CBS Goes Tapeless

Sony's new XDCAM format gives CBS the chance to embrace tapeless electronic newsgathering without overhauling network and station workflow. By recording to $30 optical disks, users can access content more quickly than with tape, reducing the time it takes to edit a news story and deliver it to air.

In a deal valued at more than $20 million, the news division will spend $5 million moving to the format in 2005; the station group will spend about $1 million per station (it has 16) converting to XDCAM in 2006.

"The decision was made based on workflow and cost of ownership," says Bob Ross, CBS senior vice president, East Coast operations. "The XDCAM disks will last a lot longer than videotape."

CBS News will add 75 XDCAM camcorders and 250 XDCAM decks to its equipment arsenal. The division currently uses Sony's Betacam SX tape format in concert with Avid nonlinear editing systems. The XDCAM gear is compatible with the Avid systems, and editors will be able to download low-resolution copies of content from the XDCAM disks at 30-35 times faster than real time. Once edit decisions are made with the low-resolution proxies, the higher-resolution content is moved over in real time.

Although the network's needs are different from local stations', the XDCAM format is right for both, Ross says. It's a big change for CBS, which currently uses Betacam SX at the network level and Panasonic's DVCPRO format at the station.

"The network is more likely to go out with 100 cases of videotape to shoot a story," says Ross. "[The material could sit] for an extended period of time before it's even edited." Such workflow makes the use of Panasonic's P2 format unrealistic; content acquired on the P2 cards would need to be constantly moved onto a larger hard drive.

However, replication of the tape-based workflow makes the XDCAM attractive for stations. Only the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago outlets have moved to the tapeless newsroom. The others use a combination of linear and nonlinear editing systems. "With the XDCAM disk, you can edit from disk to disk or disk to tape or even stick it into a nonlinear editing system and squirt the finished product out on tape or disk," says Ross.

Alec Shapiro, senior vice president, marketing, Sony Broadcast and Production Systems Division, believes these workflow advantages give XDCAM an edge over P2: "As long as workflow helps reduce the cost of ownership, people are interested."

In fact, Sony is showing off system enhancements at the International Broadcasting Convention this week. It's launching a jukebox storage system that has four XDCAM decks and can hold nearly 200 XDCAM disks.

BSkyB has already embraced the system. "Archiving is a consideration," says Shapiro. "We have a reasonable approach to storage."

Sony's XDCAM deal with CBS is its largest to date and an important milestone for the new format. So far, Sony has delivered 400 XDCAM camcorders and decks throughout the U.S. The draw is XDCAM's seven-year product warranty, improved reliability vs. tape, and an ability to speed news production.

The other major networks are evaluating it. It has already been used on the new Fox reality show The Next Great Champ
and the upcoming TBS reality program The Mansion.