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The pressing need to be first in the market with a breaking news story has prompted many broadcasters to migrate to tapeless news production for a more efficient workflow and better on-air product.
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HAMILTON, N.J.


(click thumbnail)Focus Enhancements’ FireStore DTE technology allows users to record in the native file format.The pressing need to be first in the market with a breaking news story has prompted many broadcasters to migrate to tapeless news production for a more efficient workflow and better on-air product.

While there have been sweeping changes in newsrooms nationwide, including newsroom computer systems, desktop media browsing, nonlinear editors and servers, there’s been one last holdout for videotape—acquisition.

But the broadcasters we spoke with told us their stations have started migrating to tapeless acquisition so their news teams can bypass the ingest bottleneck to get news stories edited and on-air faster.

TAPE… WHAT’S THAT?

At WRDW-TV, a Gray Television Group CBS affiliate in Augusta, Ga., Chief Engineer Edward Elser said the writing was on the wall at NAB when he looked for new ENG cameras.

Tape is going away very fast. Whatever camera systems you buy, it’s all going to be tapeless. I would be surprised if by next NAB there’s even a tape option out there,” Elser said.

“We’re in the process of purchasing Panasonic [AG-HPX500 HD] P2 camcorders with Apple Final Cut Pro laptops that have a P2 interface for editing,” Elser said. “Our field editors will be able to take their P2 card out of the camera, stick it into a slot on the laptop, and edit away. They can also bring it back to the station and ingest the data directly into an Avid, or relay it back via microwave directly into our Avid.”

WRDW’s new tapeless news equipment from Avid include an Avid Unity LANshare shared storage system; Avid AirSpeed servers, NewsCutter XP nonlinear news editing systems, and five Avid iNews Instinct journalist editing stations.

The station will no longer use its tape-based DVCPRO cameras. Elser added that their video journalists, who are “one-man bands,” will be shooting with new, compact Panasonic AG-HVX200 P2 camcorders.

GOING SOLID-STATE

Panasonic is now shipping the AG-HPX500 shoulder-mount P2 HD camcorder, as well as the new 16 GB P2 solid-state memory card, (AJ-P2C016RG), which, for $900, doubles the storage capacity of its previous P2 card, (a 32 GB card will be available by the end of the year, according to the company). Among the 150 U.S. TV stations that have adopted P2 are Fox Television, Cox Television, and McGraw-Hill broadcasting groups.

P2’s solid state architecture means no moving parts, freeing it from the limitations of optical disks, hard drives and tape systems, which require precise alignment and are subject to wear, vibration, shock, dust, and temperature limitations according to Robert Harris, vice president of marketing at Panasonic Broadcast, in Secaucus, N.J. “Since P2 is a high-capacity memory card that is compatible with current IT systems, it can also eliminate the time required for ingest, and the cost of a special deck that both tape and optical disk systems still require. P2 allows video pros to edit with their laptops in the field instead of waiting until they get back to the station,” Harris said.

DISC-OVERING TAPELESS

Taking the Tapeless Archive Challenge

Since tapeless media is more expensive than videotape, news crews must dump their data frequently to free up the media for more recording. So, effective asset management and archiving are critical to making the tapeless news workflow perform well, and possibly defraying the costs of the capital investment.

“News footage is an incredibly expensive asset to acquire. To get an aerial helicopter shot, or footage of a one-time event or remote location could cost $750-$900 an hour to acquire,” said Mark Siegel, president of Advanced Broadcast Solutions, a Seattle-based systems integrator. “If the average station has six or seven news crews out shooting each day, they now have a high volume of data to dump off of tapeless media. So the pressing question becomes where to put all that raw data-perhaps onto tape, hard drives, DVD-to store it?

“Many stations are making the decision early on to just discard that raw footage before they fully realize how valuable it may be,” said Siegel. “But, by taking the time to preserve the metadata and archiving that footage, they can later find and monetize it by selling it to others, or using it in other venues, which can accelerate the return on investment to tapeless news.”

According to Fred Schultz, senior marketing manager for news solutions for Harris Corp., “perhaps the greatest impact [of tapeless news production] comes with the new business opportunities that file-based production supports. Newsroom content can now be more easily repurposed for up-and-coming video-enabled technologies, including the Web, mobile phones, and handheld drives, [like the new Harris MPH in-band mobile DTV system].

“These new platforms serve as venues for your news content to be monetized in ways not previously possible,” said Schultz. “They also call out for cost-effective, user-friendly asset management. [through products like Harris H-Class Invenio digital asset management system]. to efficiently collect, categorize, store, locate, and repurpose content-saving time while simultaneously monetizing media assets.”

At Augusta, Ga.-based WRDW, Chief Engineer Ed Elser agreed that asset management is critical to tapeless news operations.

“If you don’t have the means to handle all the metadata cost effectively, you cannot find the news footage you’re looking for quickly; and the media is not in a usable form,” Elser said. “But it’s an incredible challenge to find an affordable, enterprise-class digital asset management and archive solution that’s based on industry standards,” Elser said. “I’ve really looked at everything that’s available on the market today, but haven’t found what we need for under $20,000. We’re in market 115, and for a station our size, finding affordable asset management for our tapeless news operation has become a very serious issue.”

Claudia Kienzle
At Belo Corp., in Dallas, Craig Harper, executive director of technology for broadcasting said there is a groupwide effort underway to adopt tapeless news technology. There is no set timetable for this migration, and different Belo stations are adopting tapeless news systems at different rates as existing equipment is retired.

Currently, 15 of the 21 Belo stations produce news, of which 11 operate in a tapeless newsroom environment. “Our stations have been shooting Betacam SX but we’re now shifting everything to Sony XDCAM-HD; so we’ll be disk-based in the field,” Harper said. “To make this change for all 15 stations at once is extremely expensive and difficult to do. So we are going to put in complementary NLE systems in the field on a per station basis as we migrate over.”

The Belo television stations in its largest markets include: WFAA-TV (ABC) in Dallas/Fort Worth; KING-TV, the NBC affiliate in Seattle; KHOU-TV, (CBS) in Houston; and KTVK (Independent) and KASW-TV (CW) in Phoenix.

Belo is not fully HD-capable from a production standpoint yet, Harper said.

“We are able to air commercials, programs, and network programming in HD. In Dallas, Seattle, Houston, and Phoenix, we produce the local newscasts in HD but the field recording is still SD widescreen,” he said. “Our goal is to be tapeless from acquisition to play-out to air, the Web, and mobile, [because] that allows us to do that in a more efficient way.”

Harper said that field crews will be able to send XDCAM HD files back to the stations via digital microwave, drive it back, or eventually send the data back via high-speed, broadband cellular services.

FEEDING MULTIPLE OUTLETS

Hearst-Argyle, Pappas Telecasting, and Albritton Communications have also adopted Sony XDCAM-HD. CNN also plans to use XDCAM for its HD news launch, expected later this year.

“CNN will begin using XDCAM HD camcorders and decks for HD ENG and news production, and will roll out XDCAM HD to its global newsgathering operation,” said Bob Ott, vice president, optical and network systems, Sony Electronics. “XDCAM HD should help CNN supply high-quality HD native content for the upcoming launch of its HD network.”

In Washington, D.C., Belo Corp.’s Capital News Bureau already shoots Sony XDCAM-HD in the field, and uses a Grass Valley Newsedit editing system. And in St. Louis, Belo’s KMOV-TV is installing Bitcentral systems, including Précis for news production and Oasis for news sharing and archive.

“The benefits of a file-based newsroom, like those with Précis, are immediate. Within a Précis newsroom, the instant an asset ‘enters the building,’ the entire newsroom can begin editing and preparing published content,” said Fred Fourcher, president and chief executive officer for Bitcentral, Inc., in Irvine, Calif.

“Even for stations moving to HD, once a clip is a file, every producer in the newsroom, every editor in an edit booth, and all the directors in the control room can access, browse, and even modify the raw content for distribution to any number of platforms.”

Raycom Media, in Montgomery, Ala., started its transition to tapeless news production about five years ago—converting from DVCPRO and Betacam SP to Panasonic P2 cameras under the direction of Chief Technology Officer David Folsom. The Raycom Media TV group includes WMC, Memphis, Tenn.; WSFA, Montgomery, Ala.; WIS, Columbia, S.C.; and WAVE, Louisville, Ky.

Raycom Media has 27 television stations that produce local newscasts, and while none produce news in native HD, 21 are the top-rated news stations in their markets. Bitcentral Oasis and the AP ENPS NRCS are used across the group for news production and management; 21 of the 27 use Bitcentral Précis; and six use various Avid systems. By first quarter 2008, all of Raycom Media’s stations will have transitioned to Panasonic P2, with nonlinear editing and server-based play-out.

“The benefit to a digital, nonlinear news environment is that we can do more with what we have, and seamlessly produce news for our multiple outlets, including our DTV channels, the Web, mobile services, and eventually HDTV,” said Susana Schuler, vice president of news for Raycom Media. “We want our field crews to capture breaking news, edit the stories in the field, and feed them back to the station by the fastest means. Tapeless news technology helps us do our jobs in an increasingly challenging, hybrid formatted world.”