March 18, 2014

In Touch Ministries


Undeniably, technology has changed the way houses of worship spread their message. It used to be that the primary means of reaching worshippers was through an on-site service once a week or so, and outreach was mostly limited to the people who physically came to the building and listened to the sermon. But there was no way to expand the ministry in any meaningful way short of building another building and establishing another in-person congregation. As technology has evolved, however, it’s become possible for houses of worship to reach ever-greater numbers of people more easily than ever before. In Touch Ministries is one example of how technology can drastically broaden a house of worship’s reach. In Touch Ministries, the teaching ministry of Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, reaches people through worldwide broadcasts.


It started in 1972 with a half-hour program called “The Chapel Hour,” which ran on two Atlanta-area television stations. A few years later, the Christian Broadcasting Network contacted Dr. Stanley about including the program on its new venture, a satellite distribution network to cable systems that today is one of the largest television ministries in the world. With that, the broadcast grew from a few thousand local viewers to a nationwide audience in a single week. Today, “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley” can be seen and heard around the world on more than 2,600 radio and television outlets in more than 50 languages, and also via podcasts, In Touch smartphone apps, the Web, and a solar-powered, hand-held audio device known as the “In Touch Ministries Messenger.” “Clearly our ministry has embraced technological advancements, which have allowed us to get our message to many more people than we could have back in 1972,” says John McKinnon, In Touch Ministries’ Director of Broadcast Operations


Part of this expansion is thanks to digital file-based media. The broadcast industry has been moving away from tape for the past decade, and the ministry decided to follow suit. After transitioning to digital cameras, they migrated away from our previous media asset management (MAM) system and began using Primestream’s asset management platform. “In the several months that we’ve been using it,” McKinnon says, “Primestream has become the backbone of our file-based operation.”


The television Ministry functions more like a post house than a broadcast operation, and it works on one primary program: “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley.” To create the show, they start by recording two recitations of a sermon every Sunday. With the program feed plus nine different ISO cameras, they end up with 20 different recordings of the same sermon. The high-resolution recordings are loaded into Primestream, and then makes low-resolution proxies and tags the metadata. From there, producers can access the proxies from their own workstations to make notes and rough cuts using the Primestream Proxy Editor. Then our editors take those notes and create a project in Apple Final Cut Pro for post-production. 


“One of the great things about Primestream is that it works with just about any non-linear editor, ” John McKinnon says,“ so if we decide to change systems, we know Primestream will be compatible. During the week we’ll create pickup segments, such as ads for in-house CDs or DVDs, programs, or commercials for our ministry partners,” he explains, “which are loaded into Primestream to await integration with the Sunday sermons.” “Once the Sunday sermon production is complete, that show gets segmented into 30-minute and one-hour pieces. These get packaged along with the commercials or promos, published back into Primestream, dubbed onto tapes as needed, and sent to the various TV and radio stations or distributed in other ways.”


Director of Broadcast John McKinnon has a long list of reasons why In Touch Ministries chose Primestream. “The customizable scripting on the backend means we’ve been able to create workflows that reduce our need for manual processes, like automatically notifying producers when projects are available from an editor, for example.” “Another factor that sold us was the relationship we developed with Primestream during the sales process, which played a key role in our decision to buy,” he says. “From the moment we met the Primestream team at NAB in 2011, we knew Primestream would be a long-term partner. We use multiple file formats and codecs because of our different cameras, however, Primestream didn’t bat an eye; they just made it work.” 


They also have a lot of old closed-caption files linked with their video which they wanted to do word searches on, but hadn’t seen any systems that could. “While we were still in the decision-making process, before there was even a contract, Primestream took the initiative to develop just such a workflow,” John McKinnon relates. “That dedication went a long way.”


For example, when a project is created on an editor’s desktop, Primestream will automatically notify the producer if he or she needs to create a clip from that project for the Web or social media. The Producers can create clips on desktops and then send them to Primestream, which will manage the transcoding and ensure the file gets uploaded. Primestream also increases both accountability and communication — a standard feature.


An editor can place a project back into Primestream, but Primestream won’t let it progress to the next step without the proper information and sign-off. The information required at each stage is specified during setup, McKinnon explains, “and if a piece is not where it’s expected to be at a given time, then we know to go back to the last person in the chain or to the producer for sign-off.” The fact that they can record and manipulate content digitally rather than on tape makes it much quicker, easier and more cost-effective to prepare programming.


“We’ve reduced tape costs substantially because we no longer have to make dubs during the post process, and we’re sending out fewer tapes every month,” he says. “Once the file is approved, it can be automatically transcoded with our in-house Telestream Vantage system and then distributed, with everything flowing through Primestream.”


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