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Tuesday 17 July 2018

We were chatting to Slav Toshev today who is head of operations at ViewSat. He mentioned the results from a survey that were discussed at the recent National Association of Broadcasters conference, which revealed that generation Z considers their favourite television channels to be YouTube and Netflix. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the industry is acutely aware of how rapidly viewing habits are changing, but such surveys suggest that modern viewers are agnostic – and a possibly oblivious – to the transport mechanisms that make their favourite channels possible. No distinction appears to be made between modulated RF broadcasts and content streamed over IP. Certainly consumer devices, with their neat user interfaces, abstract the underlying mechanisms to provide a more seamless viewing experience. This abstraction makes it difficult for budding engineers to imagine the technologies and roles available to them.

The Master Control Room and some of the equipment at ViewSat

Ask your average teenager how Netflix works and they’ll likely shrug their shoulders, whereas the more knowledgeable might simply state “the Internet”, as if it explains the complex interactions required to securely acquire and stream real-time media signals around the globe. It’s not due to a lack of intellect or ability, but simply that the autonomous nature of modern networks means we often assume data communication “just works”. Add in proprietary solutions within highly secure communications hubs and it’s no wonder that few undergraduates consider broadcast engineering as a career option. For over twenty years we’ve offered three-year degrees base around media technologies. These provide undergraduates with the knowledge and experience needed to enter the industry and open up a lifetime of learning within a fast-paced and complex field. However as the technologies become more abstract and less accessible, we’re finding it harder to showcase these exciting opportunities to college leavers. Slav and his marketing manager, Jamie Gomez are keen to change that and will be working with the Media Technology team at Solent to help open the fascinating world of broadcast video engineering to the next generation.

Some of the satellite dishes for up and down links

ViewSat are one of the largest playout providers in the UK, supporting around 300 services across the globe that fill eight satellite transponders as well as streaming online. They’re a small team but have a high impact with a skilled workforce capable of supporting all aspects of the operation. Their site is quite incredible with satellite dishes up to 12 metres in diameter and an equipment room filled with racks of encoders, transcoders and modulators. Whilst the dishes are visually impressive, ViewSat is also a registered internet service provider so have their own corner of the internet including high throughput fibre links for moving files and streamed media around. Slav was keen to highlight the excellent progression available and explained how staff were given internal and external training to help them rapidly climb the pay scales. Several Media Technology graduates have worked for ViewSat, cutting their teeth as master control room operators before moving onto other engineering roles. Employability and training opportunities are generally excellent within the broadcast engineering field due to shortages of younger staff. ViewSat and the Media Technology programme have a number of ideas as to how we can raise the profile of broadcast engineering and look forward to announcing some projects in due course.

For now, our message is that broadcast video engineering is a challenging and evolving industry that allows you to apply your analytical or problem solving skills within an extremely exciting environment. If you enjoy science or engineering come and find out more!

Master Control Room operations