Despite the difficult economic situation, television stations are biting the bullet and investing in systems to automate their newsroom processes. Proven results in shop and at sister stations have eased the anxiety.
Las Vegas-based Fox affiliate KVVU-TV, owned by Meredith Corp., fired up its Grass Valley Ignite HD Integrated Production System for the first time in June. The station airs five hours of local news daily, according to Jack Smith, KVVU's Director of Engineering.
Smith said seeing the system in action at other Meredith stations, which began using it about 18 months prior, was encouraging.
"We didn't have to dumb down our show—our shows are as clean as they've ever been," said Smith. "The operators really like it—especially the 'control freaks.'"
Gary Prager, KVVU Fox5 production manager prepares for a newscast. He noted that "hot keys" programmed to take live shots and other video sources facilitate the airing of a breaking news situation. "The hot keys can get you out of a lot of trouble quickly," said Smith, whether the need arises for a quick feed or changing a wrong source coded into the rundown.
The operators make up a slimmed down crew of four, half of the station's former 8-person staff. Smith noted that its two-week installation was followed by six weeks of training in which "the learning curve was pretty steep."
At press time, the only bug remaining to be addressed was Ignite's interface with Avid's iNews.
"When the producer makes a change in the rundown, Ignite has to refresh—it may take as much as 30 seconds to refresh," said Smith. The Ignite/Avid iNews Interface and new optimization is included in the latest Ignite (5.3) software release, according to Grass Valley. "We need to update our system," Smith said.
At KVVU, Ignite also interfaces with Avid AirSpeed, Vizrt character generators, and a Wheatstone D-10 audio console. The Wheatstone interface, not available at the time of purchase, was written into KVVU's contract. According to Grass Valley, the interface was moved up on Grass Valley's integration roadmap to meet KVVU's agenda, and is now a standard option for all Ignite deals.
Lee Wood, regional director of engineering for Seattle based-Fisher Communications, readily attests that Ignite "is very capable in a breaking news situation." Its KBAK (Bakersfield, Calif.) station had been using Ignite for about two years, while KBCI (Boise, Idaho) had used it for 18 months, he said.
This year the stations augmented their capacity for automation with Bitcentral's Precis 4.0 news play-out server system. The combination worked particularly well for KBCI's coverage of the investigation of 8-year old murder victim Robert Manwill this summer.
"With the Ignite system, they could take the live remote to air and integrate it with studio coverage as needed," said Wood. "The Precis archive system gave them access to video collected over the last several weeks—it quickly dragged those clips into the Precis airplay server to provide the background video."
Specifically, Precis handles all video-related functions and integrates with AP ENPS which handles all editorial functions except for video and feeds into the Ignite system. Wood is very pleased with the cost effectiveness of the operation in turning the newsroom into a tapeless environment. The next move: HD.
"We purchased HD field cameras at those two stations," said Wood. "The Precis system is HD-ready; the stations' Ignite systems need to be upgraded for HD."
He hopes to have HD in the medium-sized markets within a year or two.
Positive experience with Harris' Nexio play-out servers convinced Freedom Broadcasting stations WRGB-DT and WCWN-DT—serving the Albany/Schenetady/Troy, NY area—to examine Harris' NewsForce digital news production system. They installed it last year.
"By standardizing on a single platform, we simplified our configuration, reduced the learning curve, and maximized common parts, software and support," said Fred Lass director of engineering.
KBAK in Bakersfield, Calif. recently augmented its Ignite automation with Bitcentral's Precis 4.0 news play-out server system. More examples of efficiency were subsequently discovered. The NewsForce Velocity PRX low res proxy editors facilitate access to video clips, bypassing the need to write down in and out points, according to Lass. Velocity ESX editors enable staff to mix video of different resolutions, formats and aspect ratios on the same timeline, and don't require their own dedicated storage. And the single storage system for hi-res video facilitates the management of available content and eliminates the need for a transfer step prior to air, he said.
NewsForce has also facilitated sharing video between the stations and other news entities.
"The News-Force system manages aspect ratio metadata and accommodates side panel in addition to 4:3 video," said Lass. And with NewsForce, he noted, "we have configured out news bureau [to] ftp video from Final Cut Pro via a 45 Mbps 5.8 GHz unlicensed microwave link." There's no dedicated gateway to send or receive video from any Nexio server.
Thus, the stations can automatically ingest CBS' Newspath Now video, as well as CNN material via Pathfire, using Telestream Flip Factory Now, incorporating the video files into their shows without a show editor. The stations can automatically share sports video directly with WNYT—even though the latter still shoots 4:3. And the stations' Web office can use an ftp program called Transmit to select video clips to drag and drop into their local hard drive.
Harris' standard plug-in, NXMB, integrates NewsForce with Avid iNews. Harris Project Manager Darby Marriott noted that the Ross Video Overdrive playback system (installed in 2007) can now pick up any clip that exists in a Nexio server. Both Marriott and Lass agree that standard protocols like MOS allow for easy integration among diverse manufacturers.