Tribune Builds the 4K Future with Facilis

tribune-publishing-co-logoHudson, MA - The Chicago Tribune Media Group is one of the USA’s longest-established publishers of newspapers and magazines. While retaining the strengths of its established brands – like the Chicago Tribune– it has now developed into an innovator in digital and online content.

As part of this transformation, Tribune’s Creative Services department provides an in-house resource for content. Mason Pierce is its senior video producer. “We directly support video for Marketing, Targeted Media, Editorial and anything in between,” he said. “Short and long-form; web; social media – whatever our titles and brands need, we are an internal agency there to create it.”

Now Mason and his team are adding 4k Ultra HD production capabilities to the mix. Content is already being produced in 4k, and material is added to the archive for future re-purposing.

The Creative Services department has a team of editors, graphic designers and animators who produce a huge amount of output each year. Managing all the content, and providing visibility of projects to the producers and commissioners in Tribune’s business units, calls for a sophisticated means of handling video.

The solution lies in the TerraBlock 24D from Facilis. At the beginning of 2015, Tribune upgraded its facilities with two new 96TB units. The story began seven years earlier, though.

“Back then, we needed to jump from analog SD to digital HD,” recalled Mason. “We knew we needed a completely fresh approach to the way we worked, because we could see we would build up a huge amount of HD content.”

So Mason and his team realized they would have to find a solution that was simple enough for them to manage on their own, while also providing the storage bandwidth required. “We needed to set it and forget it, without a dedicated IT professional constantly baby-sitting the appliance.”

Having surveyed the market, Facilis provided the solution. It gave them the flexibility to manage the work through volumes and projects, and most important, it could all be done by their in-house staff, not through an IT specialist. “With Facilis we were able to increase our workflow significantly,” said Mason. “We were able to share projects more efficiently and access content directly, not wait for files to be pulled down.”

One particular aspect of TerraBlock was central to the way Tribune works today. It supports both Fibre and copper – gigabit Ethernet – connectivity. The operation uses this to streamline its productions.

“We have power users – editors, animators, graphic designers – who are connected by Fibre and have fast access to all the content,” Mason explained. “But we have a number of other users, who might be the producers, or the brand managers in the business units, or the copywriters, who do not need multiple streams of full resolution content. We give them controlled access, and we connect them over copper so they can be anywhere in the Tribune network.”
Tribune uses the volume functionality of TerraBlock to manage content. Not only does this restrict users to the projects they are entitled to see – so producers from one business unit cannot look into what others are doing – it also makes the system easy to use, minimizing the need for technical support.

Today the power users are creating content using Adobe Premiere, SpeedGrade, After Effects and Maya, and occasionally Cinema 4D, all connected directly to the TerraBlock. Traditionally acquisition has been on Sony XDCam and DSLRs. However, the ambitions of the department have stretched to 4k acquisition and finishing.

The success of the in-house department, supported by the Facilis TerraBlock, meant that over the years since the original installation, its output had grown three-fold. With the increased work, and the desire to future-proof content through 4k acquisition and finishing, it was time to expand the department’s technical infrastructure.

Even though they loved the power and ease of use of the TerraBlock, Mason and his team looked around at what was available in the market, recognizing that technology had moved on. Despite intensive research, nothing came close to doing what Facilis could deliver as standard. With the help of leading reseller and systems integrator, KeyCode Media in Chicago, Tribune’s Creative Services department recently upgraded its existing Facilis storage system with two new 96TB TerraBlock 24D shared storage systems.

“We have invested in Sony FS700 cameras with Convergent Designs recorders, capturing in 4k ProRes,” according to Mason. The Sony FS700s also create and record an HD proxy on the fly, so as soon as the crew gets back to base the content is dropped into the TerraBlock and is available.

In general, the practice is to edit with the proxy, then do a final conform and grade in 4k. But even this may not be necessary, according to Mason: “We have discovered that the Facilis system does not even blink when editing 4k. So we know if we have a quick turnaround project we can do it all online, with the 4k in our normal ‘work in progress’ volume.”

With the ever-growing rate of acquisition and production, archiving content was also becoming an issue. Another advantage of the Facilis solution is its close integration with Storage DNA and its LTO data tape archives. For Tribune, this provided a seamless route to long-term protection of the content with easy and accurate retrieval for high-res conform workflows.

“We looked around, but no-one else could offer even the basic requirement of connecting to copper as well as Fibre without a workaround,” he said. “As they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so we got two 96TB Facilis engines, and filled them with everything we need.

We’re happy we have the right platform to carry on delivering great content, quickly and efficiently.”

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