DeSales Media is a direct provider of Catholic news, events and original content through print, TV, digital and experiential, to engage Catholics and drive them to put their faith in action. With over 100 years in service, and an evolution spanning parochial schooling, prayer channels, evangelization television, two newspapers and a 24/7 cable channel carrying live mass, devotional programming, educational programming, news, and entertainment, DeSales is devoted to covering the Catholic perspective through a multifaceted 360-degree approach.
Over the last few years, they have transformed into a content hub for the faith-based community and its creators. With a wealth of focused programming and live feeds from local sites including the Cathedral Basilica of St. James and the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, both in Brooklyn, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, international locations including the Vatican, as well as an engaged audience, DeSales sought a collaborative solution to help them easily upload footage from the field, edit it and share it. They also needed a way to manage their assets, create playlists and automate operations across archdioceses. As DeSales renovated their operations and built a new production facility, they turned to Sony’s portfolio of intelligent media services to create a new cloud-based infrastructure using Ci Media Cloud and help streamline efficiencies with Crispin’s master control automation solution.
DeSales has a long history working with Sony and its technology, so when the opportunity arose to implement a new system, Bob Sharp, DeSales’ director of engineering recalled a colleague taking a tour of the company’s booth at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show. Said Sharp, “This demonstration at NAB helped DeSales recognize that Sony was transitioning to a new, solutions-focused approach, which was very intriguing to us. After fully understanding Sony’s capabilities, it caused us to re-evaluate our options and change the direction of this project and choose an environment that incorporated Crispin, Harmonic and Ci into a Public Media Management (PMM)-like setup.”
Sharp described DeSales’ adoption of Ci to facilitate cloud archive and collaboration. “We eased into our use of Ci,” he explained. “We initially familiarized ourselves with the platform by using it as a protect repository for our content and our implementation has grown from there. We have a software and services group that does a lot of work creating websites and online presences for clients. They began using Ci for content collaboration, including approvals and reviews. My team started using it for the ability to move content in between various groups, outside producers, outside post-production, in between our reading group and master control because we are in multiple locations that are not interconnected in a particularly robust manner. So, the ability to use it as a combination archive and transfer tool has become very prominent in our operation right now. We’re starting to look more closely at other integrations that we might be able to exploit as we deploy a new traffic system, and as we finish design and construction on our new media center.”
Speaking to Ci’s ease of use, Sharp commented, “In my experience, Ci has been an absolute dream. Once our users are into the platform, they look at it for five minutes and get it. It is a very natural environment and our team has found it intuitive to screen content, to mark content up, to clip content and move things around inside the environment.”
Ken Currey, master control supervisor added, “Once you’re able to play around with Ci and realize what it can do, it becomes easy to create and design folders for specific content like promos, paid ads, weekly content and hourlies, to reassign content and move stuff around. Downloading with Aspera is a game-changer because it saves us so much time. You’re talking about potentially downloading a two-hour movie, that might take you three hours to download normally – with Aspera it takes 20 or 30 minutes. That translates to a concrete increase in productivity on our end. Ci gives us a lot of flexibility and right now, I think we’re only scratching the surface. The more we get to play with it and work with it, the more creative we’ll be down the road.”
And it’s not just the DeSales team who appreciates Ci. Sharp explained how it helps third-party producers seamlessly deliver content and get it on-air. “Instead of people sending us different upload links or FTP sites, we give them a Workspace under our umbrella and they login and push their content up there. This eliminates the chaos of managing a dozen different inbound methodologies. They push to Ci, they send off an email confirming delivery of the piece and then it can be QC’d right there and moved over to master control. It’s a drag and drop from one Workspace to the other. Then master control pulls it down, tags it, does head and tails and it’s ready to go to air.”
Additionally, as the team finishes building their updated production facility in Brooklyn, Sharp plans to use the company’s new fleet of Sony PXW-Z280 cameras to shoot content, remotely manage the camera while church’s leadership is in lockdown, and connect it to Ci.
In the end, Sharp has no regrets about adopting a cloud workflow using Ci. He said, “After using Ci, there is no way I’m putting a hard archive in my facility anymore. It eliminates the cost, resources and constant maintenance we’ve experienced in the past. I can now push my content to Ci, and I can push it to archive for an extremely attractive price. The big worry was always what’s it going to cost, and the cloud providers could never tell you because it’s a whole range of needs and services that drive that cost. We were able to get started with Ci on a trial basis for a few months, which allowed us to see what our usage would look like and to understand the relative cost before we had to make a commitment, and we found the charges to be extremely manageable, especially when compared to putting a tape archive in. In addition, Sony keeps adding new tools and features to increase the capabilities of Ci and add more value to users like DeSales. It’s been a very positive benefit and a pleasant surprise that it works as well, as smoothly, as cost-effectively and as flexibly as it does.”
Beyond Ci, DeSales has implemented Crispin’s master control solution. According to Sharp, it’s “a fairly traditional implementation, using a single channel.” The team uses Crispin for prep, storage, management and playout of live and pre-recorded content. Crispin runs control for a series of Harmonic Spectrum X playout devices, controlling the graphics. According to Sharp, his team chose Crispin to replace their previous solution, which hadn’t shown much growth in the area of applications. He explained, “In looking for the right technology solution for our master control, as we move into the new concept of what DeSales Media is going to be to the wider world, we wanted something that had proven ability to handle a variety of content distribution modes including playout to air for a regular channel and distribution of content to affiliates for their play to air. We also wanted something that could grow with us as our operations expanded and we were very impressed with the PMM paradigm that is in place across so many PBS stations and how that setup matches the business plan we are executing at DeSales.”
Currey is tasked with ensuring the quality of the content that DeSales airs is suitable, that all the content from the traffic team is in the right format, that proper audio levels and visual levels are used, and that the playlist is accurate. For him and his team, Crispin has been transformative. “When compared to our previous solution, Crispin gives us a lot more flexibility in handling the playlists and making adjustments. It has changed the way we do live events. The ability to program a live event and not need manual intervention to go into that event has given us a whole new lease on how we can program, and even what we can program.”
He continued, “We don’t have to worry about server availabilities. We’re able to see everything that we need to do and we’re able to record on multiple recorders if we need to. Earlier during the pandemic, when the church decided to do eight live masses every day in different languages, we were able to program that very simply and the ones that they wanted us to record, we were able to record and program it as a secondary record. If we needed to re-air that, we were able to schedule it for re-air, we were even able to QC it while we’re on another live event. Those capabilities give us a lot more power and flexibility.”
Speaking of live events, Sharp added, “There are also some really nice features in the Crispin environment to handle the inevitable fun of getting back on time coming out of a live event. You can pre-build blocks and store them off to the side in the file cabinet. You can have some evergreen content there in case something goes wrong with the feed, which we’ve found to be an elegant and simple solution that gives us peace of mind.”
As Currey and his team use Crispin’s system more, they’ve learned some tricks for efficiency. He notes, “When we make changes on the playlist, being able to do a control R and insert and replace everywhere a show is going to air on that whole playlist saves us a lot of time. You can also make one single replacement, just for the master control that’s alone. Instead of going through 800 lines of content, trying to find and replace a single line that’s alone has been a major blessing.”
Sharp recognizes that Crispin’s automation was thoughtfully built and designed by people in the industry. He explained, “You can see that the solution was developed and has taken into account a lot of the workflows that people are used to in other aspects of their computer life, where find and replace, and search are far more developed than the competition. Additionally, training operators onto Crispin is not difficult. What really impressed me is the speed with which new operators who don’t have a master control background catch on to Crispin. As a not-for-profit religious broadcaster, this is ideal for us since many of our staff are either experts or fairly green – and both ends of the spectrum have managed to pick it up quickly.”
The installation wasn’t without its share of surprises. Sharp commented, “This project has taken a number of interesting turns, not the least of which has been a pandemic during the middle of the construction of our new facility. But our Sony technology has helped us overcome some of the obstacles of COVID. With our new setup, we can now do much more remotely than we could have in our prior facility. For instance, Ci lets us move content around safely and securely and provide access to the people who need it – no matter where they are located.”
With an interconnected project of this magnitude, there were also a few challenges. While Sharp admits that there were a few bumps in the road, he appreciated that Sony and Crispin’s support team helped alleviate any issues in a direct, professional and responsive manner and trained their team when needed, which he feels is the true measure of a partner.
Looking forward, Sharp envisions a future where DeSales employs a PMM-like service with a hub-and-spoke distribution model to set up the media provider to become “the premier Catholic content distribution agent in North and South America.” He sees DeSales working alongside producers without distribution deals and Dioceses and other Catholic entities lacking production capabilities to program their content. This expansion would enable the team to increase their use of Sony’s solutions, including Ci and Crispin, as well as the potential for additional microservices, to take content, push it up to the cloud, have it pulled down to the local venue and manage a Crispin installation there that plays the content out. It would also give DeSales the ability to put up additional channels and distribute them either over the internet or out of the cloud to specific geographic areas. As DeSales looks to the future, they remain committed to furthering their community’s faith and using technology as a way to help broaden and advance their important message.