ABS-CBN invests millions in state-of-the-art equipment

- Leah C. Salterio -
Fifty years ago, when ABS-CBN pioneered the historic television broadcast in the country, the first modern transmitter that was used then proved its remarkable performance. This became an important reason for the success of the network.

Through the years, ABS-CBN has delivered the latest news reports, as well as quality entertainment and current affairs programs, not just to audiences around the country but also to Filipinos around the world.

Today, as the Lopez-owned network reinforces its dominance in the local broadcast arena, it also lives up to its commitment of being of service to the Filipino viewer anywhere in the world.

Behind the news coverage and the entertainment eye candy viewers see on their boobtube are technical innovations initiated by ABS-CBN’s integrated engineering group, headed by its senior vice president, Ruben Jimenez.

In November last year, ABS-CBN invested $3 million (P165 million) on state-of-the-art broadcast equipment that is now being used for remote coverage, pre-production and post-production work for news, current affairs and entertainment

"It has been our dream for years to use this kind of equipment here since it was introduced globally three or four years ago," says Jimenez. "Our technological capacity is comparable to other international networks, so it’s really something to brag about. But when it comes to our competitor, we’ve overtaken them by leaps and bounds."

ABS-CBN now relies on digital editing, by means of centralized video servers, which hold all video materials. The server for news alone is capable of storing 140 hours of recorded video footage that can be used simultaneously. The server is connected to 12 editing workstations, which give access to executive producers, directors, video editors, reporters and writers.

"We have two servers, one is for the news while the other is shared by entertainment and current affairs, " Jimenez informs. "But the server is not an archiving system. "It’s just for day-to-day operations. After we’ve come out with the program, some videos are removed from the server and archived."

The benefit of the digital server is the work flow, according to Raul Bulaong, assistant vice president for post-production department.

"Basically, it makes the work flow non-linear in nature, which makes it easier and faster," Bulaong explains. "After the material is ingested into the server, the workstations can share the footage and do simultaneous editing. While video editing is being done, the audio people can clean up the dialogue or put sound effects, the scorer can do the musical score and even promo can also start working on their plugs. They all have simultaneous access and therefore, turn-around time is shorter."

Jimenez points out the flexibilities and options offered by the digital server are impossible to do in a linear or tape-based system.

"For instance, the material arrived at 3 p.m. because the taping was extended, but you have to air at 7:30 tonight," Jimenez grants. "What they’ll do is cut up the editing work in three workstations, which get simultaneous access to the video. They don’t have to wait for each other.

"If you rely on the tape system, bukas ka na siguro makaka-air. At least with the digital server, magagawan ng paraan. We’ve done it and we’ve been doing it. It saves time, although creativity is sometimes affected. But when push comes to a shove, you’ll still see the program on TV."

For the news materials, videos can be shared by TV Patrol, Insider, News Central 23 and ANC.

"They’ll just do it in English for ANC and Studio 23," Jimenez says. "Once the material is in the server, everybody can start editing. Everybody can use their own plan, give it a different look and style, so that’s a major creative difference we are offering to our journalists."

While the news automation system is already in place, the migration from the old system to the new one has yet to be completed, says Jimenez.

"There are a lot of discipline and changes. We’ve already migrated to the text portion. Reporters write their stories in a workstation and the story automatically goes into a server, which can be used by the tele-prompter. It will also go into the control for studio airing. As soon as the reporters finish writing their stories, they can already edit their videos, too, on the same workstation.

"The migration to the video system will take place within the year. When we implement that, what the reporter plays, the videos can be attached to it. Everything is automated. The full migration of all our news programs will take place this month."

Late last year, ABS-CBN also started using its multimillion-peso digital satellite van, with an uplink antenna for remote news coverage. The materials from the field can be sent via satellite to the studios.

"The digital satellite van is ideal especially in Makati, where we can’t put microwave because of the tall buildings," Jimenez offers. "That was used a lot during the July 27 coup in Glorietta. It’s also a lot easier to use, unlike the analog with the fly-away dish which you have to assemble for an hour. With the flick of a button on the digital satellite, you can air in 15 minutes.

"We lease transponder space from Pan-Am Sat Pas-8, so we can send feed of 10 channels to Japan, the rest of Asia and all the way to the US West Coast. With turnaround facilities in Napa Valley, it goes up to another satellite, which sends feeds anywhere in the US and Canada. A different satellite sends feeds of shows from the Philippines to the Middle East and Europe."

The 10 channels are ABS-CBN Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, TFC-North America, ANC, Studio 23, Cinema One, Pinoy Central (which can be seen only in the US, Lifestyle Network and Knowledge Channel).

Meanwhile, the fly-away antenna was sent to Kuwait for Danny Buenafe’s coverage of the Iraq war. Video phones and the network’s satellite phone were useful to Henry Omaga-Diaz’s war coverage in Jordan and Ed Linggao’s reportage in Baghdad, Iraq.

ABS-CBN, however, did not just invest millions on the technical equipment, but also on manpower training. Experts from the US and Singapore came to Manila last year to acquaint reporters, cameramen, news desk editors, executive producers and writers with the modern contraptions. Some production people were also sent abroad to train. Even executives such as Dong Puno Jr. (senior vice president for integrated news and current affairs), Luchie Cruz-Valdez (vice president for news) and Jake Maderazo (ANC vice president and managing director) were tutored on how to use the system.

"Within the next two years, we see a fully digital airing at ABS-CBN," Jimenez informs. "It will be a tape-less system where the playout will come from a server, like MTV and HBO, instead of a video recorder. Right now, we’re doing it for Studio23 programs. We have the best people and I’m confident that with the kind of training we give them on the state-of-the-art equipment that we are using, we hope we can go fully digital even sooner.

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