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Hearst Taps Streambox Live

In another sign of the growing acceptance of using IP-based transmission to deliver news content from the field to the studio, Hearst Television has purchased a corporate license for the cloud-based Streambox Live broadband video contribution service, which allows journalists to stream live or filebased video over low-bandwidth IP networks.

Hearst had previously tested Streambox’s hardware- based products but hadn’t moved forward because of their cost, about $10,000 per encoder. But with the Streambox Live service, which Seattle- based Streambox commercialized earlier this year, Hearst can buy a bucket of minutes it can use across its 25 news-producing stations.

“The cool thing is, I can do one bucket and all the stations can use it,” says Joe Addalia, director of technology projects for Hearst. “If Wisconsin is doing a lot and West Palm Beach is doing nothing [through the service], it doesn’t matter, because you share the minutes.”

Cost-effective solution

Hearst has rolled out the Streambox software at 14 stations, loading it on about 10 laptops per station. Addalia won’t disclose how much the service costs Hearst, but says it is cost-effective and delivers better video and audio quality than consumer-based streaming services such as Skype. Hearst has even taken Streambox Live streams straight to air, using a Matrox DVI-to-SDI converter to convert the PC output to a broadcast format and placing it in a small window in the HD frame. Addalia’s only reservation with Streambox Live is that because it uses Streambox’s proprietary ACT-L3 codec, video sent via the service need to be transcoded before it can be taken straight to the Web.

“It maintains the highest quality you can get on an aircard or Wi-Fi connection,” Addalia says. “It allows us to get professional rate encoding, and not have to pay a huge capital cost.”

Streambox Live is just one piece of Hearst’s Next Generation Newsroom Project, an initiative that aims to generate more original video for stations’ broadcasts and Websites by placing more portable, IP-friendly gear in the hands of reporters and photographers. The station group is outfitting news crews with JVC GY-HM100 ProHD handheld camcorders; Flip cameras or smartphones; and Dell laptops loaded with Streambox Live, AP’s ENPS newsroom computer software, Adobe Premiere editing software and 3G cellular aircards for transmitting packages back from the field.

What the "Next Generation Newsroom Project" is not, stresses Addalia, is a move to cut staff by implementing a "one-man band" or "multimedia journalist" approach where a reporter is also responsible for shooting and editing their video as well as writing a news script. Instead, Hearst is sending out two-person "Next Generation" crews, consisting of a reporter and camera operator/editor, to supplement the existing coverage being produced by crews in traditional live trucks and bring breaking news to viewers faster.

"This program is not designed to cut manpower, or put one person on the street instead of two," says Addalia. "It's to enable reporters and photographers to send back content immediately when they get to the scene of a news event."

The idea behind the project, which was conceived three years ago, was that every reporter on the street would have a Dell laptop which would allow them to access the station's ENPS system on the go, as well as a smartphone or Flip camera that would allow them to quickly capture images from a scene. The laptop is equipped with Microsoft's Windows Media Encoder, for basic file viewing capability, as well as Streambox's encoding software for transmitting video over IP connections.

So far, the Next-Generation project is going well at the 14 stations where it's been rolled out, says Addalia, with upticks in both ratings and Website views. Hearst plans to implement it at three more stations this year, with the remaining eight news-producing Hearst stations getting training next year.

Addalia sees the Next-Generation project as more of a training program than a new technology rollout. Hearst has assembled a cross-discipline team consisting of personnel from several sites, including a reporter, editor, IT staffer and photographer/editor, which travels to stations and spend three to four days training reporters and editors in how to use the new tools.

"We're training our installed base of reporters," says Addalia. "One of Hearst's strengths, and the reason we're a news leader, is because we have very strong journalism in group. We would be fools to abandon that for kids who just know the technology."