Tieline and NPR Revolutionize Remote Broadcasting Workflows
Jun 21, 2011
Report-IT Live Enterprise Edition (EE) is the world’s first iPhone® application that turns the iPhone into a pocket-sized portable 15kHz live IP audio codec and ultra-slim high fidelity 20kHz audio recorder. The Enterprise Edition of this application enables broadcast networks to centrally manage multiple users from the studio using cloud computing concepts to program, manage and secure all live Report-IT connections across their IP networks.
National Public Radio (NPR) is a thriving US media organization distributing news, information and music programming to a network of 900 independent stations and over 27 million listeners every week. NPR worked closely with Tieline in the development phase of the Enterprise Edition application to provide valuable feedback about the design of the user interface.
“Today NPR is recognized as an industry leader in the transition from ISDN networks into IP broadcast networks,” said Charlie Mayer, Director of Operations for NPR News. “We are constantly looking for better and more creative ways to enhance our radio broadcast network through technological advancements and within the budgetary constraints of the network.”
“In many ways the principles of radio haven’t changed very much over the last 50 years, however technology and the methods of delivering radio broadcasts have changed appreciably,” he said. “When the iPhone arrived on the scene it was clear that although it was positioned in the consumer sphere, the utility of the device to broadcast professionals was undeniable.”
“It immediately had relevance to our progression into digital multimedia and we have been thinking seriously for some time about how we can use both the iPhone and the iPad to enhance our ability to deliver broadcast programming.”
Report-IT Delivers a New Perspective on Broadcasting
“Tieline was the first broadcast vendor to see potential in the iPhone and they delivered the first version of the Report-IT Live app in early 2010,” said Mayer. “This version was a standalone reporting tool, which was individually programmed for each user on their iPhone. It had a live reporting capability and could be used as a professional recorder that sends reports to the studio via FTP,” Mayer said. “Although it was a powerful tool, it still relied on the user having basic knowledge of the device to get up and going and each version of the application purchased had to reside on a single iPhone.”
Tieline Report-IT Live uses the Tieline Music algorithm to send 15kHz quality, low bandwidth live IP audio back to a Tieline codec at the studio. The app can simultaneously record native format digital audio and use FTP transfer to send it back to the studio using AAC-LC, WAVE or Broadcast WAVE encoding formats.
“At NAB 2010 we discussed with Tieline the possibility of developing a version of Report-IT which could be configured completely by an administrator so that users only have to download and open the application and then tap one or two buttons to connect live, record and FTP audio,” said Mayer. “Tieline agreed it was a good concept and over the next few months they contacted us regularly to obtain feedback on the functionality of the Enterprise Edition of Report-IT Live and how to implement improvements to the device’s tape sync capabilities.”
Report-IT Live Enterprise Edition Workflow
Tape Sync; an Historical Perspective
“Tape sync has been in use for many years at NPR and is used frequently to record interviews ‘as-live’,” said Mayer. “It was developed in the 1970s and is still used to interview a person of note, such as a senator or movie star remotely from the studio.”
“The program host interviews the person by phone from the studio and we record the announcer to one channel and the phone interviewee’s audio to the second channel,” he said. “We send an engineer or producer out into the field with an audio recorder to record the interviewee’s audio simultaneously during the phone interview and then sync the higher quality recorded audio with the program host’s audio back at the studio.”
“These days, with the advent of IP audio, one of our biggest challenges is bad internet connections or IP packet drop-outs when interviewing people - particularly over international networks,” said Mayer. “With Report-IT we could foresee the ideal solution; perform a live codec to codec interview over IP using the iPhone, simultaneously record the interviewee audio onto the iPhone and at the studio, then FTP the high quality recording back to the studio afterwards to sync with the original recording if artifacts or dropouts occurred during the live interview.”
Managing App Installations and Getting Connected
“We first started using Report-IT Live Enterprise Edition in August 2010 and have primarily used it for tape-sync situations, but we have also used the live IP audio capability on several occasions with good success,” said Mayer. “Chris Nelson is NPR’s Technical Director and he was instrumental in integrating Enterprise Edition into NPR’s studios.”
“We use the Report-IT EE app in 2 different, but equally useful ways,” said Chris. “The first is to connect with guests that do not have access to a high quality line (either for time, logistic, or budget constraints). The second is to connect with NPR reporters reporting a quickly developing news story on location.”
Workflow for Installing and Connecting with Report-IT
Access to the Enterprise Edition is managed through Tieline's TieServer and annual user licenses are purchased from a Tieline dealer. The license structure allows one Administrator to manage multiple users across multiple iPhones. Administrators can set up user licenses with individual settings and manage all users right from their own iPhone. These settings are then stored on TieServer. A user name and password is supplied to each end user for their iPhone.
NPR reporters, announcers and guests can then simply download the free Enterprise Edition app from the iTunes App Store, open the application and enter the unique login provided to them by the studio Administrator. This process automatically logs them into TieServer and all the preprogrammed configuration settings for connecting to specific Tieline studio codecs or FTP servers are automatically downloaded into their iPhone from TieServer.
The user can then simply tap 'Connect' to connect live to the studio. At the conclusion of an interview, NPR gets the user to disconnect the call and tap ‘Upload’ to automatically send the pristine interview audio to the studio via FTP.
NPR Implementation of Enterprise Licenses
“We’ve created a couple of profiles that connect Report-IT EE users directly with our facilities, so in many cases, the engineering staff don’t even need to be alerted when a news producer needs to quickly connect with an iPhone user,” said Nelson. “This has proved to be quite helpful for us, as our technical staff is often overburdened, and it empowers our non-technical staff to coordinate interview connections quickly.”
“Since Report-IT supports bidirectional audio, we can send a mix minus feed of studio program directly to our reporter’s iPhone, just as we would for a traditional interview over ISDN, sat phone, POTS, or dedicated circuit,” he said. “The remote reporter only hears the studio audio we route to them, and are not subjected to hearing their own voice after transmission delay. This allows for a natural conversation from the remote perspective, while allowing us to seamlessly integrate the Report-IT app as another viable remote source and without having to change any of our typical routing protocols.”
“If the reporter wants to hear their own voice via the local iPhone headphone monitor output, Report-IT allows us to turn that feature on or off as per each user’s preference. Following is how we assign our Report-IT Enterprise user accounts.”
“Our newscast unit produces hourly casts 24/7/365. Physically embedded within the Newscast Unit are what we call ‘Intake Stations.’ Intake Stations allow our newscast producers to ingest audio from commonly used sources: ISDN, IP, POTs, and our internal BTS audio switching system (which contains access to hundreds of incoming ports.). We recently added a Tieline Commander G3 field unit at the Intake Station specifically to receive live reports from iPhone users. Its ability to support POTS, ISDN, and IP connections makes it a useful tool for us,” Nelson said. “Our newscast-specific Report-IT log-in defaults to that specific G3 codec, allowing the Newscast Unit to quickly provide their log-in credentials to any person with whom they need to speak.”
“NPR also has several basic ‘self-operated’ booths, which are designed specifically for producers/reporters who need to do quick interviews with individuals on the phone, over ISDN, IP or other dedicated circuit,” said Nelson. “The booths, which work on an interconnected LAWO digital routing network, have a Tieline G3 codec dedicated specifically for their use.
“By default, we reserve one specific booth especially for iPhone interviews,” he said. “In this way, any person in the building has a default location where they can record interviews with individuals in the field with Report-IT. Again in this case, no engineering staff intervention is necessary.”
“Our 3 remaining Report-IT user licenses are designed to work with Tieline codecs which live in our Master Control facility,” said Nelson. “Unlike the previous 2 examples, which are designed to connect an outside user with a specific facility within NPR, the remaining log-ins connect to codecs which can be routed to any technical facility within, or even outside of, our Washington DC headquarters. We use these log-ins predominantly for taped or live interviews with our show hosts. Our Operations Desk manages all of our technical resources and manages traffic to prevent double bookings of a specific codec at a given time.”
“As an example, if All Things Considered wants to do an interview between a host and a guest (or correspondent) on an iPhone, the show quickly calls our Ops desk,” he said. “The Ops desk tells the show which resource is available at the specified interview time. The All Things Considered staffer would then communicate the Report-IT user log-in information, along with instructions to the guest if required. Our Master Control would handle the audio routing and backfeed to/from the studio and whichever Tieline codec is needed, just as they would for any remote connection.”
Tape Sync Benefits at NPR
“The other BIG advantage for us is the built in ‘tape-sync’ feature which Tieline helped us realize,” said Nelson. “We commonly use this feature if we experience any 3G or network congestion which can lead to drop-outs. We also do this in less time sensitive situations like commentary recordings where we have time to use the highest quality audio possible on-air.”
“After a remote reporter/guest using Report-IT disconnects with us, they are instantly prompted to upload a file containing their side of the conversation directly to our FTP site in high quality. This means that if there are any audio impairments or drop outs related to network bandwidth limitations, we know that we have a perfect back-up copy on the user’s iPhone.”
Our Digital Audio Workstation automatically ingests incoming FTP audio, so NPR production staff simply expect to see the ‘tape-sync’ side of the conversation at their computers shortly after an interview concludes (in addition to the ‘live’ recording we make while the interview is taking place).
“The bottom line with this sort of technology is simplicity. It has to be so simple that anyone without technical knowledge can use it,” said Charlie Mayer. “Report-IT Enterprise Edition achieves this and it has very practical applications for NPR.”
NPR's Chris Nelson (left) and Charlie Mayer
“Our producers at NPR have also found that with the increase in iPhone sales it is getting much easier to obtain interviews because with Report-IT the people we talk to do not have to come into a studio to be interviewed,” said Mayer. “It also means that NPR staff members no longer have to go out on-location, delivering greater speed and efficiency in an era of increasingly scarce broadcast resources.”
“The Report-IT Enterprise Edition app’s user interface is simple and intuitive,” said Chris Nelson. “In general we’ve found that even the most technically challenged guests can follow basic instructions (which we provide) for installing the app and connecting to NPR in as little as 5 minutes!”
“Although we don’t specifically track what percentage of remote reporters or guests appear via specific connection types, I can confirm that Report-IT EE connections have certainly been used extensively throughout the US and internationally on all of our flagship news-magazine shows,” said Nelson. “This includes All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday. The technology has been very helpful lately in the hands of reporters filing from the Middle East during the recent turmoil.
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