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Autocue's QScript helps CNNI make news

Is it possible to eliminate all the paper handling in the newsroom production process? CNN International (CNNI) wanted to find out. Its goal was to cut the costs of operating laser printers and free up journalists from chasing paper from printers to production staff. But the key objective was to provide complete and flexible control of the newsroom script preparation with a system that would integrate with the network's automation system, iNEWS from Avid.

In autumn 2002, the network contacted Autocue to discuss its interest in a solution. At the time, the company had developed its QSeries product range, which included the QNews newsroom computer system, automation capabilities, Unicode compliance, redundant server architecture and full integration with QTV's prompting systems.

The early goals set out by the network included:

  • Mirroring the automation system's rundown and continuously updating with any changes, including adds, deletes, etc. Update speed is critical.
  • Displaying scripts on flat-panel touch-screen monitors, with a minimum size of 17 inches and mounted on adjustable monitor arms. Viewing should be possible from two control room workspaces about 3 feet apart.
  • Displaying at least two complete scripts at a time in two separate panels: an Air panel for displaying the current on-air script and a Preview panel for displaying the next script to go to air, or another script of the user's choosing.
  • Offering two modes: Auto mode so that when the user advances the Air script, the Preview script automatically advances along with it to the script that follows the new Air script; and Manual mode for when the user manually changes the script in the Preview panel so that the two panels are now independent of each other and will not advance together. In Manual mode, the user can continue to advance the Air script while viewing scripts from any location in the rundown in Preview. The user can return to Auto mode by touching the Auto button on the screen.
  • Allowing the user options for navigating through scripts, including advance using arrow buttons on the touchscreen, advance using arrow keys on the keypad, go to a specific script by typing its number on the keypad, or go to a specific script by touching its tab on the touchscreen.

A custom keypad was required to include these keys: Numbers 0 through 9, Air button to call up specific scripts in the Air panel, Preview button to call up specific scripts in the Preview panel, Advance key to advance the scripts while in Auto mode, Arrow up and down to advance the script while in Manual mode, Top button to take the user to the first script of the show, and Bottom button to take the user to the last script of the show.

The system allows the director to add notations or highlighting to scripts using a stylus or “stamp” on the touch-screen. Notations and highlighting that are saved on the script are then visible to any user in the system. There are four different user profiles that are specific to job duties. The TD/director position has full edit access to Air and Preview panels. The Font ops has the TD/director Air panel on the left and the Preview panel on the right. The supervisor position has read-only access to the Air and Preview panels. The administrator has full access to the panels and any system administrative functions.

The system provides clear indication that scripts have been copy-edited or, if modified, require re-editing. In the automation system, a specified character in the status field indicates a script that needs re-editing due to modifications. The director can save shows for a specified amount of time to either a local or network drive. This archive can be viewed as it was previously viewed in the control room with saved notations.

System architecture

The result of the network's project is Autocue's QScript control-room automation system. Because the system runs on top of Autocue's redundant database environment, the station chose to run the system in a redundant mode. The data comes from the newsroom computer system (NRCS) database cluster, directly into the dual XD Gateway servers. The XD Gateway parses the data and passes it into the QScript database. As changes are made to the rundown within the NRCS, these changes are immediately passed to the control-room automation system, parsed again and updated. This process allows changes in the NRCS to be reflected immediately on-screen.

While the control-room automation system was conceived as a wireless production system using hand-held monitors, the network chose to connect the UI to the QScript network with a hard TCP/IP connection. After several experiments, it decided to install flat touchscreens that can be used either with a finger tip or a stylus. Beginning in the spring of 2003, the network used Beta releases off-air to fix bugs, conduct load testing and enhance functionality as hands-on experience was collected.

On-air

CNNi went on-air with the system in June 2003. Because directors could prepare for their shows earlier and because out-of-order scripts no longer delayed the production process, much of the pressure and anxiety that accompany producing live newscasts has dissipated. Control over this part of the production process was a stress reliever. The station simplified the entire production process and has adopted the system for all of its facilities under a global license.

In the final implementation, the screen on the left allows viewing scripts going to the prompter. On the right is the script view, where the director typically makes notations. When saved, these notations appear on the scripts to the left and on all other screens viewed by on-air production staff. Across the bottom are buttons that help the director navigate through scripts.

In the wireless mode, users are freed from a fixed position to mark up and annotate scripts. In addition, the hand-held unit can be mounted on cameras in the studio, making it easy for camera operators to see the scripts and anticipate camera cues.

QNews automates Carlton West Country

Always considered a trendsetter among ITV broadcasters in the UK, Carlton West Country, headquartered in Plymouth, has redesigned its newsroom in a 3-phase program started in 1999. The first phase, completed in 2000, brought the newsroom computer system up-to-date.

The second phase, completed in 2001, involved the digitization of transmission and post-production facilities. The last phase involved the upgrading of the data network and digitization of the archives. The goal set by Mark Chaplin, controller of operations and engineering, was “a seamless newsroom,” where journalists would have a single working environment into which as many as possible of the necessary operations would fit.

The first phase involved the replacement of an obsolete Newsmaker system with Autocue's newsroom system, then called WinCue, but since renamed QNews. It was a fairly easy transition, because in developing the newsroom system, the company had taken care both to emulate Newsmaker's features while adding many new and improved ones, thus ensuring database continuity from one system to the other.

By the completion of the first phase, journalists were using the newsroom system for a variety of purposes, from intake of news agency copy to running order management, to Betacart automation to subtitle generation.

The second phase called for major new capabilities such as sever-based production, nonlinear editing, desktop browsing and automation of both ingest and playout. It meant that the newsroom system had to be compatible with whatever choices were made for ingest, browsing, high-resolution post-production and server-based transmission.

Quantel provided the main server-based editing and transmission systems. This provided a production environment built around its Clipbox Power server, configured to store about 50 hours of MPEG-50 material. The server supports three Quantel-embedded edit seats, with a Paintbox and Picturebox on the same network for handling stills, graphics creation and playout.

Rushes and raw footage are ingested into the server by means of the ServerLoad application from IBIS, which manages in parallel the creation of low-resolution MPEG-1 copies of all incoming material onto a 200-hour QNews browse server using IPV's SpectreView MPEG-1 technology. This browse server supports 25 concurrent viewing sessions directly from the QNews workstations in the newsroom, where journalists can schedule ingests, view material as it comes in, prepare shotlists, and create scripts and running orders while referring directly to the relevant video material.

Actually, journalists have two choices when it comes to preparing material for editing sessions. They can use the QNews shotlisting capability, where the time code information is captured on the fly and is then used to retrieve the appropriate shots at a Quantel edit seat. Alternatively, on five of the workstations at any one time, they can launch IBIS' ClipTrim applications, which again assembles material for finishing at an edit seat.

When material has been finished at an edit seat and authorized for transmission, it is automatically stored in three locations: on the Clipbox Power server; on a separate Clipbox Studio transmission server, storing three hours of MPEG-2; and back in low-res to the IPV browse server. This means the journalists can browse finished packages on any of the 25 newsroom workstations. Playout to air is from the transmission server, which is under the full control of the automation system.