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WSHM Ignites Local News

Springfield station first to air with Grass Valley production system

SPRINGFIELD, MASS: As broadcasters continue to consolidate and streamline news operations, WSHM, the CBS affiliate in Springfield, Mass., has started up a news operation from scratch, using Thomson Grass Valley's Ignite system to do things they couldn't have done just a few years ago.

"We would not have done news in Springfield if we could not have figured out a way to do it efficiently," said Tom Shelburne, WSHM operations manager.

And WSHM did it with little outside help and in less than 3,000 square feet in an office building. Local newscasts began Oct. 12.

The Ignite system essentially links news production with WSHM's news production system with the master control at WFSB, WSHM's sister station in Hartford, Conn.

"Basically [Ignite] gives us the ability to operate an entire control room with one person, from video transitions to audio transitions to the CG to playback of servers, sound effects--all that is being triggered thru the Ignite system," Shelburne said.

Victor Zarrilli, director of engineering for WFSB and WSHM, says that the growth in technology provided the only way for the station's parent company, Meredith Broadcasting, to start up a news operation profitably.

"We leveraged technology to put a great product on the air," he said. Ignite, the Associated Press ENPS newsroom system, and Vizrt graphics system--for lower-thirds and animation--work in tandem to get the product on the air with essentially one "technical producer" to operate the Ignite.


Ignite allows WSHM to pre-build effects and streamline the newscast's look using Transition Macro Elements, or timeline commands, sent to individual modules. "Basically you're going to know how your show is going to look before you even go to air because you have pre-programmed everything into your system," Zarrilli said.

At WSHM, reporters use Panasonic DV100 minicams (and Anton Bauer Stasis mounts) for fast, light, newsgathering; even sales execs carry the small, lightweight DV100s and can shoot B-roll as they travel around town. Reporters come in from the field, ingest at a central ingest station, and edit their segments on Grass Valley's NewsEdit NLE system. Edited content is then sent to the Grass Valley NewsQ Pro playout system, all driven by ENPS and the producer.

"It's amazing what we did in the space that we have," said Shelburne.

By sending the Ignite output to master control in Hartford, the station is able to leverage the resources from WFSB, such as satellite feeds. Through a little ingenuity, the DAL (Harris) automation system activates a voicebox at WSHM that cues the control room during commercial breaks ("90 seconds... 60 seconds...") taking the human factor out of yet another step.


Alex Holtz, director of IPS product management at Grass Valley, says the Ignite system is also installed at KABC in Los Angeles, and interest in the product is rising. And despite some similarities, he notes that Ignite is not an automation system.

"In a lot of cases, people have a tendency when they hear term 'automation,' they automatically associate that with a time-driven system," he said. "We're an event-driven system." So it's applicable not just to news but to other live productions such as special events or election coverage.

What has become the Ignite product began to some degree with Grass Valley's acquisition of ParkerVision's Video Business Unit in 2004.

"Our philosophy from day one has been single-workflow, multi-distribution," said Holtz. This strategy provides the broadcaster with a workflow that touches content only once, and allows them to grow from traditional over-the-air distribution to a multi-distribution model that creates more revenue opportunities. Unfortunately, the former ParkerVision business was divided between TV and wireless with wireless getting the majority of the funding to move forward, said Holtz. With Thomson's Grass Valley division, they were able to integrate the vast realm of Grass Valley's switching and routing technology, enhancing the platform's hardware engine and funding the development of an entirely new modular software architecture.

"We basically learned from our installed base to create a new architecture with improved operational control, plus an easier to manage user interface," he said. "Since the acquisition, we've been able to change it dramatically, and take all the lessons learned to create the next generation."

These improvements also include the modular and scalable architecture. The system comes with from one to four M/Es and is scalable from 32 to 96 video inputs and 24 to 96 audio inputs, providing options for markets of all sizes. The system has an integrated video switcher, audio mixer and teleprompter. Optionally, the system can be purchased with CameraMan studio camera systems and the SHOT Director multicamera controller that can control up to 16 cameras. Broadcasters can also choose to integrate with third-party robotics such as Vinten. Ignite also integrates with CGs, still stores, video and audio servers, closed captioning systems, and most everything else in a newsroom.

"What Ignite does for small broadcasters is give them the ability, with limited resources, to look like mid-market stations," Holtz said. "When we get to the mid-market and high-market stations, then they're all about adding more dayparts without adding additional resources."

"It's more than just replacing the manual operations, it's really a strategic platform in a sense, " he said, noting that Grass Valley plans to add modules for features like Internet video, 3G mobile video, and interactive television.

As for bringing operators up to speed, Holtz said Grass Valley has a philosophy of crawl, walk, and run. Operators need to first learn to use the efficiencies of the seamless workflow from acquisition to newsroom to control room. All the relevant data and information should be easily accessible to the operator for quick action; then they can expand on what they do

"Once operators learn and operate the system, we find that they never want to go back to a manual process," said Holtz. "Not only are they excited again about their work, but now they have a higher level of expertise. So whether they're a small, medium or large market, they have full creative control over the environment. If you talk to any of our operators, you'll get the same type of feedback. They say this makes production fun and exciting again."