New technology, added delivery channels and the increasingly unpredictable viewing habits of consumers are forcing today's news staffs to make significant changes. Today, station news teams need to be vigilant 24/7. In addition, they must not be dependent upon a linear storytelling model, and they must be able to distribute content across multiple platforms. Likewise, the production technology they deploy has to do more than simply present the daily television newscast.
Play to your strengths
As newsroom staffs become less technical and more creative in storytelling, stations are automating many of the technical aspects of the creative process — file format conversion, clip logging and management, and editing — so that focus for the journalists remains on the story itself.
Production systems that make news departments more productive should include a common user interface that provides access to all the most commonly-used features. This eliminates the need to continually change screens in order to carry out different tasks. This saves precious time in getting the news to all three screens — living room television, computer screen and mobile device — nearly simultaneously.
Re-examine the process
To efficiently accomplish this, it is important to employ a tightly integrated production system. Such systems allow a single operator to handle the production of an entire multicamera newscast. This approach requires careful preplanning. During the planning, you need to involve every department (management, journalists and production) of the station. This planning should be completed well before installation.
It is important to also allow time for extensive training — not only in what personnel will do, but also about the way a production staff thinks about producing a newscast.
Do not look at the use of integrated production systems just as a potential means of reducing headcount. Rather, look for opportunities to assign staff into areas where their skills can be maximized for both the individual and station. In addition, those trained in using the technology gain a new and important skill, one that adds to their professional value.
One key in the re-examination process is to help the production staff understand that today's consumers expect content to be available on multiple devices, across multiple channels and on their personal schedules. This means stations have to implement a 24/7 news cycle — one that's not dependent on the linear cycle of time- and manpower-availability that traditionally has driven news departments. Production automation can help achieve these goals.
The news staff also has to understand that content has to be optimized for the various platforms in order for the story to be understood clearly. For instance, framing for Web and mobile devices must be different from that for television audiences. Any selected solution must be able to handle such production issues in an intuitive and transparent way. Journalists should not be encumbered with complex technical processes.
Deployed correctly, integrated production systems empower news teams to be able to create more content with the same amount of people and to reach more viewers across more delivery platforms. Such solutions lessen the need for supportive technical staff and energize those involved in content creation. The result should be enabling content creators to find new ways to tell stories and to do so more efficiently.
One result of properly using automated production tools is that they allow stations to stay relevant in today's highly competitive news environment. They also improve the on-air look, reduce technical errors and sometimes enable a station to launch new newscasts where none were previously available. Such results benefit viewers with more in-depth stories and station owners with additional revenue.
Set the agenda
The most important step of any integrated production system deployment should happen long before the technology is installed at the station. Get as many departments involved in the process as early as possible, and work out the technical details up front. Make it clear that although the means of producing and distributing content will change, the basic core values of producing quality content will not.
This is not a technology that can be forced upon a staff. They have to be educated and helped to understand the value of such a system. This takes time, but if done right, it makes the staff feel they are part of the process in selecting a new way of producing the news. It builds camaraderie and facilitates more collaboration among the employees.
Keep the technical processes invisible
To be valuable to the news creation process, such technology should include familiar features that allow journalists to apply their skills quickly. The platform should permit journalists to work independently while performing highly technical tasks. In most cases, they don't even need to understand how some processes happen. The technology should do all of the heavy lifting, based on presets that have been set by the station engineers.
There can be a series of presets developed by the station's interactive or engineering staff that allows journalists to create and then upload the completed content to a particular software template that automatically publishes it to any desired format. That might be a Web or smart phone stream. The feature would properly scale video frame grabs or resize video to fit a cell phone screen. Such technical mechanizations should be completely hidden from journalists.
Once journalists approve a story for distribution, additional software can be employed to package all of the elements related to a particular story and send the video assets and the associated metadata (as an XML file) to a predefined location, where content is then automatically repurposed.
Tighten NRCS integration
To be successful, the new production system has to be tightly integrated to the station's NRCS, often via MOS protocol. Journalists and producers work on a single screen and still have access to all of the needed image processing and publishing tools.
Likewise, the new production system should provide a tight link between the NRCS and the station's control room. Again, it's about keeping control of the story in the hands of the people who care about that story most.
Any technology chosen should be expandable and provide an easy path for stations to migrate slowly to fully automated production — protecting their original investment — while being able to pick and choose which shows will continue to be run manually. The production system should seamlessly interface with other third-party video production systems — such as graphics equipment and video servers.
Improve the bottom line
At the end of the day, automated production systems are nothing more than efficiency tools. It's up to the individual station to figure out how they want to improve their productivity to meet the increasing demand for content in all of its forms. Traditionally run stations need to make the transition from TV broadcasters to becoming media content producers and distributors, with all that that implies.
To remain successful networks, broadcast groups and individual stations need to reduce their costs while efficiently reaching all three screens (TV, Web and mobile). Without automating the required content creation processes in some way, these businesses will never be able to afford the staff and technology necessary to get the job done in a timely fashion.
That's the reality of today's broadcast news department. It involves making the best of a difficult situation and employing survival tactics to make the business model work.
Scott Matics is a product manager at Grass Valley.