Vizrt graphics

With the goal of enriching viewers' understanding of the news, networks regularly use virtual sets, video walls, 3D animations and real-time data-driven templates. For special coverage of major sporting events, breaking news or political elections, they may even use all of these graphics systems simultaneously — in an “immersive graphics” environment.

The newscast can feature a virtual set with a video wall displaying 3D animated graphics that are fed real-time scores or vote counts. The HD screen can become filled with colorful, striking visual elements that can spring open and change dynamically according to story developments.

At the center of this visual explosion is the presenter, who now has the ability to orchestrate the entire graphics show. Most news viewers are familiar with the presenter using a touch-screen display and manipulating all kinds of prepared graphics, video and still elements in any way that fits the story being discussed.

Interactive touch screens, such as those from Perceptive Pixel, let presenters use their hands to expand, shrink, move, change and manipulate the graphics and clips on the screen. They sometimes poke, swipe and wave their hands wildly to control the video and graphics displays while talking about how the visuals relate to the news being reported.

For two decades, live news and sportscasts relied on operators in the control room to plan and playout the video and graphics needed for air. Graphics playout required a concerted effort between on-camera talent, news producers and technicians in the control room.

Anchors take charge of graphics

New graphics control technology is dramatically changing this traditional paradigm. The on-camera news anchors can now take the reins on live visual displays without leaving their seats. Using systems like Vizrt's Viz Anchor, they can trigger graphical displays remotely from an Apple iPad, and their selections instantly play on any monitor or screen on the set. Viz Anchor is an app that runs natively on an Apple iPad tablet PC, a mobile handheld device with a 9.7in diagonal multitouch screen.

On-camera personalities often draw attention to this ultra-compact novelty and enjoy demonstrating its operation to viewers. They show its small screen and how they scroll through the key frames of videos and graphics to choose what they want to display.

As the presenter discusses news stories, he or she can nonchalantly select one or more items by touching them on the iPad screen to trigger their playout on the set. Anchors don't need to stand near the monitor or touch its screen. They can remain seated and change the graphics and video displays on a whim — even causing a barrage of images to hit the monitor or video wall in rapid succession.

This technology gives viewers the impression that the presenter is an expert, with complete control over the content. They get the sense that the anchor has taken “ownership” of the news assets, and that the news report is unfolding right before their eyes in a fresh, spontaneous way. The graphics are synchronized with the news reports in a way that really underscores the importance of the information.

Displaying instant viewer polls

Since the ultimate objective of any cutting-edge graphics technology is to keep viewers from changing the channel, this iPad app greatly enhances the entertainment and visual appeal of the news or sportscast. This technology also has the ability to interface with social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and draw viewers directly into the news itself. The anchor can tell viewers that an instant poll question has been posted on Facebook and invite them to respond. An icon would then appear on participating viewers' wireless devices.

Which team do you think will win the Super Bowl? Who do you think will run against President Obama in 2012? Which candidate best represented your views? When viewers go to vote on issues like these, they use a special “companion app” on their iPads or smartphones to see the poll the anchor just sent them, and then send their responses back to the network.

The results are fed to live graphics templates that are triggered to air from the anchor's iPad. They immediately play out on a monitor or video wall so viewers can see how many votes were cast and what percentages of viewers picked the various choices offered by the poll.

Tying into social media trends

Many of the top news and sports networks are linking their on-air operation to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media phenomena. The Facebook community has grown to about 500 million users, many of which are active users sharing data with their friends and family on a daily basis.

According to a recent study by Yahoo's Advertising Division, 86 percent of those surveyed indicated that they use smartphones and PCs while watching television, often to browse content related to the show. The youngest bracket that was surveyed — ages 13 to 24 — claimed they used mobile Internet and handheld devices 92 percent of the time while watching television. The study concluded that viewers using their own tablet PCs and smartphones while watching television were looking to create their own interactive viewing experiences. Asking viewers to use their iPads or iPhones to weigh in on breaking news and topics dovetails with key social media trends and the audience's growing desire to actively participate in the viewing experience.

The companion app required for this instant polling capability is non-proprietary, and networks can hire software companies to develop it for them. But, having that feedback data tie into the live broadcast and specifically to the iPad graphics controller requires tight integration with the live newsroom graphics workflow.

Vizrt offers an integrated broadcast workflow that spans graphics creation (Viz Artist) to graphics systems (like Viz Trio and Viz Content Pilot) and real-time HD/SD rendering (by Viz Engine.) With this integration, the anchor's iPad and the graphics workflow will execute any commands they're programmed to execute to make this instant polling capability a reality.

When we tell broadcasters about this new instant polling capability and how it can be integrated with their live graphics workflows, they're very excited about the creative possibilities and view it as a way to stay on the cutting edge. It's another dimension that can be added to enhance the multifaceted immersive graphics environments they're already using to boost ratings and build viewer loyalty.

Petter Ole Jakobsen is CTO of Vizrt.