The ability to mix live, tape-delayed, pre-recorded and “feels live” content into a seamless and cohesive 24x7 channel experience has been a recipe for differentiated success in traditional linear cable and broadcast TV. But news channels have an additional obligation: to be prepared to cover breaking news events that have a major health, safety, economic or social impact on their audience.
In a pre-cloud era, “lighting up” a control room was no small feat. Even today, most master control rooms are built around baseband facilities and studios that have been foundational to television for the past few decades. But in today’s work-from-anywhere environment, cloud production, master control and playout make it much simpler to “go live” at any moment. That capability to light up a virtual control room with little effort has an impact on when and how newsrooms decide to break into existing programming for updates.
Competition for viewers’ attention is fiercer than ever, and the need for live talent and breaking-news coverage is critical. This requires additional investment to be sure. But how much live content do channels actually need to create an engaging 24/7 feed? To what extent can real-time graphics or generative AI fill the gaps between those live on-air hours?
The truth is, we don’t yet have the answers to these questions. We don’t know how news content will evolve nor how viewer tastes will react. After all, free linear streaming on connected TVs is still in its infancy. But it is clear that CTV advertising is growing and maturing, making it easier to efficiently monetize narrower audiences. So, the answer? Experimentation. We can cross the gaps above with a strategy that lives on the content innovation vector.
Using purpose-built tools, news channels can experiment creatively and watch real-time metrics of streaming TV — including both concurrent viewership and viewer reach across time — to understand what’s working and what’s not. From there, it’s a matter of iteration and execution, building on wins and moving swiftly past the losses.
This “test and learn” programming strategy can be executed by exploiting three trends:
- The explosion of cloud production, AI and creative tools for producers, journalists and editors that have already broadened and deepened the canvas for newsrooms. The movement toward cloud and remote production architectures has been in progress for a decade. But COVID-19 proved cloud tools and remote production work well, and are only getting better.
- The rising potential for content exchanges, press-pool feeds, and other forms of shared or licensed content to help fill a range of gaps in the programming wheel. Video marketplaces are popping up to enable companies like Nexstar, CNN, Reuters, the AP and others to help not only cover breaking events anywhere in the world, but also with regular and customized daily clips, such as weather updates.
- The “creator economy” talent pool. For better or worse, social media is here to stay and it has dramatically boosted the available talent pool for news content creation globally. One analysis estimated there may be as many as 24,000 YouTube channels with over 1 million subscribers. Today we see a second (or third?) generation of digital natives hitting their adult years — a labor force that’s expert at creating engaging videos using nothing but a mobile phone or browser. On top of this, they’ve trained today’s audiences to expect more authenticity and humanity in their on-air companions. High quality is still paramount, but the definition of that metric has changed in the minds of many consumers.
There are also notable extensions of live content that can help channels fill the content pipe. These involve workflows whereby time-delayed content, recent clips and data-driven graphic feeds can deliver fresh and updated content without being truly live.
Indeed, it’s quite common for newscasts that may feel live to be “tape-delayed.” Complexities across time zones in the United States, for example, may mean abbreviated content programming might be needed for certain geographies. In other cases, news shows are designed to make use of fast-turn editing innovations in so-called “story-centric” newsrooms where content is made from the get-go to be pre-purposed for 10 or more downstream outlets at the same time. These are powerful workflows that make “nearly live” content easier to produce without much degradation in the timeliness of the story.
Finally, as we fill the 24/7 programming wheel with content that may be re-aired from previous slots, there are further possibilities of refreshing that content utilizing data-driven cloud graphics. This might include lower-thirds or perhaps a simple real-time ticker at the bottom of the screen that is logically associated with certain playlist assets previously aired.
In this way, we can provide story-specific updates to news content that might have been recorded earlier in the day, providing a viewer with a clear orientation to the story they may have missed, while also providing a timely update to the story since it aired.
Finding success in today’s competitive news programming environment isn’t easy. News channels have to be able to go live at any moment on top of a baseline of file-based content. They have to experiment on a wide range of content innovation vectors and get immediate, high-fidelity data to process success or failure using concurrent and unique viewership metrics and even interactive components.
Finally, they need to employ near-live and live-to-VOD programming strategies to enhance existing assets — whether aired last hour or last week — to make them feel to the viewer as if live and fresh. Deftly weaving in these three strategies will help ensure news brands build the best 24/7 streaming news channels available, satisfying both distributors and viewers alike.
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Brian Ring is Senior Director, News & Sports Market Development for Amagi, where he leads the company’s effort to super-serve the unique workflows of these verticals. Mr. Ring has a twenty-year track record of driving product led growth in video & TV tech by running product strategy, technical content and sales development programs. Previously, Mr. Ring has served in consulting and full-time roles for companies including Pac-12 Networks, Univision, Levels Beyond, Edgio/VDMS, Minerva Networks, ATEME, Synamedia, MediaKind, Brightcove, Haivision, Singular.live, Tedial and others. Mr. Ring also maintains a long-standing media research practice tracking changing TV viewing behaviors with consumer surveys.
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