Running Smoothly With Automation

N24 is a television news channel serving Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and providing news broadcast services to two other German channels, Kabel Eins and ProSieben. Originally part of the ProSieben group, N24 was launched in 2000, operating with a manual studio and news gallery.

Seeking to increase efficiency and reduce the cost of the news broadcasts, N24 began to research newsroom automation systems in 2004. We tested and then rejected a gallery automation system because it was not flexible enough for planning and operating rundowns in the way the channel required.

Flexibility is very important, because the best news broadcast is something you can’t plan from scratch. When the news comes in you need to air it; even if it’s a completely live feed from an unforeseen event. So any newsroom automation system that impedes a flexible response to breaking news is likely to be rejected by producers and journalists alike.

As a result, it took us a long time to find a system that would balance the efficiencies automation could bring, combined with the ability to cope when breaking news demanded a rapid response.

We visited many different television stations in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, in search of a solution. The search culminated in our contact with TV2 in Denmark, where we saw a system that seemed to be what we were looking for. TV2 had a news operation that was very similar in configuration to our own, and the system they use is Mosart Newsroom Automation, from the Norwegian company of the same name.

Guided by our discussions with TV2, we were able to formulate a master plan for the migration to Mosart Newsroom Automation. At about the same time, N24 took the decision to move to a completely new building, so we had the opportunity to implement the newsroom automation starting with a blank sheet.

This meant we could build a studio and gallery that perfectly suited the capabilities of the Mosart system. You could put Mosart into an existing gallery but it is undoubtedly preferable if you can build everything new, so that you can make the most of what Mosart is capable of.

Since T V2‘s operation resembled ours in so many ways, we were able to replicate much of the workflow and configuration used there. Although we didn’t have exactly the same equipment, we had a very similar configuration in terms of numbers of server channels, cameras, and so on. Our studio uses five cameras – of which two are robotic cameras mounted on a circular ceiling track – a Sony video mixer, two Yamaha audio mixers, four VizRT graphics engines, and the Norcom NCPower newsroom system.

The choice of the robotic camera system was a deliberate decision to ensure that exact moves could be replicated time after time with complete precision. Programming these moves into the Mosart templates, together with all the other devices driven by Mosart, gives N24 gallery staff a guarantee that the cameras will hit the same positions every time, and that audio and video will play as required and in the pre-set style. The intercom system is also connected to Mosart, so that Mosart drives the countdown for each item.

Of the four VizRT engines, three are connected via a media sequencer to Mosart to provide all lower thirds/over-the-shoulder graphics, and to manage the transition logic that ensures correct sequencing of the graphics.

The system was planned in six months in February 2008, with construction starting in October. This was quite an accelerated timeframe, and we did not have a period dedicated to testing the system before going on air: We had to go live and test as we went.

Inevitably there were some teething troubles as we integrated all the equipment, although these were not due to the Mosart system. These problems meant that – for around three months – we had to run our main news show from 7am to 1:15pm with eight people working in a gallery designed for three. When all the systems were ready to integrate with Mosart, we were finally able to operate the live show with just the three staff, as intended.

We also run a second studio and gallery under control of a separate Mosart system. This studio is dedicated to broadcasts for the other television companies integrated with ProSieben; three separate news shows in all.

Of course, each show has a very different look. This is achieved by using the VizRT system to generate individual sets and graphics.

Every aspect of each show is automated by the Mosart, so that each broadcaster’s style is clearly differentiated. The quick turnaround between shows at 4pm, 6pm and 8pm is made much easier by the templating facilities built into the Mosart system. Sets of these can be quickly recalled for each broadcaster’s show.

Today, we now run our main live show with a gallery staff of three instead of the eight that were necessary before. This efficiency does not prevent us from being completely flexible when we have to respond to breaking events.

In fact, the Mosart system makes it easy to take complete manual control of any element in a rundown, with the confidence that a clear, well-designed interface gives. This is the essential quality that a newsroom automation system must provide.

Roland Kindermann is a former Senior Director at N24.