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The economy may be slowly improving, boosting profit margins for broadcasters to levels not seen in years. But the healthier business climate has not reduced demand for the automation products that played such an important role in reducing costs and putting the industry on a firmer financial footing over the last two years.
If anything, the success broadcasters have seen in automating news production and play-out is transforming demand for automation systems, changing both the nature of automation systems and their importance to the industry.
“Although automation has been around for a while, the notion of automation is getting broader and more and more comprehensive in terms of the ability of [newer] automation systems to control more things,” says Jeff Moore, executive VP, sales and marketing at Ross Video.
A key part of that expansion has been “a push toward the automation of content through the work " ow process,” so they can easily “push content to a different distribution platforms, be it mobile, the Web or streaming video,” adds Jason Salyards, product line manager for automation in the Broadcast Communications division of Harris Corp.
Even within traditional linear broadcasters and newscasts, the role of automation has been changing, adds Petter Ole Jakobsen, CTO at Vizrt.
“Automation is moving out of the control room into the studio,” he says, as anchors increasingly use iPads or other devices in the studio to control graphics and the " ow of the show. “So far this has happened mainly during special events, such as CNN’s election coverage, but I think you will see it happen more and more in regular newscasts. There will be less and less that is done in the control room.”
Enhancements to traditional systems have also dramatically improved the quality of automated newscasts to the point where automation systems can now handle very sophisticated, fast-paced productions as well or better than manual operations.
Recently, for example, one of the major U.S. broadcast networks began using the Ross OverDrive system for two national programs, a first.
“For the longest time, people were saying that you couldn’t do that kind of production with an automated system,” says Brad Rochon, marketing product manager for OverDrive at Ross Video. “That is a tipping point in terms of showing what this technology can do.”
Meanwhile, there remains signi! cant interest in traditional automation systems for newscasts and playout, particularly among smaller and mid-sized markets that are just now upgrading to HD newscasts.
“We are probably seeing about 50% of our demand coming from these smaller operations,” notes Scott Murray, product marketing manager, integrated production systems, Grass Valley.
In the smaller stations that are just now making the move to automate productions or playout, ease of use and training is particularly important. “We’ve been doing this for 20 years, and the fact that they can rely on our experience to go in and help them out” has been important for several recent sales, including KTVH in Helena, Mont., says Scott Murphy, NVerzion president.
Many station groups are also looking to expand their use of automation systems as part of a renewed interest in centralizing operations or setting up hub and spoke systems, says Salyards at Harris. “We’ve been talking to quite a few station groups who want to have either centralized ingest, or even all the way back to traditional centralcasting models,” he adds.
As part of that increased interest in centralized operations, Avid recently received a “renewed commitment” to deploy its automation systems at the Sinclair Broadcasting stations, according to Jim Frantzreb, senior segment manager for broadcast at Avid. “Stations are taking a hard look at how they can do more and not increase spending or even spend less,” Frantzreb says, “and their interest in some kind of centralization is largely enabled by what automation systems can now do.”
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