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STV is a commercial, free-to-air public service broadcaster and Scotland’s most popular peak-time TV station. STV holds two Channel 3 licences, in Central and North Scotland, operating a digital terrestrial and video-on-demand service, the STV Player, as well as a production company, STV Productions, which makes shows for major networks across the UK.
STV’s two news programmes are watched by up to half a million people each evening. Their news operations and transmission areas are divided into its two licence regions - STV Central has its main studios at STV’s headquarters at Glasgow's Pacific Quay with two smaller facilities in Edinburgh, one in the Fountainbridge district of the city, the other at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. STV North is based in Aberdeen's West Tullos area, with remote studios in Dundee and Inverness.
STV were reviewing the technical systems across both regions and planned for a staggered refurbishment and technical upgrade, with the Aberdeen studios the first part of the project. STV’s Channels Operations Manager, Sam Dornan, was project manager on the installation.
"Our aim for the North region was to refresh the technical installation at Aberdeen, which, almost as a by-product, gave us the opportunity to put in an end-to-end HD chain," explains Dornan.
A key element in refreshing the facilities in Aberdeen was the selection and installation of a new tally system. Dornan adds that in considering this, he and the project team were also looking for applications that would not only improve camera operations in the main studio but also allow for greater remote control of the Dundee and Inverness studios.
"Our previous tally system in Aberdeen was powered by TSL Products TallyMan, which we'd had for a number of years," Dornan comments. "Investing in the current version of TallyMan was the obvious choice because of our history with TSL. TallyMan has developed further over the years and now has increased IP capability, which allows it to talk to more equipment from different suppliers using IP communications rather than discreet 422, 232 or GPIs, although they can still do that."
Maintaining continuity with TSL Products' technology brought another benefit in the additional functionality of Virtual Panels (TMVP) which offer a visual control layer of the system. TSL regularly set up configurations alongside the end-customer and with supporting training allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the tools and functions included within TallyMan and therefore retain ownership of their system,
"This gives us control over the cameras in our remote studios in Dundee and Inverness," Dornan says. "It means we now have the option of having a 'down the line' interview with a guest in, for example, Inverness, while our studio team remotely control and rack the cameras, as well as turn the studio lights on and off using a system we designed ourselves."
The studio cameras at Dundee and Inverness had been controlled in various ways over the last 20 years. "When we came to update the infrastructure we wanted systems that would still remotely control the cameras but be a lot more efficient," he comments. "Our news coverage comes from right across the country so there's always a requirement for contributions from all of our studios which means remote control from the main studios is essential. Of all the products we looked at, the TSL’s TallyMan system with Virtual Panels ticked all the boxes and gave us the flexibility and control that we wanted."
Installation of the new system for STV North began in October 2018 and was completed in time for it to go live by Easter 2019. The remote studios at Dundee and Inverness are now fully controllable from the Aberdeen studios. The region is now also HD end-to-end, from acquisition to the studios to transmission.
With the upgrade of STV North now complete, STV has plans in place to refit the central studios. The second phase of this project will commence when it is safe to do so, and will include a refresh in Glasgow, Edinburgh and at the Scottish Parliament.
"We are now planning for phase 2 in the central region," Dornan says. "The plan is to refresh the cameras, monitoring, autocue, the lighting as well as upgrading all of the sound desks in Glasgow. "
Once the Glasgow refit is complete, the installation team will move on to Edinburgh and then the Scottish Parliament studios. "Our aim is to have a consistency of equipment across all our facilities, so we will be putting TSL Tallyman into Glasgow as well," Dornan comments. "This will enable remote control of any of our systems from either Aberdeen or Glasgow. We’ll also complete a full upgrade of our technical infrastructure to HD, enabling compatibility across all of our transmission areas."
Based on the experience of upgrading the North region, Sam Dornan hopes that once work on STV Central restarts it should be completed within five to six months.