We've Got Digits At 11!

Those of us in the broadcast business tend to think of the Internet as a destination for our product and as a source of new revenue. It's where we can post our news stories, enhance our programming and hopefully generate additional business with the "Internet Generation." But recent increases in bandwidth and advances in video compression technologies have led to the creation of online tools that also reduce costs. Most significantly, the costs associated with sourcing content for production are greatly reduced with new online services.


Video is becoming the ubiquitous 21st Century communication medium. It now appears everywhere: digital cameras, camcorders, iPods, game players, cars, and of course, on our desktops and laptops. In fact, camera phones, once a novelty, now outsell digital cameras by about 4 to 1, according to Strategy Analytics. It's only a matter of time before people capture video as frequently as they capture pictures with these video-enabled phones.

There is a whole generation of people for whom communicating by personal video is second nature. Given the penetration rate of either a digital camera or camera phone, more and more people carry a "video recording device" in their purse or pocket. Teenagers are sending video through their webcams as easily as sending instant messages. Bloggers are posting video clips within their blog entries online. Internet players like Google, Yahoo, YouTube, OurMedia and AOL offer a collection of professional and amateur video to their users. These can range from the latest music videos and news clips to personal journals and just plain silliness. These sites make it easy to share video as well, the downside of which is that copyright owners have witnessed clips of their material circle the globe illegally within a few hours.


Traditional entertainment shows have long used private amateur video footage for the amusement of their entertainment audience. America's Funniest Home Videos first aired on network television in 1990 and is still going strong 16 years later! And World's Wildest Police Videos ran on Fox for four years. Where news stations used to say, "If you see news, call us", they now actively advertise, "If you've got footage, email us." The use of home video footage of newsworthy events has become commonplace.

Another area where the Internet has changed production is the acquisition of broadcast-standard video and/or stock footage. Shooting video with a station's own crews is expensive and time consuming. It also often requires access to areas not open to the general public, like an assembly line on a factory floor. Ordering from a news delivery service or network feed takes engineering time and money, and you don't know exactly what you are going to get until it arrives at the station. Asking corporations for footage can take days for dubbing and delivery, and the footage you get may not match what you want at all.

The NewsMarket is one of the firms attacking this problem using Internet technology. By aggregating rights-free news video in one place, The NewsMarket allows journalists to browse a searchable database of hundreds of hours of footage. They can use a robust search engine designed to find the video content they are looking for. The Internet also allows a desktop preview, so journalists can see what they are getting immediately, before placing an order. The capabilities of the Internet can therefore put a large video library on the journalist's desktop, with major cost savings in production efficiency, satellite fees and tape delivery, storage and retrieval.


The library cataloging of news footage, or what computer folks call "metadata tagging," presents a series of interesting problems. Reporters looking to illustrate their stories with raw video are often searching for a shot "of" something rather than looking for stories "about" something. Yet most news libraries are catalogued by date and story topic, yielding no clue as to the picture content. Original camera footage is often discarded, and rarely cataloged or archived. Even an electronic search of script narrations rarely yields a clue as to the visuals accompanying the story. And sound bites are almost never transcribed into scripts (other than run time and out cues).

In cases where news video libraries exist, they are generally limited in size and scope, causing the same "file footage" to be used over and over again. Searches tend to be undertaken with the same highly sophisticated method used for the past 30 or 40 years: someone stands up in the newsroom and shouts, "Does anyone remember if we ever shot any footage of __________?"

There are a variety of digital asset management (DAM) providers, like IBM, EMC and Open Text, focused on this problem within large organizations, which need to create online digital libraries for their internal users. The broadcast television organizations have been a prime early adopter segment for these innovations. Public broadcaster WGBH was profiled in CIO magazine last year regarding their DAM project with Sun Microsystems, and predicted improved production efficiency by as much as 40%!


A different area that uses Internet technology to save time and cost is stock music. Once again, borrowing from consumer Internet applications enhances professional creativity. Listening before buying is, of course, commonplace on music purchase sites like iTunes, Napster or Yahoo. Music production libraries are finally catching on to this trend. Rather then buying a collection of CDs, production pros are now auditioning and distributing music over the Internet. Once again, you know exactly what you are getting to suit your immediate needs, and the "stock music store" is open 24/7 worldwide.

Finally, traditional talent auditions for both voiceover and motion picture work may become a thing of the past. Going fast are the days of headshots, audition demo reels and waiting rooms full of nervous, hopeful wannabes. Enter the Internet. Online companies like FutureCasting 2000 allow a casting director to cast an entire production by simply keying in the specifications for the particular role or job and viewing all the talent or crew that fit the profile. Voiceover talent can be auditioned at SunSpots Productions in a similar manner. By answering a few simple questions (sex, age range, specialty and vocal range) you can listen to professionals from all over the country at your own desk. They even have a drop-down menu of celebrity voice impersonations done by their clients.


Whether working with news video, stock footage, background music or talent auditions, the use of Internet technology as a production tool gives producers more creative choices without having to get up from their desks.

Shoba Purushothaman is co-founder and CEO of The NewsMarket.