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Less Tape, More Fulfilling

With tapeless acquisition formats from Sony and Panasonic on the way, today's TV stations could find themselves going tapeless sooner rather than later. The formats hold the potential of greatly shortening the time it takes to get content to air, because news producers and editors will no longer have to shuffle through tapes or wait for content to be placed on a server.

"What's exciting about the new acquisition technologies is that they allow for instant mounting of media onto server systems," says Trevor Francis, Quantel business manager, news and sports. "If I've acquired onto either RAM technology or onto a CD-based technology, I can move media from acquisition to editing very quickly, and it's also completely non-linear."

The new formats won't work in a vacuum. Interfacing with other gear—like editing, graphics and newsroom systems—will require automation. The issue becomes one of budgetary vs. competitive pressures: The deeper the automation goes, the more efficiently the staff will be able to operate.

"For the next year or so, most stations will continue using their existing camcorders and edit suites while dust and prices settle on tapeless technology," says Fred Schultz, president of Sundance Digital Automation. "That period will favor newsroom automation that can integrate tape editing with on-air server operations. But, ultimately, the rising benefits of tapeless will sweep both servers and integrated tapeless editing into virtually all news operations."

Today's tape-based facilities are able to take advantage of automation. Machine control is an important aspect of an automation system, and it's as easy for a system to run either a VTR or video server. But the very nature of a server gives it a number of advantages over VTRs that can produce better operational efficiencies.

One thing in favor of servers is that it's easier then ever to move files both in and out of a facility. File transfers, metadata exchange, automation control, and application co-existence are some of the easier aspects of automating a newsroom, according to Avid Broadcast Director Dave Schleifer.

Many broadcasters and manufacturers view the aspects Schleifer mentions as the most important for defining the future of the newsroom. Transferring files via an Ethernet (or the Internet) eliminates the need for sneakernet or Federal Express. And metadata exchange makes it easier for editors and producers to get a better handle on what is in the file without having to scroll through the video and audio.

"Facilities which shoot and edit on tape can enjoy the best of both worlds by building a newsroom automation system which integrates server ingest from the edit suites," Schultz explains. "They benefit from server reliability and operational versatility, extend the useful life of their camcorders and edit suites, and defer spending on tapeless technology until the dust settles."

There is a pressure that may drive newsrooms to go tapeless before then. Michael Koetter, BBC Technology, vice president of technology, North American operations, says the sheer growth in news output across the country goes hand-in-hand with tape-based challenges common to many broadcasters: Locating footage in a timely manner; minimizing storage, transport, duplication and redundancy costs; managing the proliferation of incoming media and media formats while reducing "time to air;" dealing with fragmentation of workflows and the increased number of production "silos."

Once a station has made the move to go tapeless, it still has to deal with cultural issues, which can often be more daunting than the technical aspects.

"The difficulty in installing a server-based system into a situation that has existed with tape for a long time lies more with changing the way some people at the station think about and do their jobs than with implementing the technology," says Ian Bowker, director, program management for news solutions, Thomson Broadcast & Multimedia. "A good collaboration between the technical and content-creation sides of the process is critical to success."

According to Schleifer, a tape-based facility can be up and running with a complete conversion to an Avid Unity for News environment in a matter of weeks. "A tape-based facility can take any of several steps to adopt new technologies and newsroom automation, starting with automation of studio playback, the adoption of standalone non-linear editors, or even smaller LAN-based workgroups."