Delivering TV and radio to the UK – behind the scenes at the Broadcast Media Centre

We have a rich heritage in delivering TV and radio across the UK providing vital transmission services to broadcasters for over 80 years.

The Master Control Room (MCR) at the Broadcast Media Centre in Feltham

The Master Control Room (MCR) at the Broadcast Media Centre in Feltham

We own and operate a number of facilities around the UK that collectively work to deliver TV and Radio services across the country 24/7/365.

Successful operation and management of our broadcast facilities is crucial in ensuring we keep customers on air with high availability. Our Broadcast Media Centre in Feltham is one such facility.

We caught up with Glen Lines, Shift Leader at the Centre to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes and the critical role that the facility plays delivering services for our customers:

Who are you?

Hello, I’m Glen Lines and I’ve worked at Arqiva since September 2008 having joined as an apprentice working at the Broadcast Media Centre. I became a Shift Leader in June 2011 where I am part of a close knit team working on the main monitoring desk.

What happens at the Broadcast Media Centre?

The Broadcast Media Centre plays a key role in the delivery of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) in the UK. Not only does the centre provide playout and production services for Tier 1 broadcasters it is also where all of the commercial multiplexes for Freeview are managed and monitored 24/7/365.

All of the critical encoding, multiplexing and contribution activity for all of the commercial DTT multiplexes happens under the roof at Feltham for all video, radio and data services broadcast on the Freeview platform across the UK.

Since their inception 17 years ago, we have also provided British Eurosport with access and use of our studio and playout facilities; built and designed to include the sport network’s entire operation.

How do you and your team contribute to the delivery of services out of the Broadcast Media Centre?

My role as a Shift Leader is to manage the shift team on the main desk.

We have a dedicated shift team who work to manage and monitor all services 24/7. Each member of the team is trained to be able to work across all platforms, this enables us to provide flexibility to the customer and ensure all services across platforms are covered. Each member of the team also has their own specialisms, allowing them to focus on specific longer term projects.

The team also provides a vital point of contact to our customers. If any issues are encountered either on the customers feed or output, the team provides an immediate point of contact to find a solution with the customer. The team works very closely with the other major Arqiva sites, including the Transmission Management Centre at Emley Moor to ensure the smooth transmission of all services across the UK.

Since you started working at the Broadcast Media Centre what do you feel is the greatest achievement which has made the biggest impact for a customer?

Since 2009 the number of services delivered from Feltham has increased ten-fold which has certainly been a challenging but exciting time! But one key project that comes to mind was in 2013 when we launched a dedicated “pop-up” service for a key customer. We delivered a “red button service” for a 2 week period for major events including Wimbledon, Glastonbury and the British Grand Prix. This included providing encoding and multiplexing for a number of additional services for a fixed period of time.

We pulled out all the stops to provide the capability and capacity to deliver a great service – we got great feedback from the customer on how we delivered that service.

The Broadcast Media Centre is a very well-connected site, with high capacity diverse fibre infrastructure and satellite downlink capability, it means we are able to offer flexibility to customers should they have problems with their own connectivity. Recently one of our broadcast customers suffered lengthy disruption to their network and we were able to assist them with our satellite capability to keep their services on air during the 8hr incident. Being able to offer this flexibility and resilience to our customers helps minimise any costly downtime of their services.

What is most technically challenging element of the job?

The complexity and unpredictability of working with such a range of services across a number of multiplexes is a challenge, but one that we relish! Each multiplex is configured differently in order to deliver specific requirements for specific customers. The complex configurations of the encoders and multiplexes have to be continually reviewed and optimised to meet our customers’ requirements. We have a really close and collaborative relationship with our customers and we understand their priorities.

With the ever increasing number of services being monitored through the Broadcast Media Centre we also have to be innovative in looking at ways to become more efficient and identify issues as quickly as possible.

We recently developed and implemented an “Alarm Box” notification system which automatically identifies problems with any service/feed, be it a frozen screen, audio sync issue or other technical problem. This notification system has been very effective in quickly flagging up issues to the monitoring team so resolutions can be made as quickly as possible.

With the ever improving technology, we are constantly looking at ways to improve the efficiency of our encoding and multiplexing hardware and software. We work in close partnership and collaboration with our suppliers and customers to identify ways of improving system efficiency and quality.

How do you think future technology will impact your role?

The linear distribution of content continues to evolve and is becoming more and more efficient with the latest high power hardware. Many manufacturers are developing software encoding as an alternative to traditional dedicated hardware and it will be really interesting to see whether this becomes a viable alternative. There is also the challenge of 4k services; it will be interesting to see how this will be managed and what that will mean for encoding and encryption in the future, with that demand for much higher bandwidth and compression.

But one area which is becoming more prevalent is that of IP streaming and Over-the-top (OTT) services. More customers are becoming more aware of hybrid technology and potential to distribute additional services via IP to work seamlessly alongside their linear services. We are currently undertaking a series of research relating to the future of broadcasting called Connected Broadcasting. This research is helping us to understand how the changing end user landscape is affecting how broadcasters are distributing their content and how their audiences are viewing their content.

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