ABC News Takes Next Digital Step

ABC News is in expansion mode. Avid's iNews newsroom system, which is used in the radio division and Nightline, has spread to the rest of network news. Approximately 820 iNews seats (or workstations) will be rolled out by early next year as ABC replaces its older AP NewsCenter system with a digital one.

ABC favors iNews because it offers tighter integration with other Avid gear. "We looked at them all, and they each have their ups and downs," says John Arrowsmith, ABC senior operations producer. "When you bring something into an organization the size of ABC, it won't fit like a glove. But in terms of editing and shared storage, Avid is the industry leader."

It's also a boon to reporters.

Production tools like simple editing functionality will be brought to desktops, allowing reporters to become more involved with their stories. "It's an invaluable way to marry the editorial process with the production process, creating both efficiency and accuracy," Arrowsmith says. "It took four or five people to write a simple voiceover in the old analog world."

David Schleifer, director of Avid Broadcast and Workgroups, says tighter integration means reporters can write their scripts and move stories easily. "They can move them from the assignment desk to the editing process, playback and, ultimately, on-air with fewer steps and [far] less opportunities to introduce error," he says.

Thus, ABC New's goal is to create a workflow in which the 800 iNews systems can pull proxy video content off a digital archive in a streamlined manner. Doing so will test the capabilities of storage devices, networking and asset management.

"There will still be Avid islands each with their own Unity server, but one of our challenges is to connect those islands," says Arrowsmith.

"In Washington, London and New York, where the main day-of-air material is being ingested, we need a system where we can move content files back and forth," he says. That will permit different editors to work on the same material at the same time.

In fact, a digital archive can enhance a story by supplying historical data. Today, accessing material in an archive involves pulling a tape out and having the producer describe the footage to the reporter over the phone—a process that invariably leads to scripts that don't match content. But the aim, says Arrowsmith, is to make it more efficient and easier for reporters to do their jobs.

That's why he is clear in his advice to any organization incorporating new digital technologies: Make sure it doesn't remain a technology decision.

"It's a workflow
decision," he explains. "You need to know how content will be acquired, processed, edited and distributed. Once that's established, you can know what works best for you. Then the IT and engineering team won't work in a vacuum."

Such understanding is crucial, since competing technologies make today's buying decisions much more complex than previous ones. "There are excellent solutions in certain areas," says Arrowsmith, "but no one vendor has a final product that ties it all up with a bow."

Compounding the difficulty is that standards like MXF (material exchange format) can muddy the effort to make different equipment interoperable. "You reach a point where vendor X takes MXF and tries to improve it, then vendor Y says it'll work better another way," he says. "What you end up with are different versions of MXF."

For ABC News, iNews is phase two of a three-phase project; the next task will be to implement a digital archive. That project includes digital asset management, a topic Arrowsmith calls the biggest obstacle to turning the digital corner. Why? There is no uniform approach to asset management among the major media companies or within an organization. The goal, he says, is to "find information with ease."