NEWSTECHFORUM 2017

Technology Chiefs Eye Future Efficiencies

IP delivery, cloud-based workflows are seen becoming pervasive as they will make it easier for broadcasters to capture, share and distribute news content. Above (l-r): Andrea Berry, moderator; Bruce MacCormack, CBC; Del Parks, Sinclair; and Jonathan Solomon, Aspera. (Photo: Jack Pagano, Ariana Television Network)

While the pace of technology change in television news has been dizzying over the past decade, broadcasters’ shift to Internet-based tools is still in its early days, according to top engineers speaking at TVNewsCheck’s NewsTECHForum in New York on Tuesday.

During the panel discussion “Tech Leaders on the Future of Newsroom Technology”, moderated by G.A.P. Media Group CEO and former Fox technology exec Andrea Berry, representatives from the broadcast and vendor communities described how IP delivery, cloud-based workflows and powerful media asset management systems will make it easier for broadcasters to capture, share and distribute news content.

“There’s never been a more exciting time to be in this business than today, ever,” said Del Parks, SVP-CTO of Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Sinclair has embarked on two major initiatives based on cloud technology. One is an enterprise-wide deal with Avid Technology for cloud-based editing and content management systems across its 65 news-producing stations. In addition to eventually standardizing editing platforms across Sinclair, which has been on an acquisition spree in recent years, the long-term Avid deal will also implement a content management system that will store proxy versions of each station’s stories in the cloud to facilitate easy sharing amongst the group.

Sinclair is about two-thirds of the way to completion in converting to the Avid software systems, which run in a virtualized environment at each station on common off-the-shelf IT hardware. Parks said the next step is to develop a media asset management (MAM) system that will better help Sinclair share content among stations. The group shares about 500 stories per week, through a mix of FTP (file transfer protocol), Avid systems and a Masstech product.

Sinclair also chose a fully cloud-based system to launch its “KidsClick” daily children’s programming block last July, eschewing traditional playout gear for Imagine Communications software running in the Microsoft Azure cloud, with LTN Global Communications providing IP delivery to stations. Sinclair had already been using LTN’s network to deliver its digital subchannels Charge!, TBD and Comet.

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“KidsClick is all IP,” said Parks. “The only time it goes to HD-SDI is at the TV station, because the encoders take HD/SDI in.”

Parks said he expects cloud-based systems to further proliferate across Sinclair. “We are looking at cloud operations. We believe all news operations will eventually be managed in the cloud or facilitated by cloud operations.”

Canadian public television and radio broadcaster CBC/Radio Canada is the in the midst of its own large-scale technical transformation, rolling out an enterprise-wide MAM system that encompasses content from English- and French-language television and radio networks and all of their digital platforms. The goal is to preserve the company’s vast archive of material while giving reporters and producers easier access.

The scale of the project is daunting, said Bruce MacCormack, CBC/Radio Canada executive architect of media asset management. After 80 years in business, the company has about 25 million items in its database and creates another 6,000 each day.

“And if you screw it up, we would lose the history of Canada, and that would be bad,” he quipped.

MacCormack views the emergence of IP technology as a “point of discontinuity” that highlighted the need for a common infrastructure to support CBC/Radio-Canada’s myriad operations. The MAM project has involved creating redundant operations in Toronto and Montreal, aligning the records in 12 discreet databases and most important, realigning work processes across the company.

“It’s really a change management project,” he said.

Instead of separate IT and engineering groups within the CBC/Radio-Canada — which tended to get along “like oil and water” and view new digital platforms as their own turf — MacCormack says technical staff is now being grouped into “platforms” and “applications” groups.

The long-term payoff of the MAM project is hopefully better news content.

“The reason we keep all the old media around, is if our reporters are working on a story, and they have access to relevant media that can put it in context, they’re going to be able to tell a deeper, richer story,” MacCormack said.

Jonathan Solomon, technical evangelist for IBM unit Aspera, which specializes in high-speed file transport over IP, said that a philosophical clash between IT and traditional broadcast engineering was inevitable in any MAM project.

“With MAM buildouts, you’re inherently deploying IP-centric services, which run on things like Windows servers,” said Solomon. “But the customers are broadcast people, and the data going in is broadcast video.”

Consolidation of content and sharing across groups has always been important, said Solomon. But it is becoming harder and harder to move content in an efficient manner as files keep better bigger. Using FTP to send content from one station to another might work great but is cumbersome when trying to get a story to 60 stations. That’s where the cloud comes in.

“What we’re starting to see is the idea that everything is just data, whether it’s a story or metadata,” said Solomon. “Once you look at that way, the ways to move it open up. Instead of one news station sending it out 60 times, you can put it up to the cloud, and people can subscribe to it. They can cherry-pick what they want, do it through a MAM or newsroom [computer] system, and it becomes more efficient for everyone. You only do one upload, and everyone knows where to get it.”

Solomon adds that conversion between different formats, long a pain point in sharing content among different stations or distribution platforms, is all possible in an automated fashion through cloud services. “You’re not looking at it as video anymore, it’s data processing,” he said.

Looking ahead, Solomon sees cellphones playing an even bigger role in newsgathering with new 5G transmission technology emerging from the wireless companies. He thinks that 5G transmitters will eventually be connected to ENG cameras.

MacCormack expects artificial intelligence (AI) to play a bigger role in the broadcast industry, and is currently looking at using AI in the short term to help catalog content.

Parks declared that bonded cellular transmission technology, now pervasive with stations as a way to get contribute news content, is “probably as significant as when [CBS tech chief] Joe Flaherty introduced ENG to news, because what it does is untether the journalist from the newsroom.”

Now he is interested in new transmission technologies like mesh networks, which Sinclair has been testing, and the possibilities of 5G.

“Bonded cellular was a milestone in our industry,” said Parks. “What’s next now?”

For complete NewsTECHForum coverage, click here.


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