File-based workflow

New video-enabled devices have changed the way viewers consume news. Few broadcasters would deny the significance of these devices. Yet because 90 percent of television station revenue comes from the core business of broadcasting, taking care of the core is what receives 90 percent of most broadcasters' attention. Many stations are potentially leaving significant money on the table.

Instead, what if these video-enabled devices and Internet-connected TVs were actually additive to your audience? What if these devices enabled a station to reach viewers never before reached? And, what if the potential for new revenue represented far more than just 10 percent of business? The question then becomes: How much will it cost to address this new growing audience?

A better way

Let's look at this situation differently. Knowing that today a station must feed many platforms besides the 5 p.m. newscast, suppose we start with a completely clean slate. Such a solution might employ a quite different news production process. The end game in news has not changed. Because stories must still get to air as fast as possible, any new solution must satisfy all of the new distribution platforms simultaneously.

Instead of waiting until the 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. newscasts to break a story, a station might choose to put stories online as they happen. This concept considers that most online and mobile viewers are not on-air viewers. Allowing this audience to view the news on their platform of choice does not detract from a station's on-air ratings. The challenge then becomes: How can a station operate on a virtually constant deadline?

Changing the staff's tools is not the only way to upgrade a station's newsgathering capabilities. Take a big-picture approach. It's the overall system that should conform to the station's workflow, not the other way around. Technical issues, such as competing compression formats, multiple delivery channels and screen sizes, should not slow down the acquisition, production and dissemination of news.

Simplify the process

Current production processes are legacy, left over from the days of tape and even film. A modern, file-based workflow can eliminate many needless production steps, saving many hours of overhead. An effective file-based workflow means everyone benefits from increased productivity. One example of a file-based newsroom workflow is shown in Figure 1.

Just adding new production tools such as cameras and NLEs may not necessarily provide the efficiencies required to meet the increased demand of new channels. They are only one part of the overall process. Begin the redesign process by looking at the raw materials (files, live feeds, viewer video, etc.) on one side and the finished goods (news delivered to any platform when it happens) on the other. Once the origination and distribution processes are established, then what must be done in the middle becomes more clear.

The solution is a simplified version of the traditional news production system, one that allows the news staff to handle disparate materials and funnel them into a single pipeline that fully addresses all of the various delivery platforms.

Any solution should be non-proprietary, offering an end-to-end file-based workflow. The result should provide play-to-air automation, news management, multiple-channel distribution and archiving — all without significantly increasing staff workload.

No barriers

Ingest must be simple and easy to use. It should be browser-based in order to facilitate the use of a myriad of interfaces and to provide access to stored media from both inside and outside the station. Basically, the system should be a seamless part of the station's IT infrastructure, not a foreign island that needs special care and attention.

A next-generation news production platform should be based on high-quality servers, like those available from trusted business computer companies that use a standard OS. This makes them easier and less costly to maintain and upgrade. Such servers tend to work seamlessly with existing IT infrastructure.

A next-generation newsroom system should include media asset management functions to enable easy and fast access to all current and archived news. This allows editors and promotions staff to quickly find clips and access media instantly. The value of online assets is often overlooked because in the tape-based world, it is too costly to retrieve. However, an integrated file-based archive system allows producers to easily find and use historical footage.

The need to share

On the delivery side, any next-generation news production platform should allow content to be easily shared within a group, further increasing a local station's ability to provide viewers with unique stories. This enables a wide-area production environment, branded locally, but done so with a minimum of local labor. To accomplish this, stations within a particular group can either use the same production platform or rely on a system that bridges different platforms into one non-proprietary sharing system.

For instance, you cannot see an FTP. So a production system that automatically allows staff to view all the assets across a whole group is an important tool. Also, by incorporating wide-area acceleration technology, file transfers occur two to three times faster than with FTP.

Road map for success

With good planning, training and a flexible technology platform, stations can not only produce content more efficiently, but also they can disseminate news anytime, anywhere.

To meet this challenge, newsrooms should:

  • Use an open and standard IT-centric model, which helps reduce proprietary roadblocks and bottlenecks.
  • Embrace a file-based workflow starting with field-based laptop editing and remote contribution.
  • Cut the story once with multiple versions to satisfy the needs of each newscast and all other platforms.
  • Use browser-based, ubiquitous online asset management and archives for universal access to all media both in the station and across the group.

The decision to move to a file-based workflow should not be done just to save money, but rather to improve overall workflow, efficiency and add distribution options. Properly designed, such a solution can save money while delivering more and richer content, which is something stations can monetize. And for most operations managers, chief engineers and news directors, that's the Holy Grail.

Fred Fourcher is president and CEO of Bitcentral.