System Showcase: Canal+ Builds New IP Production Center To Support Distributed Production

Although his company has been doing remote production trials during live events for more than five years, Pierre Maillat, Head of Technical Studies & Architecture at CANAL+ Group, does not like the term. He prefers “distributed production” because he feels it more accurately describes the process for hosting a series of assets and using those assets in any combination you would like to at any given moment in time.

That was the philosophy employed when designing the new IP-based CANAL+ ONE’s headquarters and production center in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris. The major renovation project started in 2020 and streamlined operations by combining its master control room (MCR) and a number of other production workflows under one roof. Previously, the company operated three production centers/buildings: Lumière (mainly focused on pay TV), Arc De Seine (focused on freeTV) and Studio de Boulogne (a multi-purpose production center). The Arcs de Seine location was closed in spring 2021, and Lumiere at the end of summer 2022.

All production and most of postproduction activities in Arc de Seine and Lumière moved to CANAL+ ONE, transmission playout activities from Lumière and Arcs de Seine moved to the Cast building, a Canal + private datacenter and its MCR operations, from Lumière and Arcs de Seine moved to One. In addition, all file based infrastructure (news editing, postproduction, graphics, file based workflow, Enterprise MAM) moved to data centers.

CANAL+ has installed five large production galleries (production control rooms) five studios, a multifeed suite, three branding suites and several postproduction areas.

CANAL+ has installed five large production galleries (production control rooms) five studios, a multifeed suite, three branding suites and several postproduction areas.

Engineering and Operations activities for the OTT service “MyCanal” is located in yet another building, connected via fiber.

The CANAL+ team worked with systems integrator Red Bee, which managed the building of five galleries (production control rooms) five studios, a multifeed suite and three branding suites as well postproduction areas of the new building. The MCR and the overall IT and network infrastructure was designed and built internally by Canal+ engineers, including transmission playout.

They made the initial move into the new production center in early Q2 2022, started equipment and networking installation in April of that year and were on air with the first phase—it’s live production systems infrastructure—by the end of July 2022.

Distributed Connectivity

In addition to the new 35,000 sq. meter building, the company still maintains a facility (with four production studios and three control rooms) at Studios de Boulogne, called the Canal Factory and a private datacenter called Cast, where most of its channel playout occurs. There’s also a radio/TV station in Paris in which a studio and its gallery is remotely operated

The new building features four traditional control rooms (used for News and Sports channels), and what they call the Trailer Factory (for promos and short content). Talk shows and continuities for sports are broadcast on a daily basis from the One building, which also houses about 80 postproduction rooms for editing, graphics, mixing, composting and grading.

Using a distributed production infrastructure to link the three buildings, dark fiber and three different networks with redundancy have been leveraged—one for control and monitoring, one for campus activities and a third is for real time audio and video in 2110. The MPEG TS transport stream over IP protocol is used to send content to its Telco partners. The link between buildings works with uncompressed ST 2110. Maillat said they will also start to deploy 2110-22, compressed video as JPEG XS streams for contribution.

The 35,000 sq. meter facility features several smaller production studios that include a reduced amount of equipment.

The 35,000 sq. meter facility features several smaller production studios that include a reduced amount of equipment.

“So we have three networks, or layers, that we centralize in two data centers, in which we have connected to our partner telcos and the cloud,” said Maillat. “The MCR is running 2110, but we want to have a virtual TS matrix over IP to allow us to manage different ways of signal transport, the network and the cloud.”

For the main building they have a 400 GB/s data rate connection and a 100 GBps link connects the smaller facility at Studios de Boulogne. They plan to upgrade one building to 800 Gb/s (carried over two fiber paths) to meet anticipated demand for more bandwidth to provide programming for France as well as other countries like Africa.

These international channels are programmed and played out in Pairs, but there is a bit of local sports production and distribution that is done in places like Ethiopia that is added in as well. Wherever the game is produced from, the journalists/announcers are located in Ethiopia to provide commentary in the Amharic language.

“IP Is Our Future”

They built everything around IP (ST 2110) because “we think it is the future, and we have to handle a mixture of content formats, including HD (1080i/50), UHD, 1080/50p, HDR, and SDR. A daily programming schedule includes movies, sports and news so the infrastructure has to handle all types. For sport rights holders like UEFA, the League is slowly migrating its HD content from interlace to progressive and HDR. CANAL+ has also been testing acquiring video at HD HDR 100p resolution for tennis and Maillat said the images “look amazing.”

[Of note: The 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris will feature most events shot in 4K. CANAL+ does not have the rights—France Television and Discovery do—but like NBC during its last Olympics coverage, Canal+ will down convert footage to the 1080/50p HDR format for inclusion into its coverage prior to public distribution.]

“For our linear channels the challenge will be to work with different pieces of content.,” said Maillat. “Let’s say 4K/24p, 4K/25p for documentaries, 50p HDR for sports and 100p in the future. The infrastructure has to be able to make the conversion based on who is working on it and where it eventually needs to be sent.”

Several master control rooms help monitor feeds during live remote events and on-site studio programs.

Several master control rooms help monitor feeds during live remote events and on-site studio programs.

Making The Move To COTS

The advantage of IP is that it can convey what we want at any moment in time, said Maillat. The first step was to move from SDI to IP. The next was to move from IP to IT (COTS hardware and software).

“We are a big believer in COTS systems, so we use Grass Valley’s AMPP for video and On Hertz for audio to build our multifeed suite, 3 live branding galleries in addition to the 5 traditional galleries and studios” said Maillat. “The idea is to be able to scale and change the workflow depending upon the project at hand.

For Canal+, moving from IP to IT is about reducing your reliance on dedicated hardware and using COTS instead.

“As soon as you move to COTS, you enter another world of capability,” said Maillat. It gives you on-demand processing and allows us to create new types of workflows. For example, if you have a traditional switcher you can’t escape the physical limitations of that switcher frame. Moving to COTS offer a new way to manage and operate that switcher.”

Due to the use of COTS, processing of multi-feed and branding infrastructure for "traditional" galleries is located on site. It will help them to expand the capabilities of the galleries and production studios.

“It's a new way to control the switcher,” he continued. “It could be more story driven and you could have a different interface to allow different people to operate the switcher at different times. It’s a whole new way to work. For a big event you will still have a video switcher and a TD to operate it, but a number of cloud-based production systems have now become available, using COTS hardware servers, that I think will be game changers. With them you can imagine a different way to produce the content.”

On-Demand Galleries

In the future CANAL + wants to deploy on-demand galleries for remote operation, whereby someone in the field can dial up the gallery and use the equipment—via WebRTC connection for example—for a short period of time, when the control room is not in use. From the field they can control audio and video equipment and graphics generation over the Internet.”

This on-demand production model will be especially useful for international territories that don’t have the required technology available. Canal+ is now doing remote editing on Avid Media Composers, using Teradici networking technology.

Less Satellite, More IP

Over time Maillat thinks that IP will lead to a decreased use of satellite for content distribution.

“I think that one of the biggest changes will be to migrate from satellite distribution to cloud distribution,” he said. “We see that sports like Formula One racing are sending video signals from the cars directly to the AWS cloud in IP. As another example, additional feeds from the Premiere League are distributed via SRT over the Internet. So, satellite will decrease and cloud will increase for sure.”

Implementation Challenges

Among the various challenges in designing and building such complex networked production systems was the processing of audio signals separately from the video in ST 2110.

“There are things you have to pay attention to, that we didn’t know about when we started,” said Maillat. “The challenge was getting all of the different locations to communicate with the same audio format across the network.”

He added that they learned a lot form the guys at Simplexity in Switzerland., which specializes in audio- and video-over-IP networking, including PTP. The implementation of Cisco’s IP Fabric for Media (IPFM) was very successful in helping with the migration from an SDI router to an IP-based infrastructure. EVS’ Cerebrum is used as the facility’s broadcaster control layer, used to control IP routing (MCR, Playout out and Production) at the One production center. Monitoring and troubleshooting tools are still being evaluated.

The company is considering different ways to produce content in the cloud, based on ST 2110 video over IP specifications.

The company is considering different ways to produce content in the cloud, based on ST 2110 video over IP specifications.

Adding extra layers of content security was also a challenge, as they wanted to safeguard programs that were sent between buildings and outside to content partners.

Finally, he talked about video engineers and IT experts having to work together to achieve the same goals.

“People have to understand each other when you centralize your infrastructure you have to rely on other people. So, for the broadcast engineer, they have to be confident in IP, and work with IT and networking people. When operating an IP facility, these two teams have to speak to one another, often.”

CANAL+’s Solid Foundation

In the end CANAL+ has implemented a comprehensive IP-based infrastructure and several redundant networks that will allow the company’s production staff to optimize live operations, transform workflow capabilities and deliver compelling media experiences for CANAL+’s linear and OTT service viewers, all from a single centralized production center.

The relocation into the new headquarters has provided the opportunity to rethink the way they work and completely transform their various production and post workflows.

“The idea was to accelerate our SDI to IP transition, limit the use of hardware and move towards more software-defined and cloud-based solutions,” said Maillat. “This gives us the scalability and flexibility needed to optimize our operations in the most efficient ways possible.”

And, for Maillat, it represents Distributed Production at its most useful.

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