Newsbridge + AFP Webinar: Cloud-Based Production During Confinement

Introduction AFP + Newsbridge

Recently Newsbridge CEO Philippe Petitpont spoke (virtually) with AFP’s Editorial Technical Production Department Manager Yves Tassel in regard to how AFP team’s have adapted to confinement and remote work by increasing their remote production capacity. More specifically, the two discussed how AFP was able to create a fully dematerialized infrastructure in the cloud in order to access and work with content quickly and efficiently, all while avoiding VPN, latency and bandwidth issues, just to name a few. 

During the webinar, AFP and Newsbridge discussed remote production during confinement.

🇫🇷🇺🇸 Transcribed Interview from French To English

Below you will find a shortened recap of the interview transcript translated from french to english. Please note that the original exchange was hosted by Newsbridge and took place on May 15, 2020 as a live and interactive webinar between Tassel and Petitpont.

AFP Editorial Technical Service Production Manager Yves Tassel and Newsbridge CEO Philippe Petitpont

-Beginning of Transcript Recap-

Philippe Petitpont:
So to start with introductions well here is Yves and in regard to services what have been a little bit of the challenges at hand? And so usually especially well currently actually now with the confinement?

Yves Tassel:
We are a team of 12 people and our job is to technically assist journalists in the field and in editing, it goes from, from, the supply of equipment for special envoys to the management of everything that is video as well in reporting mode so the equipment and the video streaming aspect, that is to say the collect, transmission, management of packs, backpacks for the crews and the video control part which produces four H24 main feeds produced from Paris but also from of our regional offices like Hong Kong, Washington, etc. The organization of the technicians’ work is partly to work on maintenance of all the streams which arrive at the agency and there are many, and these feeds are both used for the editorial part which has to record them and examine them for reporting and short programs, but these same feeds are also used for by management actually video which provides these 4 streams which are delivered by satellite and by IP via the internet, the provider MX1 with whom we work, and which allows TV channels or production companies to recover, recover live streams. And that on H24.

Philippe Petitpont:
How were you impacted precisely at the very beginning of the covid lockdown(s)?

Yves Tassel:
In fact, for us it all started in January, precisely on the Asian side with the Hong Kong office where the 1st lockdown happened and the problem of continuing to produce not only the editorial part so managing all the reports in the Asian region and after on the Live part, because over the night shift there is an entire team there that produces the four live video streams of the playout center. So we had to find solutions for team members and technicians, producers so they could work from home, so we could connect to VPN with the equipment. We were in luck because the equipment for us is already full IP, so we have a lot of remote access to the equipment in native mode, so that helped us a lot and and on the other hand, the problem after that was how to bring back a visual video stream at home. And that was the very 1st challenge.

“For us it all started in January, precisely on the Asian side with the Hong Kong office where the 1st lockdown happened…we had to find solutions for team members and technicians; producers so they could work from home.”

Yves Tassel, AFP’s Editorial Technical Production Department Manager

Philippe Petitpont:
Did you suddenly have the same challenges as the wave continued? Did it continue to be an issue, the access to the content, that’s it: access to native streams?

Yves Tassel:
Yes so we come back to a problem of access to the content and the management of this content. We also had an impact which is, which is that the end user has a connection which can be limited as well and which, which was the first problem. Also, knowing if the person working is well equipped and if the person could connect correctly and sufficiently to the Internet to be able to control the streams and access information. Because there’s a part, part of access to the editorial system which is possible, and and and which is simple but, once again the the number of images and video streams which arrive at the agency requires to be checked, replayed and, it was one of the big problems in fact.

Philippe Petitpont:
Finally, the bottleneck is mostly the internet connection of the collaborator who is working from  home, who can sometimes access 4G, and then and suddenly imagine that to go to monitor and actually manage 10s of 20s of streams in real time, it is there right away, not possible with a 20 megabit connection?

Yves Tassel:
Monitoring the streams from the MCR is the pain point if we talk about the editorial part, that is to say that the other phase of AFP, where journalists use editing stations that are specific with our Iris tool and Grass Valley, which requires also having a significant bandwidth, so we had solutions either remote stations which remained in the offices, also tested using these stations which have, like the system being centralized where we already work in streaming in our Intranet, which is global, worldwide. Therefore we have managed to operate certain stations in certain places, with people who had the required bandwidth that was necessary and that had the possibility with VPN to continue to work a little like at home, we will say like at the agency as in their office using the local network, obviously with constraints a little more latency. But they kept their local environment and it was still more practical. We already had, due to the dispersal of offices that we have, in fact, we have already been forced to work on the access, on sharing, a little bit on the Cloud, but with capacity for people who are in offices, small offices who do not necessarily have sufficient access to be able to get information and or to facilitate, in any case, the access to this information and the control of this information.

Philippe Petitpont:
So from a human organization point of view, in fact, the AFP was already ready to face this kind of situation?

Yves Tassel:
We work with all these offices, dispersed with 5 regional offices, we already have this way of working, delocalized in fact. Therefore, knowing that the central system is in Paris – we already have this way of working remotely. Well at the same time we unfortunately do not necessarily have this in all offices, all the means, the technical infrastructure, the servers, the bandwidth, the storage. So if we go back to the subject of how to work with Newsbridge, by using new platforms which are precisely in the Cloud, this also allows offices that are not necessarily equipped with large network means, of and and satellite reception or storage or other infrastructures,  to access video content and start to edit it.

“But this change, this change to remote working, having access to de materialized tools…for AFP it gives us a greater agility, in terms of access to resources for our journalists.”

Yves Tassel, AFP Editorial Technical Production Department Manager

Philippe Petitpont:
What were some of the unexpected points that the AFP did not necessarily expect

Yves Tassel:
Finally, what was complicated, I think- getting equipment to everyone because overnight, we all left the offices and arrived at our homes and the implementation in fact of all this in a functional way, it was complicated because not everyone was necessarily equipped. We did not necessarily have all of the equipment in stock, so the setup at the beginning was not so simple. It took some time and and the utilisation and the access to the platform and these new working methods…this is what we call change management, which is that when we are used to working in our environment in the office with rapid access to information with shortcuts, with our own habits, when we change a bit abruptly and it’s constrained and forced, it is not necessarily easy to find these same reflexes and to and to get used to using another tool like that. But it is clear that we didn’t necessarily have the choice, and suddenly there are people who joined obviously much faster rather than that than trying to use a remote station with VPN constraints and accesses that are, who experienced difficulty with latency of the windows that did not open as they should and and there it becomes unbearable as a working condition.

Philippe Petitpont:
The Product Manager of  Microsoft Office 365 said that digital transformation won 2 years in 2 months. Is that the same for AFP?

Yves Tassel:
Maybe not that much, we could say. But actually just having launched remote working like that, I think that it’s a large reflection of how we will work in the coming months, knowing that, in addition, for our part, we are starting to work in our building where we will be a little more condensed and therefore,we will have to do a little more remote working, than we did until now It’s helping a large number of people, I think that quite a few people have realized that they actually could work from home. for AFP it gives us a greater agility, in terms of, access to resources for our journalists who are in offices that are not necessarily in large regional offices, the possibility of accessing platforms in which there is already the content: well, it’s a big plus, it’s a big plus. And to not be…totally cut off even if we have tools like Internet, e-mails. And when automatically all the tools requiring broadband internet access like video, and when we want to process HD images, we need to have a certain infrastructure to be able to have these work items, so the Cloud is definitely a plus. And so people will be able to work at home, but also it will facilitate the operation in many small offices that do not are not equipped with large infrastructures

Philippe Petitpont:
About change management you spoke about. How is it going when we end up with several hundred users who will use a new tool. What was that like? Was there some sort of internal training sessions internally? Was it a video tutorial, you know to help everyone, or how did it happen?

Yves Tassel:
Well we were already working with the Newsbridge platform, it has still been a little more than a year that we have been working, that we have done, some, some, specific missions of G20 covers, these specific covers which required the engagement of journalists who were not really in the zone during certain events.

Yves Tassel:
So employees who had attended these short training sessions, to understand utilization, they came to us. They started by asking you know, oh I forgot a bit about how to use this, the process to send streams in the system, how can I get these back, and therefore we just did a little refresh for anyone who had forgotten how to use it. And after that, we also tried to implement technical solutions to make things as simple as possible. The less we have to do in terms of support on the technical side but also in terms of acquisition, transport of streams, format, and all that, the better. For example, if we are talking here about video, for all of our incoming streams we take stream captures in all our large regional offices. For example in Asia, we recover satellite streams that we bring back in IP in Paris. This stream can be brought to any office…for example in Washington if they need to work with a video they will get it, they can do it, so they have access to it, to the tools, the remote controls with features that allow them to bring in streams.

Philippe Petitpont:
And so when you were talking about the Cloud earlier, obviously, through using Newsbridge and this centralization platform that we have deployed together, there is a question there concerning the transfer to the cloud. So did it have any impact on the deadlines for content publication? The publication deadlines for a press agency are absolutely key since in general, news always comes first through a press agency and so the freshness of that information is absolutely key. And so was there a reluctance before maybe a concern about what was raised or which is different in fact and were there thoughts on the cloud? Did the users have a certain impression, or was everything transparent for them?

Yves Tassel:
It’s transparent, in fact. There is, today we have users that use remote controls to route video streams of press conferences in a system to save in their editorial system today internally. After that the most important part, it may be latency at some point when they want to verify that the stream arrived well and is recording in fact.  And so when we are in the Cloud there is a small delay of a few seconds as long as the feed comes in and the acquisition is done for the data to be visible, I think it is just that and the habit for the journalists who work in the cloud, it is just to know and understand that there is a little latency for the information to populate.

Yves Tassel:
At the same time regarding utilization, it accelerates that enormously. It accelerates work because they have access to assets and the clipping directly. And they gain, for those who are not in the big office, a lot in terms of reduced downloading and encoding times… to resend to reupload into the CMS all the video , it takes a lot of time. So ultimately, this time- there, it is largely compensated, with less latency in these recordings, in the cloud.

Philippe Petitpont:
Are new workflows appearing which were set up following these constraints ?

Yves Tassel:
We were forced to be inventive because suddenly with the distance of journalists, from the editorial center, there were impacts. We can talk about uploading and file transfer times, and so on. And there I was talking about for example the team managing everything digital, for example updating our YouTube channel and the problem was to either work remotely on a PC at the office, and it’s not easy to do edits and and and and post and post these videos. Or to work in a cloud platform where we get rid of the downloading of files, and when we talk about files, it’s difficult hours…long videos of press conferences. It can take a lot of time to download, so once they’re on their computer at home, we edit, we export, it still takes time. And if we do not have a standard station and we don’t have a large station like at the office, the time it takes can be multiplied by 2 or by 3. And the send, in the system or YouTube for example if they have standard ADSL, we’re not even talking about the time that we are going to spend mounting a file of a gigabyte in the system. So here, indeed, we imagined a way of optimizing the operation by saying: if we put this in the Cloud we will have the possibility of editing in the cloud and of automating this step which is to re- encode and upload to the platform without having to to download it 2 times. And a problem is that in fact, the user when the journalist is somewhere where they don’t necessarily have fiber at home or not even equipped with a 4G box…

“At the same time regarding utilization, (the platform) accelerates that enormously. It accelerates work because they have access to assets and the clipping directly. And they gain, for those who are not in the big office, a lot in terms of reduced downloading and encoding times…”

Yves Tassel, AFP Editorial Technical Production Department Manager

Yves Tassel:
So here the advantage is to be able to easily access content and clip the excerpts that we need and afterwards possibly download them. Or that an editor afterwards may take over. In fact we can have several people, several roles. So we are not like a TV Channel where there are video editors specific to the task, it’s the journalists who are the ones doing the logging and assembly directly so when a journalist receives a subject in this editorial system or that has arrived in the Newsbridge platform, they cut them and if that’s enough, they can retrieve it and send it back to the editorial system, if it needs a little more like with long duration files such as press conferences which have already been recorded in the system, they do not have to worry to know if it has been programmed as it should, if with the MCR, they have done the routing well, from the National Assembly in the channel of the recording for example.

Yves Tassel:
The advantage is that,the one that recovers the report in pre- finish mode and then validates it in the editorial system. So there is perhaps someone who will recover that on Premiere or who will recover it to finalize the work in fact. Either in Premiere or with the Grass Valley system to validate the subject in the editorial system, there is always a final step. So the Cloud part for us today, it’s a transitional part between the moment of retrieving content in stream or file mode to be able to see them, quickly clip them and then use them. And that, without necessarily having a big material infrastructure in terms of workstations and which for some are almost all localized in big offices. There is an interest there, an interest in terms of HR because we can more easily give or open an account to or for someone, a freelancer who will lend a helping hand on a week-end coverage. Which, then will send these streams directly to the Cloud, to n follow the press conference, do the clipping and then send it afterwards to the editorial system for validation and therefore someone anywhere, in Paris, an editor who recovers it and and finishes it and finishes the work by publishing the story. And this person can be in Madrid, in Rome, Florence or even in Clermont-Ferrand to be honest- doing the same work, that is to say. And then we don’t need to worry if the person is equipped with the right material to receive the video stream and to edit it, there we have a real simplicity of access.

Philippe Petitpont:
These employees who suddenly now have easier access to information, so there ‘s boosted usage and the adoption of this technology. Do you see it as something that is going to last? That is to say even after the global lockdown in all zones, in your opinion, how do you see it in terms of adoption and digital transformation? And also do you think this habit of working remotely happening right now, do you think that will continue?

Yves Tassel:
Yes, I think it will be complicated to return to the way it was before, because we experienced a significant event, which was never seen before. I think it will change something because in terms of remote working, there are a lot of people who were not even thinking about it and were forced and finally adopted it. Others would like to continue doing it maybe one or 2 days a week, of course o work in harmony, it is also necessary to have the technical means, that means a suitable computer with one or 2 screens and an Internet connection I think on the editorial part, it will perhaps be even simpler, that is to say that people who have access to a system including the one which just allows to control videos and validate them and push them towards the customers.

“A majority of the team was working from home remotely, using solutions in the Cloud…and what surprised me the most, it is nevertheless the way that everyone finally within the agency started to deliver in record time.”

Yves Tassel, AFP Editorial Technical Production Department Manager

Philippe Petitpont:
If you were to look back 3 years from now, what was the big change or the lesson(s) learned during this crisis?

Yves Tassel:
Accessing the content is key. Working with video, unlike text, photos, etc. it’s different. It can reach large volumes in terms of number of files… with text if you have a limited access to the network, it is not a problem, but when we have large volumes at once, we have an impact on the way we work at home and if we are not well equipped this is not necessarily easy. I think that what was the most impressive, is that we all had the capacity in the teams, both editorial and technical, the capacity to adapt. Overnight, from the 12th or 17th of March- we, everyone was sent home. For my team, we ended up out of 12 technicians, 12 people with one person per day on site maximum and everyone telecommuting on and at the MCR. We went down to one operator and a producer, a majority of the team was working from home remotely, using solutions in the Cloud…and what surprised me the most, it is nevertheless the way that everyone finally within the agency started to deliver in record time.

Yves Tassel:
I believe we have provided more than 100 Laptops, PCs in like 15 days to equip the journalists to work at home. If I am not mistaken, overall, out of the 900 people who were at the head office, there are now 30 or 40 people who work there in the 2 buildings, so imagining the void there is suddenly, and the way people had to take it upon themselves to finally get used to a new way of working. And we continued to produce and we even produced more, ultimatley.

“And we continued to produce and we even produced more, ultimately…Despite the contraints we had more live streams, and it also meant that we had to give it extra thought, and find new solutions. It’s true that to be creative and without having traditional toolboxes on hand, we have things that are already in place.”

Yves Tassel, AFP Editorial Technical Production Department Manager

Philippe Petitpont:
Oh okay, yes, you produced more despite in fact all these constraints?

Yves Tassel:
Yes. Despite all that, we produced more. Despite the constraints we had more live streams, and it also meant that we had to give it extra thought, and find new solutions. It’s true that to be creative and without having traditional toolboxes on hand, we have things that are already in place, you have to do with what you have and the people with whom you work.

-End of Transcript Recap-

For the entire interview in english, please contact us here.