones, loudspeakers – and the buildings where that kit lives.

While these physical pieces of gear are still necessary, the audio (and any accompanying video) can now be even more removed from the physical tools of its creation and held in Cloud storage. This not only reduces the amount of space needed at the actual facility for server stores but also makes it easier for anyone involved in productions to load material and then access and work on it from any location.

The Cloud has followed other IT innovations into the broadcast, music, and live sound domains despite initial doubts and concerns about reliability and security. The main selling points of Cloud storage – flexibility of use and access, easy connectivity, and a large data capacity without the need for installing an expensive ingest and data server infrastructure – have won over many companies and operators in the broadcast and post-production sectors.

A recent high-profile adopter of the technology is dock10, the TV studio and post operation at MediaCityUK (MCUK) in Greater Manchester. The MCUK development at Salford Quays began in 2007 with MediaCity Studios, a complex of sound stages for film and TV drama production built into the old Pie Factory. That continues to run today but more attention has been given to the neighbouring MCUK ‘campus’, housing the main TV studio centre, three BBC buildings, and other blocks for ITV, independent production companies, and the University of Salford media department.

The HD/5.1 facilities at The Studios block opened during 2011. The BBC moved several departments, including Sport and Children’s, up to Salford that year and is committed to using at least two studios on an ongoing basis. Cynics in the industry viewed MCUK as a one-client facility but the number of producers using the studios as well as leasing office space on site has increased in the past year or so.

The Studios were rebranded in the middle of 2012 as dock10 (there were nine docks at Salford Quays in its industrial heyday; MCUK was built on the site earmarked for the 10th) and has expanded its original in-house post department to include independent facilities leasing space

in a post-production hub known as The Landing.

Dock10 initially had one dubbing suite, featuring a 48-channel Avid ICON desk with Pro Tools. Last year it was joined by a new audio room, Dub 2, a smaller area with a 24-channel Avid C24 controller. It was co-designed by dubbing mixer Mike Stewart, a well-known presence on the north-west post-production scene with a long list of drama credits. The theatre is used, under his old company name The Sound House, for Stewart’s regular clients, but is promoted as a dock10 facility. Audio is a growth area at MCUK, with London mixing, voice recording, and ADR specialist Tamborine Productions opening a new room at The Landing and production company Timeline Television North running a Pro Tools with D-Control studio in a building adjacent to The Studios block.

The studios and facilities at dock10 feature the latest equipment and technology, including a Calrec Audio Hydra2 network, for fully integrated TV production. But in many ways the real selling point in a broadcast/post market where most facilities have the same gear, is dock10’s IT infrastructure. The campus is fully cabled for fibre connectivity, which allows internet access over the site and provides audio and video connections not just round the building but also out on the central piazza.

Over the past year or so dock10 has built on that by offering Cloud services, working in conjunction with Hilversum-based CentralParq, which was set-up by live post-production company Infostrada. The system comprises four stages, beginning with capture, during which the project is assigned its own QR (Quick Response) code and metadata is created to identify the content. This is followed by ingest, from a laptop or desktop using the Mediadoq interface to sync metadata with the media files. Once in the system, different users with access to the material (some in remote locations) can work on it as low-res proxies over online connections. The fourth stage is final editing, using platforms including Avid, EVS, and Quantel. A spokesman for CentralParq said the original audio settings were not touched and are kept as they were when the sound was recorded.

Dock10’s position in adopting Cloud working is that it eliminates what are described as “convoluted, frequently broken delivery paths, long lead times and waiting cycles, and panic communication”. Commercial director Ian Munford comments: “We can deliver both digital media and Cloud services with a blend of skills combining broadcast and IT. We have connectivity with BT circuits and Sohonet but we asked ourselves what happens if someone is not on the MCUK campus. So now people can ingest material wherever they are and the material is delivered to the editing suites or anywhere else it is needed.”

CentralParq is a private Cloud system with personalised codes issued to users for full security. While dock10 is based mostly on Avid systems, both Media Composer and Pro Tools, the Cloud technology is “vendor independent”. It connects to local storage, in this case ISIS for online, Isilon nearline, and Spectra Logic in the archive, with file transfer based on Signiant software.