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Newsrooms Go Multiplatform

Like other parts of the broadcast plant, newsrooms are being asked to do more with their existing staffs, whether it's producing high-definition newscasts or repurposing content for multiple platforms.

As newsrooms' head count remains the same, or even declines, automation, editing and graphics vendors are taking on stations' challenge. They are offering an array of software-based tools that streamline many facets of the news-production chain.

Major trends include desktop-based editing and graphics tools that enable journalists to do more and provide built-in functionality for automatically repurposing content for the Web.

Device-automation systems that allow software to replace people for certain newscast functions, such as camera control or graphics output, are also gaining popularity (with management, at least) as broadcasters either cut staffs or reassign personnel for new-media production.

“Whether it's editing, newsroom systems or on-air graphics, everything we're doing right now is leaning toward not only accommodating what [stations] have traditionally done but also leaning toward new mediums,” says Johnathon Howard, director of on-air product management for Avid. “The newsroom system now has to be able to support RSS feeds and broadcasting to mobile phones. You have more and more distribution methods, but customers want to use the same amount of people, if not less. That makes our technology have to be as flexible as possible.”

In that vein, Avid sells a multiplatform software tool called Active Content Manager. Says Howard, “It takes all of the traditional types of assets and basically divorces the content from the display, so you can write once and publish to several different Websites and mobile-phone [platforms].”

Broadcast users of Apple's Final Cut Studio editing and graphics software have been known to repurpose a piece of content as many as 30 times—counting broadcast versions, Webisodes, podcasts and the like—according to Richard Townhill, Apple director of professional video product management. One of the most popular applications in the Final Cut Studio suite is Compressor, which can be configured to automatically transcode content for different platforms.

“We're no longer in the days when people could produce one tape and send it off,” says Townhill. “Now we've got all these other screens that people consume content in.”

Graphics supplier Vizrt will use next month's NAB show to introduce a version of its Viz|Multi-Platform Suite (MPS) that links with Vizrt's broadcast-graphics tools and delivers real-time graphics and video content to Internet browsers and mobile devices. The Viz|MPS system actually separates graphics from video content and enables a viewer's PC or mobile-phone display to render platform-specific graphics in real time, without affecting a station's production workflow. MPS will send different sets of instructions to different mobile-phone models, explains Vizrt Americas President Isaac Hersley.

“The render is physically on the phone itself. We're just sending an instruction set on how to build the related graphics with the video behind it,” he says. “The quality is pretty good, as we don't have to send composited graphics [with the video].” He thinks there is a large opportunity to use MPS to deliver targeted advertising as well as news graphics.

Chyron is taking an opposite tack with its WAPSTR system, designed to help broadcasters bring user-generated content to air. WAPSTR allows still images and videos from mobile phones to be uploaded directly from the field into a newsroom system. At NAB, Chyron will also show a new version of Interfuse, an adaptable graphics-workflow solution that can be configured for news, sports or election coverage.

The really big trend from graphics providers like Vizrt, Chyron and Avid division Pinnacle, however, is template-based graphics that run on desktop PCs and allow journalists and producers to easily create simple graphics, such as “lower-thirds”—what newsrooms call graphic information: the reporter's name and location and perhaps a channel logo appearing on the bottom of the screen. That previously required a dedicated graphics operator.

NBC has deployed template-based graphics throughout its news operations, concentrating high-end graphics production in Fort Worth, Texas, and New York. When combined with low-resolution–video editing and Web-production tools incorporated into newsroom computer systems like AP's ENPS (Electronic News Production System) and Avid's iNews, template-based graphics make the multi-tasking, video-savvy journalist a reality.

Avid's Instinct system allows iNews users to create video sequences while editing text, so “text drives the editing model,” says Howard. To make journalists who are not familiar with nonlinear editing comfortable, Instinct uses a vertical storyline instead of a timeline to measure video.

AP has added support within ENPS for NBC's NameDropper HD system, which lets affiliates localize network HDTV programming, such as Today, with insertion of call letters and logos, time and temperature, news crawls, and promotional messages. Stations can easily and automatically integrate material from ENPS rundowns or content collections with NameDropper HD, and local-station crawls can be triggered on demand or automatically.

Harris has made a low-resolution, desktop-based proxy editor, VelocityPX, a key part of its new NewsForce file-based newsroom system. The system, which is compatible with both ENPS and iNews, links low-res sequences ready for air with corresponding high-res material on a storage-area network comprising Harris Nexio servers.

“Everything we've been preaching about for the last 10 years, with people empowered at the desktop to do more, that's come true,” notes AP Director of Broadcast Technology Lee Perryman. “The next wave that's coming up is people trying to figure out how to competently and effectively do online communications and Web production from the same newsroom. In most stations, it's still a separate guy in the corner. But that's changing with the interoperability of the newsgathering and production processes. That's the next growth area.”

For its part, AP has created a Web-syndication system in partnership with Microsoft, the AP Online Video Network, that lets stations easily provide syndicated content to other markets and realize new revenue from advertising sales, with AP handling streaming and rights management.

“I see stations spending more and more time trying to find ways to make money repurposing content,” says Perryman. “The key is finding a way to work smart in multiple platforms at the same time.”

Working smart is also the pitch behind device-automation products like Grass Valley's Ignite and Ross Video's OverDrive, software-based systems that are based on production switchers and use a graphical user interface to provide touch-screen control over various devices integral to live news production. Those include robotic cameras, video servers, tape decks, audio mixers, routers and graphics devices.

A common complaint regarding those systems has been that they lack the flexibility to deal with breaking news. Both Grass Valley and Ross have created optional switcher-based modules that can give directors more hands-on control. Both companies are also working to expand their device-control software so that it can automatically repurpose news stories and quickly publish them to the Web, without requiring time-consuming—and costly—manual intervention.

Grass Valley markets Ignite as a way to cut personnel costs and reinvest the proceeds in new production gear required for HD newscasts or secondary digital channels. Some major broadcasters have bought into the premise. ABC has rolled the system out to support high-definition newscasts at KABC Los Angeles and KGO San Francisco, and WTVD Durham, N.C., is slated to launch Ignite this spring. Other customers include Cox, Meredith, Entravision and Gray.

Ross Video's OverDrive has proved popular with several smaller station groups like Barrington Broadcasting and Freedom Communications, as well as with network customers like ABC News' Washington bureau and The Weather Channel.

A new development this year, says Product Manager Brad Rochon, is the ability to support multiple clients on OverDrive's client-server architecture. That allows producers in different locations to control a production through a local-area network or simply to browse a rundown from a desktop before heading down to the control room. OverDrive also can handle back-to-back productions without a break, which some broadcasters are using to seamlessly roll from a 5 p.m. newscast into a 6 p.m. one.

Rochon says many customers are using OverDrive to launch newscasts, including the rush of new early-morning news programs. The same approach works for secondary DTV channels or streaming live to the Web (he is in discussions with a major network about using OverDrive to run its broadband news service).

“You keep the overhead low by using the same equipment and the same room, just less people to actually bring it to air,” says Rochon. “It does give you a lot of different opportunities.”