The concept of automating newscasts is just now gaining serious interest among news-content creators. Advanced newsrooms with digital storage and nonlinear editing give news executives the ability to automate certain processes, particularly the “playout” of a newscast—streamlining the steps it takes to get the program to viewers. Those systems, coupled with automation technology, can give a station a more compelling newscast.
“The newsroom is a complex environment,” says Dave Polyard, OmniBus Systems VP, sales and marketing. “But automation can assist the director so that not all of the decisions have to be made during the newscast. With the right system, they can create schedules that make the job of the director and the technical director easier.”
Stations have a variety of reasons for automating the newscast process. For some, it is an important way to reduce headcount, as the typical newscast requires three to five people to coordinate the playout of graphics, news stories and live reports.
Others use the system to allow staffers to be redeployed elsewhere in the station or newsroom.
According to Ardell Hill, Media General Broadcast senior VP, broadcast operations, the challenge in moving to an automated environment is that it shifts much of the effort that occurs during a newscast to before the newscast.
“It requires much more pre-planning and a tighter relationship between the news and production process,” Hill says. “In a way, the production department is absorbed into the news department.”
“A 'HEADS-UP’ SITUATION”
Much of that pre-planning is because news automation begins and ends with the newscast playlist.
Properly implemented, an automation system lets the director and staff build on the computer a list of all the elements required for a newscast: the graphics, stories, interstitials, promos and even commercials.
Once the newscast begins, the computer runs the elements in the proper order, with the director moving from one element to the next with the push of a button.
“A lot of newscast automation has to do with making the newscast process more of a 'heads-up’ situation for the director and technical director as opposed to a 'heads-down’ one where they’re looking at a script,” says Polyard.
The key to a news automation system is how well it can communicate with the newsroom computer system containing many of the elements that will appear on a newscast.
Ben Peake, Harris Broadcast director of product management, software systems, says news-automation products rely heavily on the Media Object Server (MOS) protocol, which allows the newsroom system and video server to communicate and share information and content. A news automation system that is MOS-enabled can speak that same language and push and pull content around the newsroom.
MOS is also one of the reasons news-automation systems can offer more than just automation. Harris, for example, has started an initiative for news automation that will integrate its H-Class automation system with Leitch news-production products.
OmniBus offers the Headline News Suite, a package that includes everything from timeline-based desktop editing to tools managing the ingest of newsroom feeds, field editing and news transmission.
The news-transmission ca- pability provides transition sequences and allows the user to schedule a newscast and control cart machines and disk servers.
Directors fear that automation marginalizes their decision making. But Alex Holtz, director of product management, Grass Valley Group Integrated Production Solutions, says systems like the GVG Ignite system, which gives the technical director control of all the elements that make up a newscast through one interface, make the technical director and director even more important.
BETTER NEWS, FASTER PACE
“One individual will be able to control many more of the elements in the newscast,” Holtz says. “That leads to producing a better newscast that has a faster pace because they can execute the show with their own vision.”
The Ignite system is being used by the Media General and ABC station groups. It includes a Grass Valley KayakDD digital production switcher, the Grass Valley CameraMan remote- control camera system, a Grass Valley Concerto routing switcher, automation control software and other processing gear.
The goal? To give one operator all of the tools needed to build a news playlist, insert graphics and effects, change the rundown order, and even control the cameras.
BUILDING A PLAYLIST
“You drag and drop the newscast elements into a playlist, and you only need to hit the space bar to move through the rundown process,” says Media General’s Hill.
He equates the system to a sophisticated nonlinear editing system that, instead of building an edit-decision list, is used to build a playlist of graphics, transitions and story packages.
Even so, Holtz notes, a system like Ignite doesn’t remove the art of directing.
“The people in the control room need to be able to handle non-formatted events [such as a news conference] and live shots,” he explains. “It’s a tool that is only as good as the perator.”
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