ESPN Puts NewsBase To the Test at U.S. Open
Among the most challenging production applications - both for the employees themselves as well as the technology - is editing large amounts of footage down to a polished segment that must go to air in a matter of hours.
This frenetic, mission-critical style of editing-on-the-fly is part of the normal routine for ESPN editors and producers covering live sports events. That's why Terry Brady, vice president of technical operations for ESPN, is always on the lookout for new technology that will make the editing and content creation process more efficient and the on-air product more appealing.
After using Sony's networked news production system, NewsBase, on-site at the U.S. Open Golf Tournament in Bethpage, Long Island, last month, Brady believes he's found just such a helpful tool. ESPN field-tested the system, hooked up to a local area network between three production trucks (provided by Bexel New York).
"We've been pleased with its performance under fire and are encouraged that Sony understands how we want to work," Brady said, adding that six editors used the network, sometimes simultaneously. "Our goal here is to produce the best programming possible. That means including more information within a story, but also being able to do produce it with the least amount of [technical] distraction."
Originally conceived for television newsrooms, NewsBase is Sony's centralized network storage production system, offering a server for news production and play-to-air, simple cuts-only editing at the desktop on the ClipEdit system and full online nonlinear editing features through the use of the DNE-2000 news editor. NewsBase is configured, built and delivered by the Sony Systems Solution Division (SSD) in San Jose, Calif.
The all-digital network setup for the Open, with 60 hours of MAV-S2000 RAID-6 storage, included the use of Pinnacle (FX Deko II)- and Chyron (iNFiNiT)-generated titles and graphics and several Sony linear and nonlinear editing systems (including the BVE-9100) to produce highlight coverage for ESPN properties. ESPN even had a Discreet flame graphics compositing system on-site that was available to the NewsBase network.
Because no computer-based server is ever completely fault-proof, Brady said that three levels of redundancy are built into the NewsBase system. "We wouldn't use the system if we felt there was a chance of it going down on us," Brady said. "We don't have the luxury of any downtime in sports-highlight production."
Each day of the tournament, Betacam SP and Digital Betacam footage shot by several on-field crews was immediately ingested into the system. Once digitized, editors in three separate suites had instant access to the material, as well as a "clean feed" from NBC (the exclusive "host" broadcaster) that was combined with a variety of graphics and audio files. The editors had roughly three hours to prepare highlights clips that were used in ESPN's primetime and late evening sports highlights shows that night.
Brady said he became familiar with the system after talking with Lenny Daniels, vice president and senior director of Turner Sports, in Atlanta, who has used a similar configuration of NewsBase since the beginning of this year for Turner's NBA coverage. Brady said he and Daniels have been lobbying Sony engineers at the company's Atsugi, Japan, facility and at SSD to produce a NewsBase-type system specifically for sports that takes into account: portability, slow-motion replay and logging software inside the DNE-2000 nonlinear editor. They also need about 120 hours of storage. Substantial revisions to the NewsBase hardware and software code were implemented at Turner.
"Imagine editing and annotating highlights of 12 simultaneous NBA games in progress, without touching a single tape," said Daniels. "That's what executives at Turner Sports envisioned for coverage of the NBA on TBS Superstation and TNT.... We can imagine a time when we can share assets across the Turner properties without once sending a tape via FedEx."
THE TAPE-FREE FUTURE
Located at Turner Studios, the in-house production facility for all the Turner Entertainment Networks, the NewsBase system at Turner Sports includes 14 journalist workstations to log and annotate incoming game feeds, five DNE-2000 nonlinear editing systems for full-resolution editing and three MPEG-based MAV-2000 servers with nine MAV S2000 RAID configurations for central storage of all assets.
ESPN's Brady revealed that management is considering installing a larger but similar NewsBase system at its headquarters in Bristol, Conn. Like Turner, the all-sports network's goal is to establish a tapeless operation by replacing existing VTRs with servers. He also mentioned the desire to replace Betacam SP cameras with the disk-based variety (e.g., a three-chip, broadcast-quality DVD camcorder) to save time getting material into the server.
"[Reducing and eventually eliminating the use of tape] is something we have set our sights on and we'll get there," he said. "I think it will take a few more years, however, because many people are still very comfortable working with videotape. It will be a slow but steady process to get everyone to make the transition, but it will happen."
Sony consultants Kirk Guillot and Leland Johnson helped set up the network at the Open and trained ESPN's six on-site editors in about two days. There were six ClipEdit stations in addition to four "filing" stations where raw footage played off a Sony Digital Betacam VTR was logged into the system each day by dedicated personnel.
After the editors cut short clips from the day's footage, it was immediately placed into bins for later use, organized by topic or player name through the use of the Associated Press' Electronic News Production System (ENPS). Because footage was digitized in real time, full-motion images from the first part of a tape cassette were available to the editors immediately and they could begin cutting highlights while the tape was being logged into the server.
Several of the editors said the ClipEdit system is very intuitive and that they would like to see it more often when they show up at sports events.
Donald Colantonio, director of Remote Operations at ESPN, agrees, noting that the network has been trying to streamline the work-flow process any way it can.
"In environments where material is repurposed, this technology effectively supports multiple users, facilitates clip assembly and file management and decreases processing time," he said. "After several attempts at implementing a server solution on field productions with marginal results, NewsBase exceeded our expectations, and we successfully integrated 60 to 70 percent of content direct from server to air. From a facilities standpoint, this is a proven technology that generates efficiencies in hardware (and media) costs."
Colantonio said that currently a large percentage of ESPN's operational costs have been in linear edit systems and VTRs for screening and logging functions. He hopes that the ClipEdit workstations, for example, will replace these elements and reduce personnel needs as well.