AP's Multi-Platform Shift

As broadcasters increasingly produce content for new platforms, including the Internet and mobile devices, The Associated Press (AP) is changing the underlying architecture of its ENPS (Electronic News Production System) newsroom computer system to keep pace.

In recent years, AP has gradually been adding enhancements to ENPS, which is utilized by some 58,000 users across 700 newsrooms in 57 countries, to match stations' evolving workflows. But the company is now in the midst of a more complete overhaul of the system; it has been underway for the past 18 months and should be completed by late 2010. ENPS is moving from a traditional rundown-focused model, where the user interface is based on arranging stories in the order they will appear in a 30- or 60-minute newscast, to a story-centric model that makes it easier to simultaneously produce content for multiple platforms.

“It's not just about producing for the TV screen, it's about taking a story anywhere,” says Lee Perryman, AP's director of broadcast technology.

At the NAB Show in April, AP demonstrated components of the new version, ENPS 7.0, that will be available this summer and can be “bolted-on” to ENPS Version 6.0. The new software tools make it easier to repurpose stories from a traditional newscast rundown for the Web and mobile applications by providing different icons in the user interface to signify Web versions, as well as a preview feature that lets a producer check how a story will look on the Web before posting it.

The NAB demonstrations gave an early preview of the “parent-child” architecture that ENPS' new story-centric model is based on. In the new generation of ENPS, every story will have a “parent” version, from which can be derived a “TV child,” a “Web child” and a “mobile child.” The system will create links between the various versions of a story to automatically deliver pertinent updates, such as the rising death toll in an earthquake, to the myriad versions when any one version is updated. That addresses a major challenge customers currently have in trying to produce format-specific variations of a story for the TV, PC and mobile devices.

“They'll be able to work smarter,” Perryman says. “Things published everywhere need to relate back to a master story.”

A journalist can grab a piece of text in the parent story and modify it, and that relevant information is updated automatically in the Web version; the changes can also flow in the reverse direction from a “child” story back to the parent. Stations can create rules that limit how much each discrete story is changed.

One-parent one-child functionality, such as a broadcast and Web version, will be available this summer, along with a new story-editing interface that allows a journalist to edit the two components side by side. By the summer of 2010, the system will be able to manage multiple children, including versions for mobile platforms and second digital channels.

The system can also be used on the enterprise level to share reporting across multiple stations, such as three stations in a broadcast group that all cover a major plane crash, and inform individual journalists of updates without them having to pick up the phone and call another station's newsroom. An enterprise subject tag can be put on a single “grandparent” that links to the three stations' different versions of the story, and updates made by each station are automatically tracked.

The heavy use of metadata within the new ENPS system will allow producers to deal with both the “explicit” and “implicit” structure of news, says Mike Palmer, AP's director of ENPS design. The explicit structure is based on the traditional rundown, where stories are placed in a business or sports segment of a newscast; the implicit structure is based on keywords that link content in different stories in some way, such as a business story and a sports story that both mention a company like “Buick.”

“We're exposing the hidden implicit structure of news,” Palmer says.

That implicit structure, which is organized through metadata, will allow news organizations to better serve consumers who want to receive a customized mix of Web content. Better management of metadata will also improve the search rankings a station's stories receive through search engines such as Google and Yahoo. In that vein, AP is enriching its use of metadata with new software tools that scan story text and automatically categorize stories based on keywords.

AP isn't the only newsroom computer vendor tweaking its system to better serve two- and three-screen production. Avid says it is also moving its iNews newsroom computer platform, which is AP's main competitor in the U.S., from a rundown-centric to a more story-centric model, and working on better integration with its Sundance automation software.

And Dalet, a French firm that provides newsroom and automation software to broadcasters throughout Europe and Asia, has garnered some marquee multi-platform customers in the U.S. These include Warner Bros.' TMZ Website and TV show, and NBC Universal's “content center” at WNBC New York. The NBCU setup provides round-the-clock news for WNBC's new New York Nonstop digital subchannel, mobile devices, the NBCNewYork.com Website and WNBC “taxicasts”—in addition to supporting traditional newscasts on WNBC, of course.