NEWS: A media revolution

When Walter Cronkite broadcasted back in the 1960s, it was said that the whole world was watching. He was “the most trusted man in America,” and audiences were in love with the idea of seeing the news rendered larger and more directly than ever before.

Today, the “whole world” has broken into a thousand different segments based on specific interests. No one is sitting back waiting for a unified experience any longer. News isn't news anymore because what used to be a one-way presentation has become a shared conversation — live, 24/7, always on and available.

Consumer-driven change

Interestingly enough, the change has been driven primarily by consumers. Once they got used to ushering global events into their living rooms, the next step was to reach out and interact with change in a way that might actually be considered retroactive, harkening back to an era when news was passed back and forth over the backyard fence. Then, it was not news, either, but took the form of a running conversation, laced with commentary, opinion and historical reference.

Then came mass media and television, which kept everyone artificially under glass. Unimaginably large audiences could be reached, but they no longer had the power to respond. They could not act, only watch. They could not speak, only listen.

With the advent of digital media, the polarity was reversed once again, giving the world a two-way means of communication that let those relegated to passive consumption during the Cronkite years start engaging once more with the world around them.

Media revolution made real

Today, digital media provides a connection powerful and ubiquitous enough to spawn revolutions from the Arab spring to global Occupy protests. As it was before the advent of electronic media, people from virtually any walk of life, including news producers, can talk with each other and share information about everything from commentary on global events to recommendations on their favorite restaurant.

This increasing convergence between producer and consumer is driving an exponential expansion in the volume of content production. That balloon in volume is, in turn, driving a shift from content creation to media management. Both are having a significant impact on the way news technology is evolving in four distinct areas: media management, multi-platform distribution, role-based applications and remote connectivity.

Enterprise media management

Enterprise media management as a technology class is fast becoming the “brains” of the news operation, linking all the production processes and providing a platform for incorporating a company's business systems into the larger enterprise matrix. Comprised of both production asset management and media asset management (MAM) technologies, enterprise media management is already serving as the backbone of such highly visible and dynamic media entertainment businesses as the Olympics.

Historically, media workflows were isolated within different departments. Teams and facilities assembled to accomplish one step in the workflow were separated from one another by geographical distance, proprietary technologies and the limitations of physical media.

Now, file-based workflows serve as the foundation upon which integrated workflows are built. On a production level, media enterprises can gain universal visibility into libraries of media content and sophisticated workflow orchestration, as well as create and implement structured, repeatable workflows that can be tuned for optimal efficiency, check for workflow status of any project at any time, and normalize diverse libraries of content to unified metadata schemas.

This management level of technology provides a way for enterprises to integrate their media operations with business systems such as programming, rights management, traffic, scheduling, sales and reporting.

In the case of rights management, for instance, MAM systems can be linked dynamically to content repositories, providing accurate and up-to-date information about usage rights and terms. Sales teams can look into content repositories and monetize idle assets by seeing what they have the right to use and expose to potential buyers.

MAM solutions offer the flexibility to leverage different deployment models including the cloud, when and where it makes sense, enabling geographically dispersed teams to collaborate using Web and mobile apps while maintaining the highest levels of security and control.

Multi-platform distribution

The ability of a network or station to make the most of its media is essential to its success. Finding new ways of increasing revenue is one of the primary keys to its economic survival and expansion. The most advantageous way of accomplishing this is to repurpose content an enterprise already has. This means expanding infrastructure capabilities to adapt content so that it can be viewed on the rising number of screens available in the consumer market.

News operations have developed some of the most advanced multi-platform distribution strategies in the media industry. Due to the need to establish brand presence and build advertising revenues via multiple channels, news organizations tend to produce more content from the start for television, radio, online and mobile delivery. Working with originating program content in the editing suite, editors can version it for a number of platforms.

There is a downside, however. Because each platform has different screen sizes, aspect ratios, video codecs and processing capabilities, it ultimately comes down to a trade-off between bit rate and output quality, with each device mandating a different equation.

Giving viewers a commensurate experience on both iPhone and 3-D television is particularly important for media enterprises starting to think of their multiscreen offerings as more than alternative delivery channels or direct advertising revenue generators. Many are starting to extend their multichannel distribution capabilities to create community focal points, or full-service portals, where audiences can get recommendations on restaurants, events or shopping.

To promote brands and generate new streams of incremental revenue, content must be optimized for each device and meet the requirements of each platform. But, as increasing volumes of content are disseminated through a wider variety of channels, the issue of IP protection inevitably arises, prompting the introduction of increasingly sophisticated IP protection. This requires encryption processing of each asset class and deployment of secure license servers. This is a must in the media industry — where content is not only king, it is the underlying foundation of a media organization's livelihood. It is the cost of doing business in media production, and must be borne in both time and money.

Role-based production

One of the more advanced technologies helping organizations respond to the changing media environment are role-based media production tools. Enabling contributors to play a variety of roles, these tools extend their functionality from a singular to multiple-role focus. Journalists who once served solely as reporters can now write, edit and produce stories from the field by synchronizing text, video and audio; recording audio VO; and even adding graphics to create finished stories.

Story-centric and rundown-based workflows enable contributors to work more effectively together by providing access to, and control of their content, rundowns and video assets. And, on the back end, software installation, licensing, administration and upgrades can be consolidated on servers that handle multiple client connections simultaneously.

But it is the front-end technologies that provide the sizzle, with work panes that can be modified and positioned within the application to accommodate each contributor and the role he or she plays, arranged to suit the way they work best. These not only let journalists assume new levels of editorial and production responsibility, but upgrade the overall quality of their story by taking the news out of the newsroom and allowing them to produce news from where it is actually being made.

Remote connectivity

This remote production capability dovetails with the emergence of virtual real-time media access through the cloud. Constructed to function as Web-based applications, role-based applications give journalists the power to dial up the tools they work with every day, and use them in the field to create and complete their stories on devices ranging from laptop to iPad.

As an indicator of how quickly the devices themselves are being adopted, even panels of on-air experts and commentators will no longer be accompanied by their familiar laptops on event coverage. These will be replaced by iPads, giving these personalities a richer, more personal user experience, as well as the power to control and shape the sequencing of their presentations.

But for the most part, the connectivity that lies behind these devices is driving their adoption. Not only is this connectivity instantly available and elastic, expanding and contracting based on the immediate requirements of any given production situation, but it can be acquired faster and less expensively than traditional procurement cycles.

From raw computing infrastructure to complete workflows and business processes, services and workflows can be delivered through Web interfaces that allow a particular functionality to be turned on or off whenever and wherever it is needed. Employed initially in industries such as banking and retail, this type of virtual real-time access provides media enterprises with a compelling rationale for accelerating the adoption of HD, file-based workflows; IP networking; and multi-platform distribution.

Ultimately, the emerging reality of ubiquitous virtual access gives media enterprises the freedom to orchestrate their workflows anywhere, anytime, and achieve new levels of creative excellence by providing a completely fluid, collaborative environment in which to work.

The whole world is engaging

Although technology is critical to the news industry and one of its most potent drivers, at the end of the day, news is about people and what happens to them, from the national stage to offices and living rooms. Anybody, anywhere can make news. So, when a journalist has the ability to write, edit and shape a story on an iPad in a violence-torn Libyan neighborhood, it is, indeed, groundbreaking. But when a protester is able to capture a moment of tear-gassing and push it to a reporter from her iPhone, who edits it on the fly, adds commentary, then pushes it to the main newsroom ready to air, this is a revolution of the first order.

Every day, we move further away from the idea of news being delivered by monolithic on-screen personalities to great unspeaking masses. With technology unimaginable in the era of Walter Cronkite, we see how quickly news is becoming a distributed commodity, allowing the whole world to not only watch, but also engage in a conversation that truly reflects the bilateral reality of our shared human experience.

Alan Hoff is director, media enterprise segment marketing, at Avid.