Digital news systems have now matured to a level where they are economically attainable even for smaller stations. Every digital news system vendor will talk persuasively about the economic, production, time-to-air, staffing, and workflow benefits that an investment in a digital news system can bring to your station.
I'd like to take a few minutes of your time to explore what some of these benefits actually mean in practice. What we're really talking about, of course, is return on investment. Will your station benefit financially from moving to digital production? The short answer is yes, and there are many additional gains, too, that can make your station look better and your staff more fulfilled.
Speed To Air
Being first to air with the story is every broadcaster's aim- because it wins and retains viewers. A server-based system can record multiple feeds simultaneously and make them available to multiple users for review and editing and back out to air. If the 'latency' of the server is small, the delay between ingest and editing/playout can be as little as a few frames; editing can commence effectively as soon as the media starts to arrive on the server; playout is similarly near instantaneous as soon as the package is completed.
In practice, working with videotape means that if more than one individual needs simultaneous access to the media stored on that tape, there are two alternative solutions--make copies or form an orderly lineup! Both mean delays.
This is another area where the server really scores- it has the ability to support all incoming recordings and to make all the media instantly available to any number of users- producers, librarians, journalists, and editors. In a correctly designed server environment, the overhead in managing this process is minimal. All production tasks can be conducted in parallel- no lineups outside the feed room or edit suites, less stress on the staff, and most importantly, a better news broadcast in less time.
Overall Installation Cost
The cost of equipping and running a production facility extends well beyond tape machines themselves. Complete edit suites with numerous VTRs, switchers, audio mixers, monitoring, and so on, will have to be replaced. In the studio control rooms, production switchers, stillstores and DVEs may also be heading toward the end of their useful lives. A server will replace the need for many individual items and software packages. For example, editing applications in the server environment can share the desktop PC with newsroom and other applications. In short, the cost of a server-based installation needs to be looked at against a much broader canvas than just the tape machines it most visibly replaces.
Server-based systems dramatically increase a broadcaster's ability to respond to live events because they can put editing capabilities on every desk, multiplying the number of edit suites that can be brought to bear on any event. A newsroom that may have had three or four tape-based edit suites at its disposal may now easily have 20, 30, or many more in a server-based system, each at least the functional equivalent of a two-machine tape suite.
In the final analysis, it is people who make good news programming, not machines. Server-based systems with common, easy-to-learn-and-use interfaces allow more people to get closer to the business of making news and also give management much greater flexibility in how it deploys its human resources. For example, management is better able to respond to a spontaneous news crisis or to re-deploy staff to cover sickness or vacations. For the staff it means they need not be trapped or pigeonholed -the distinctions between journalists, producers, and editors become blurred- offering better career growth and more job satisfaction.
Automation removes the drudgery of the feed room, the server eliminates tape recycling drops, and overall productivity is boosted because no one is wasting time waiting for copies of tapes or searching along shelves.
Putting it in bald terms, the negative view of server-based production means that it is possible to do the same with less people. The positive view, however, is a much more attractive business proposition- do much more, much better, much more quickly, with the same number of people. In short, with a server-based system you can win ratings, win revenue, and win growth.
Trevor Francis is the business manager, news and sport for Quantel.