Exclusive interview with Stefano Ciccotti, RAI’s CTO
Stefano Ciccotti has recently taken over the technical control of RAI, one of the most important European public broadcasting & media services. What better time than this to talk to him about the stamp he wants to print on his new professional adventure.
The pioneering application of 4K technology in news contents or the launch of an OTT platform are just some of the recent milestones of RAI. Among the challenges that the broadcaster is facing in the near future, Ciccotti highlights the ambitious “Full-IP” project or the applications in television of 5G technology. And be careful, because he also warns: “From 2020, everyone will seriously work towards 8K”.
You have been working at Rai (Radiotelevisione Italiana) almost uninterruptedly from 1987. After moving through several leading positions, you were appointed as CTO in October 2017, just three months ago. What does it mean for you to assume this role?
Being appointed as CTO of RAI, one of the most important European public broadcasting & media services, is not only the crowning achievement of my technical career, but also an important challenge: my main task is to continuosly monitor the development of technology in the “world of media”, allowing RAI to anticipate disruptive events, and at the same time ensure that the technological solutions adopted are up-to-date and implemented in the most efficient way possible.
You are a privileged witness of the technological evolution followed by Rai in the last decades. What are the main milestones reached by the company in its recent history, according to you?
- The digitalization of the TV networks: completed at the beginning of this decade, allowed the TV offer to be developed from the 3 generalist networks to a bouquet composed today of 14 channels (generalists, semi-generalists and thematic) broadcast on all distribution platforms: terrestrial, satellite and IP.
- The development of High Definition: Rai1, Rai2, Rai3, RaiSport + and, in some areas, also Rai4 and RaiPremium, are broadcast in HD also on digital terrestrial, while on satellite the offer is completely in HD.
- The new RaiPlay: the new portal, improved with a more captivating and stable frontend, collects online the whole Rai offer (live and on-demand) completely free and achieved great public success among all the targets of our audience.
Would you highlight any recent purchases or innovation?
- Rai’s on-line offer has recently been further developed with the new RaiPlay Radio “app”, which allows personalized listening of ten radio channels on smartphones, tablets and PCs.
- The first use of 4K-HDR technology for the news with the shot “Back to Iraq”, realized by the troupe of the program “Petrolio” in the territories of the city of Mosul in Iraq.
You started broadcasting in 4K in June 2016. What challenges did you face when launching Rai 4K?
First of all, a consideration on the reasons of this choice. Today the user looks for a user experience focused on image and sound quality, flexibility of the enjoyment of services, fluidity between linear and non-linear, transparency of the platforms, multi-screen continuum. 4K is an essential part of this customer proposition.
At the time of the Rai4K launch we had to face two limitations. The first is today’s limited (though increasing) availability of content in UHD.We have broadcast some football matches of the European Championship 2016, some movies such as “Suspiria” by Dario Argento, some fictions like “I Medici”, a series of documentaries also produced for Rai. We faced an initial resistance by the “majors” in releasing 4K rights of the films for issues in content protection. And this brings us to the second constraint: the receiver availability. 4K with HDR requires receivers with HEVC main 10 and, for content protection, specific systems – ECP – approved by the “majors”. When Rai 4K started, the receivers availability (in the specific case UHD TVs with HEVC and CAM Tivusat) was very limited. The very specifications of the receivers were not fully defined. Only at the end of 2017 specifications for receivers that would have been spread on the Italian market from 2019 were defined in the UHD Book 1.0, with HEVC main 10, ECP and dual tuner DVB-T2 and DVB-S2.
Why did you decide to partner with Eutelsat to deploy the 4K channel?
Eutelsat has always been a partner of Rai in developing satellite broadcasting. As is known, Eutelsat manages a satellite fleet at the 13° east orbital position, a position considered as a reference for the Italian market. Tivùsat – the free platform launched in 2009 and participated by Rai, Mediaset, Telecom Italia and a network of local broadcasters – broadcasts from 13 ° east. Sky broadcasts from the same orbital position.
Eutelsat and Rai have a strong partnership in innovation, which began with high definition and is now continuing with 4K.
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