Streamlining News Production With Automation Systems

January 31, 2004
Within the current broadcast environment, factors such as consolidation, regulatory changes, agreements with other stations in the same market, cable inserts, regional or national hub-based content-sharing consortiums, and centralcasting are leading to an increase in programming creation and playout. Meanwhile, broadcast facilities are looking to cut news broadcast budgets, particularly in terms of labor.

The burden of managing the increase in programming and development of additional broadcast streams while cutting costs falls squarely on the facility’s automation system. Selecting the appropriate solution for any broadcast operation requires an understanding of the benefits different automation systems have to offer.

Evaluating Automation Options

Today’s news managers require robust systems capable of managing and controlling program playout on at least three levels: full automation, partial automation/ automation assist, and no automation (manual override).

The full automation system serves essentially as a wheel that an operator can put in motion and leave alone to do its work. Partial automation/automation assist takes the workload off of control room staff. Though this is a more complex product, it allows the facility to operate with fewer staff. Operators retain manual switching capabilities so that they may take over from the automation system in the event of breaking news. Finally, manual override provides direct control and when necessary facilitates a smooth transition into live news broadcasts.

Implemented properly, the right automation system can save a station money and enhance the quality of its programming. A labor-saving automation system offers the speed, reliability, and ease-of-use necessary to get critical news to air immediately while guaranteeing its on-air product is at least as good on day one as the human-switched newscast was the day before.

Selecting Streamlined Systems

The key to selecting a newsroom automation system is finding a design that minimizes the complexity of the operation while preserving or enhancing decision-making during the news production process. For example, if a super (a lower-third for example) can be associated with a point-certain in a package, that action should be taken when the package is being written—not when the package airs. Similarly, when the automation system is operating in assist mode, the transitions (DVE moves, wipes, etc.) can be pre-planned to allow the technical director and others involved in the process to look ahead to what’s coming up rather than focus only on what’s happening at that instant.

By moving some of the complexity further back in the chain (that is, as far away in time from the on-air point as possible), the automation system makes technical staff less reliant on split-second decisions.

Specific task-based tools also can ease the transition into live broadcasts by reducing the weight of technical demands on newsroom staff. As a consequence, the automation system helps to reduce or eliminate mistakes, making the news manager’s decision to go “live” or take a breaking story much easier.

Identifying System Needs

The basic requirement of a newsroom automation system is that it not interfere with an operation’s ability to cover news whenever it happens to break. Interoperability and scalability also are critical characteristics of an effective system.

A lack of interoperability between the operation’s various hardware and software platforms can cause a news automation system to have a negative impact on the timeliness and quality of the news broadcast. In the newsroom, there may be only seconds in which to select material for airing. The automation system’s ability to consolidate control functions is critical to making a variety of alternatives readily available for instant execution, thereby increasing production efficiency and maintaining or improving playout quality.

A scalable automation system can be designed to meet the specific needs of a particular broadcast operation, now and in the future. As broadcast technology continues to advance, offering improvements of virtually every sort, automation must keep pace with these changes.

In addition to integrating smoothly with third-party equipment, it also must have the ability to adapt and grow as the broadcast operation expands or upgrades other systems and equipment.

Shifting Into A Tapeless Environment

When the interface between the operators and the hardware is object-oriented, a more streamlined decision-making process is possible. The tapeless newsroom holds a promise for a further object-oriented workflow.

Digital asset acquisition, storage, and transmission have opened the door to working in new, more flexible formats. The decision to shift to these formats, adopting a partial or fully tapeless workflow, should be based on such factors as how much money will be saved on consumables such as field tapes, or how much faster a story can get to air. If video shot in the field can be brought into the building as a file or object, it can then be managed much more easily by a facility’s automation and/or newsroom system as a MOS (Media Object Server) object.

The real return on investment for nonlinear, digital field acquisition emerges when it is coupled with other labor-saving systems such as news automation.

Selection of a flexible, scalable automation system can help a facility leverage existing assets and integrate new technologies to keep the human interface portion of the process as simple as possible. Then the news team can focus on covering the news rather than the process of getting the content to air. The net result should be a better on-air product.

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