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Friday 30 November 2018

Following Arqiva’s visit to Solent, it was our turn to visit them at their Crawley Court site near Winchester. As mentioned in Part I, Arqiva maintain over 16,000 transmission sites including around 1500 TV transmitters and 1500 radio transmitters to provide over a billion hours of radio listening per week and 2000 hours of video a day. As such, their site is a vibrant hub of activity packed with equipment to an impressive scale.

It’s impossible not to notice the size of their satellite farm as you arrive with a selection of high-gain dishes clunking as they track the various satellites used to provide downlinks and uplinks for worldwide services. We were greeted by Broadcast Systems Support Engineer Bradley and Trainee Graphics Specialist Lewis as well as Talent and Development Coordinator Tracy who the students met the previous day. Bradley spoke about some of the systems and processes used to ensure resilience and reliability within the network. He took us through the steps and technologies needed to ingest and prepare content and shared some of his experiences in resolving problems. It was useful for the students to hear about the day-to-day operations first-hand and it was clear that a calm demeanour and ability to problem-solve was at least as important as raw technical knowledge.

Left to Right: Bradley and Lewis talk about their roles to Solent's media technology students

Recent BA (Hons) Television and Post-Production graduate, Lewis then explained a little about his role in graphics at Arqiva. This was a particular eye-opener for the course team, as Arqiva don’t generally get involved with the production aspect of broadcast. However, the evolving demands of multi-screen playout mean that Lewis is kept busy turning vector graphics into graphics that dynamically change based on the channel, platform, resolution or other variables. This relies on more advanced image formats that combine metadata from the Asset Management System with graphics files from the content providers. The role is an interesting example of how traditionally separate specialisms such as computing, engineering and production are converging, which in this case allows Lewis to combine his technical knowledge and creative abilities.

Next we were taken on a tour of the site by Bradley and Lewis - they explained a little more about the operations and the students were able to ask lots more questions. We saw several Master Control Rooms (MCR) where incoming and outgoing feeds are monitored, including their Occasional Use (OU) facility that supports live events and temporary channels. The engineers explained that a lot of connectivity was now provide over fibre optic networks and that Arqiva were actually an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for broadcast networks as well as having their own high-spec internetwork called ArqNet.

arqiva-crawley-2

After some lunch we were joined by Media Technology graduates David and James as well as Head of Organisational Development Dominic. David and James introduced the concepts of video streaming including the differences between some common protocols as well as the additional information required to make online services work. They then got us doing some work through a workshop activity. We had to develop a system diagram to show how live feeds from an outside broadcast truck could be distributed over the public Internet using Over-the-Top services such as iPlayer. It was great way to highlight some of the additional technical requirements and stimulated plenty of discussion amongst those present. David and Tracy then closed with some more thoughts on the jobs market within the sector as a whole and some tips for how to target companies to give their career the best start.

We had great day and would like to thank Arqiva and its staff for the effort they evidently put into preparing and delivering the various sessions. It’s clear that the broadcast sector has exciting and challenging careers on offer and we look forward to seeing what the next generation of graduates get up to.

David and James lead workshops on streaming video