Will Instinct Change News Editing Forever?

Instinct is not just a news editor... it has the potential to change editing for everyone that works with a script. By simulating how video scripts are written--on a vertical piece of paper with audio on one side and video on the other--Instinct does away with horizontal timelines and the complexity found in most NLEs. Think about it this way... when you learned to write a video script, you learned one format. Then when you learned to edit a video program you learned another format. What if both formats were the same? What if you learned both writing and editing at the same time?

Most TV journalists are pretty clever, until it comes to nonlinear video editing. Then the smarts abandon these scribes; leaving them sweating, stressed and resorting to the Three Stooges' technique of taming incomprehensible technology: "Push buttons!"

In a bid to rescue these journalists and their harried managers, Avid has developed what could be called "Nonlinear Editing for Dummies." Properly known as Avid iNEWS Instinct, this new editing software is so simple that even a TV reporter can use it. The reason: Avid studied how journalists actually prepare their stories, then designed Instinct to conform to this process. The result is a complete editing system that contains both the audio/video and text composition tools that reporters need, and none of the extra features that they don't.

"Instinct brings together iNEWS text composition and video editing into a simple package that is easy to learn and use," says David Sirak, news operations manager at WFTV in Orlando, FL. WFTV is one of Avid Instinct's beta testers. "It's a Fisher Price editor with large on-screen buttons: There are no tricky double-clicks or key combinations to make it do what you want."

In truth, Avid Instinct isn't a Fisher Price editor at all, says David Schleifer; vice president of Avid Broadcast and Workgroups. "What we've done isn't about dumbing down a really powerful tool such as Avid NewsCutter," he says. "It's about creating a tool journalists can use to compose, edit, and then send stories directly to the news server for immediate playout to air."

At $3,995 per desktop, Instinct is also cheaper than Avid's most affordable NLE for broadcast news editing: the $6,995 software-only version of NewsCutter XP. "Buying NewsCutter XP to install everyone's desktop is kind of expensive," Sirak says. "With Instinct, you are basically only buying what everyone needs to do their jobs, at a lower price."

The Nitty-Gritty
Okay: It's time to talk turkey about Avid Instinct's graphical interface and how it works. First, Instinct's on-screen workspace is laid out vertically, like a regular piece of 8-1/2" by 11" paper. It's a shape that most journalists are comfortable with.

Second, Instinct's screen only contains a few simple visual elements. Up in the top left-hand corner is a small video window/editor. It's equipped with basic VTR and In/Out editing buttons. Using these buttons, you can skip back and forth one frame, 10 frames or one minute at a time. There is also a simple four-channel audio meter for balancing voiceovers, natural sound, sound on tape (SOT) and external audio sources. Below the video window is a browser with access to wires, rundowns and video.

Close by is a clever feature for recording voiceovers: Just click the Record button, and Instinct will launch a 3-2-1 onscreen count before recording the narration. Better yet, since the script has been automatically synchronized to the shot selection by this point, the video will roll as the user is speaking. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

On the top right corner is a combined video editor and scriptwriting tool. Basically, the user can write their script (with production cues) on the white space provided, and then break it up by clips--including interview actualities. These are represented using small video thumbnails; each one marked with the video clip's timecode duration.

To get the clips, the user just drag-and-drops them from the video window. However, before doing so, they must specify whether the clip is being used as B-Roll, voiceover, or SOT for interview sequences. "By identifying the shot's function before placing it into the script, the software will patch the proper source audio to the correct destination track and make sure the audio is mixed properly," says Johnathon Howard, Avid's senior principal product designer.

Finally, in the lower right-hand corner, the user can see search results through the station's archived news reports, scripts and raw footage using Avid MediaManager. These searches are organized using tabs, which means numerous queries can be stacked in the window, and toggled between as needed.

Simplifying Sports Production
The coach interview covered by B-Roll: It's a staple of sportscasts everywhere. However, editing such a feature can be a nightmare when the B-Roll doesn't fit properly. By the time the editor realizes that the footage doesn't work, the piece is ruined. They have to go back to the raw footage and start again.

With Instinct, this doesn't have to happen. "The reason is that our system floats the B-Roll on top of the interview clip: It doesn't destroy it," says Roy Groth; Avid Instinct's lead engineer. "If the sequence doesn't fit, the user can lengthen or shorten whichever clip they need to. As well, they can remove the B-Roll at any point in time to return to the interview sequence. It doesn't get wiped."

Skilled Video Editors Still Required
At first glance, Avid Instinct might appear to eliminate skilled video editors from the news production process. But this isn't the case: Since Instinct only provides the most basic of transitions, skilled editors are still required to produce sophisticated fades and visual effects. "By relieving staff editors of responsibility for rough cut editing, Instinct frees them up to add final touches to a larger number of reports," says Groth. "This means that more reports can benefit from this extra level of polish."

Of course, if time is tight in a breaking news situation, the reporter can forego this final step--instead sending their story directly to server for immediate playout. The beauty of Avid Instinct is that this option now exists.

Instinct at WFTV: A Beta Tester's Experience
For WFTV, the arrival of Avid Instinct couldn't be more timely, even in beta mode.
"Advances in newsroom automation systems have given our producers total control to create all of the elements of their newscasts from their desktop. But managing all of these separate programs on one screen is difficult," says David Sirak. "Besides running NLEs, they have to run iNEWS and graphics generators, plus keep a few browser windows open to monitor breaking news. Instinct marries all these functions together into one package with a single simple user interface. This allows their PCs to work faster and more efficiently.

"I also like the feature that allows us to open an Instinct-generated sequence from a fully-loaded NewsCutter editing client for audio sweetening, color correction or adding dissolves and graphics," he adds. "Instinct will allow all of the journalists in our newsroom to locate and use the best pictures and sound from the live library of video that is constantly being ingested into our Unity system. The capabilities of Instinct almost triples the number of journalists that can manipulate video and get it on the air."

Hearkening back to his "Fisher Price editor" comment, Sirak praises Avid Instinct's easy-to-use controls. "In creating this product, it is clear that Avid spent some serious time with TV journalists," he says. "They have come up with a software platform that is intuitive and straightforward to understand. For instance, whenever you hover over a specific program button, a help window pops up to explain what it is."

"Another big thing about Avid Instinct is that it lets you edit sequences and quickly send them directly to the playout server," Sirak notes. "When we took the leap into the nonlinear world with Avid Unity a couple years ago we also launched a brand new way of doing things. Our workflow continues to evolve as we add more tools to our digital toolbox. I believe that the functionality and affordability of Instinct is going to fill in some of the gaps that other products have not addressed."

Not In Stores Yet
Given such a glowing review, readers can be forgiven for wanting to test Instinct immediately. But this isn't possible: The product is not due for commercial release until the fourth quarter of 2005.

Avid is taking its time in releasing Instinct to ensure that the feature set is refined. "This is core technology that we're going to be introducing to the news market," Schleifer explains. "We want to do this in a non-disruptive a manner for our clients. Meanwhile, when we do release it, we want them to grasp Instinct's capabilities, by taking time to learn how it can improve their workflow."

This said, ABC News has already contracted to buy 120 copies of Avid Instinct. "They have been involved in developing this product from early on," Schleifer explains. Given Instinct's price and performance, other news operations are sure to follow suit. After all, a TV news editing system that TV journalists can actually use is nothing to scoff at.