Last year, Raycom Media's review of its broadcast operations focused on ways to leverage the size of the station group's business, along with innovative technologies and equipment, to make its internal preproduction workflow easier and enable its stations to turn out more news. More specifically, the station group's primary goal was to address systems and workflows at its 31 news-producing stations and improve their efficiency, both independently and as a group. The second goal of the review, no less important, was to improve the look of its on-air graphics.
The station group undertook a graphics system upgrade not only to give its big-market stations a sharp, dynamic look and feel, but also to enable sharing of high-end graphics across the enterprise with smaller-market stations lacking the same back-room technical capabilities and staff. It wanted to bring the advanced graphics elements expected in a modern newscast to all its stations, regardless of their size.
Raycom stations in contiguous markets share video content that adds value to newscasts and, in turn, boosts individual stations' in-market performance. Staff members use the BitCentral Oasis media management system to access and then drag and drop content from an ENPS rundown to their own timelines (over a WAN) and take that content to air. Having already established ENPS and BitCentral across the enterprise, Raycom shifted its focus to graphics creation, adopting a Chyron BlueNet workflow built on the CAMIO workflow asset management server, two dual-channel LEX3.1 on-air graphics systems per station, Lyric PRO graphics creation software, an iSQ remote monitoring and playout controller, and a LUCI ActiveX plug-in to its stations' AP ENPS newsroom computer system (NRCS). The result is a cohesive self-service graphics production workflow that also can scale out to a full-service workflow leveraging the team at the enterprise's graphics hub.
This workflow was chosen not only because of Chyron's reputation, but also because the systems worked particularly well using the station group's WAN. CAMIO systems installed at stations across the WAN give station staff the ability to share content across the enterprise on a peer-to-peer basis without any real need for outside assistance. The seamless drag-and-drop interface prevents staff from losing track of assets, and mechanically it operates simply, leveraging the stations' existing network and requiring no special modifications to the current workflow. Because the graphics servers are networked enterprisewide, the station group can synchronize and copy templates and assets from one server to another and maintain confidence in the security and availability of its graphics assets.
The two identical LEX3.1 systems installed at each station provide internal redundancy, ensuring no single point of failure exists even though their four channels are software-controlled as if they are in a single box. Each box replaces three discrete systems by enabling playout of lower thirds and electronic stills, while providing a clip player for opens, closes and bumpers — virtually any source of video. That is an important part of process control and slenderizing news preproduction, which goes a long way toward making it easier to take more hours of content to air.
The station group uses Lyric PRO software for creation of its graphical look and templates, and it provides many of the high-impact visual effects features familiar from pro sports broadcasts. It was a pleasant surprise that the software could import content from other graphic sources, such as Adobe AfterEffects and Photoshop. The station group had created station looks in these other software packages, and having to recreate them was a daunting prospect. As it turned out, station artists were able to import those graphics and then add features using the graphics-creation software included in the new system.
The workflow itself is based on graphics templates also created in Lyric PRO. These templates allow text, images or video elements to be replaced within the NRCS application that the content creation staff uses. The LUCI interface with ENPS facilitates this element of the workflow and has proven to be the most important element of the graphics system. It has changed how and where graphics are created and linked to news stories. If photographers or reporters get into the script and want a lower third to introduce a segment, they have access to the equivalent of a basic CG screen. This screen allows them to select the appropriate template by number and type in the text. The lower third is saved and attached to the script, and no one else has to touch it.
For more complex graphics, LUCI also enables staff to search for the appropriate asset (such as a movie or image) on local servers and then fulfill the template, save the finished graphic and drag it into the NRCS script, which triggers distribution of the graphic to the playout device. In either case, the staff can look after these basic graphics themselves: There is no need for a request. It is a capability that saves time and makes life a lot easier. Given the burden of preproduction these days, with some stations doing 40 hours or more of news a week, do-it-yourself functionality is extremely valuable. The ideal always has been to keep graphics and media attached to the script, and this new workflow is allowing Raycom to realize that goal.
Two levels of training were necessary to get the graphics system up and running. In addition to training station artists on Lyric PRO, which was critical to getting the look right, station group managers took a day at each station to focus on the operation and management of the new graphics systems. Training of day-to-day users was a simpler process than one might think, as the iSQ software provides single-GUI, PC-based control of independent output channels of MOS-generated playlists.
Through installation and maintenance, the station group relied on the standard documentation that was provided upon purchase. However, to address the size and scope of this particular rollout, it created a document that outlined for trainers, installers and stations exactly how the graphics systems should be set up — naming conventions, IT connectivity, etc. — at their locations. That living document has really taken project planning to a new level. It has enabled stations to get installations down to a matter of hours and use the rest of their allotted time to take advantage of the trainers' expertise. Today, the graphics hardware and software systems are working as advertised. Most hiccups are related not to the equipment, but rather to the stations' own internal processes.
Raycom expects to be pushing the new workflow hard by election time, which is always a great time to show what your graphics systems can do — and to take new creative elements forward into future broadcasts.
Dave Folsom is vice president and CTO at Raycom Media.