Gaining Competitive EdgeThrough Collaboration | @GeorgeWinslow

On Oct. 3, a crew from Nexstar Broadcasting Group’s ABC affiliate KCAU in Sioux City, Iowa, just happened to be in Washington, D.C., with their Congressional delegation when a woman who attempted to drive her car through the White House security barriers was shot by police.

“We had just completed training the new stations we have in Iowa on our Latikoo [a product for sharing content between stations], so they were able to post all the content they shot so all the stations could access it,†says Blake Russell, Nexstar senior VP of station operations.

The crew was in the right place at the right time for many reasons—including its ability to prove how technologies for better sharing of content have become de rigueur for many station groups—and will get lots of play at the B&C News Technology Summit in Charlotte, N.C., beginning Oct. 16. “Mergers have put a whole new emphasis on sharing news content,†says Ed Casaccia, senior director of the news product line at Grass Valley. “Now that they have all these new stations, they have to find a way to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, and sharing content is a great way to do that.â€

Start Sharing the News

As part of a long-standing effort to better share resources, Gannett Broadcasting has deployed Bitcentral’s Oasis and Precis systems, which allowed all their stations to share footage from CBS affiliate WUSA during the Washington Navy Yard shootings, says Rob Mennie, Gannett Broadcasting VP, senior news executive. “We have regular calls between the stations to see what we have coming up and what we can share,†Mennie says.

Gannett is also setting up a group of people in its USA Today newsroom outside D.C. to provide national and international news for all their sites, which will free up digital staff at the TV stations to focus on local stories. Gannett is also about to start using a TVU bonded cellular product enabling them to stream video from one camera via the cloud to multiple stations and newspapers.

Media General has worked to provide journalists and producers with tools so they can easily share content from the field and to standardize their infrastructure so that they can pool talent during breaking news events, says Mark Turner, VP broadcast technology at Media General, which is merging with Young Broadcasting.

Since the Young Broadcasting stations have standardized their operations in recent years, this will help all the stations work closely together once the deal is completed. “It will give us many benefits right out of the gate,†Turner says.

Nexstar Broadcasting Group is also investing in technologies to share content and working to better coordinate its operations. In June, Nexstar announced plans to deploy Critical Media’s Syndicaster platform at 61 stations to beef up its Web and mobile offerings, Russell says. It is also test streaming systems that would allow multiple stations to take feeds from one camera via a TVU backpack. “Our playbook is to differentiate ourselves from our competition with our own content and to provide all the stations with the resources for doing that,†Russell says.

In terms of sharing content, investigative pieces, major severe weather events, coverage of popular sporting events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl and powerful human interest stories tend to work best, station executives say.

"We looked at the footage that has been shared by the different groups using [the Bitcentral's] Oasis [system] and found that the top stories tend to be powerful human interest stories or major breaking news events like a hurricane," says Fred Fourcher, president, CEO and founder of Bitcentral. "If you have a powerful story that isn't being covered [on one of the news syndication services] that can really differentiate you from the competition."

Cloud-based technologies are also becoming increasingly important as a way to speed up production and collaboration within a station and for sharing content between stations.

In the past, stations had been somewhat skeptical of cloud-based systems because of worries that they might not be able to access content in a remote location, vendors admit.

But this is changing as better adaptive streaming technologies allow users to access proxy files and formats that require much less bandwidth, says Dana Ruzicka, VP of segment and product marketing at Avid, which has launched several products like Interplay Sphere that use cloud-based technologies to streamline news production. "We have engineered around bandwidth limitations so you don't have to shuffle around big files and need only a very lightweight connection," he says.

Ruzicka also adds that "as stations go through the transition to IP-based workflows and people consume more content on IP-connected devices, this is putting pressure on all stations to adapt," both in terms of the way they create content and how they monetize it. To help with that, "we are looking at how we can tie everything together on one common platform that will leverage the cloud in production and share content across stations," he says.

As station groups expand their footprint, vendors report a greater interest in centralizing at least certain types of operations. "In the last 18 months we've worked on centralized graphics hubs for three station groups accounting for about 75 stations," says David Jorba, senior VP of operations at Vizrt Americas. "There are a lot of cost savings for centralizing operations and sharing graphics."

Todd Martin, VP of product management at ChyronHego agrees, adding that hosted cloud-based services are proving particularly popular. "The number of companies using hosted services is really exploding," he says. "There is a familiarity now with cloud-based services that is spreading industry-wide."

For groups that are acquiring new stations, these services also provide a quick way to share graphics and content. "One of the nice things about hosted service is that half an hour after receiving a call, we can turn a station on and they can be receiving graphics online," he says.

Larger tech trends are also encouraging increased ties between stations within groups, adds Casaccia at Grass Valley. "The underlying infrastructure for sharing content has changed with network bandwidth becoming so much more affordable," he says. The declining cost of storage and improvements in video streaming technologies are also making "remote access a much smoother experience."

Last year, Grass Valley added multi-site capabilities to its Stratus framework for managing content and media workflows and Casaccia expects the platform to evolve from a framework for streamlining and improving workflows inside stations and channels to one that will allow clients "to start thinking about reshaping workflows across sites."