The holy grail is a newsroom system that would allow producers to bounce seamlessly from work on the next newscast to work on websites, mobile apps and other digital media. That’s not likely to emerge anytime soon, but leading vendors — AP, Avid, Dalet, Ross, Octopus and Vizrt– are enhancing their products to make life easier for the producers in many other ways.
Today, every broadcast news operation is serving two masters: the traditional TV audience via broadcast and cable and the digital audience on the web, social media, mobile apps and OTT services.
Producing content for these two audiences is generally accomplished by different teams using different systems, with the broadcast team working on rundown-based newsroom computer systems (NRCSs) and the digital team relying on story-centric content management systems (CMSs).
While some hope for one integrated system that could be used for multiple platforms, vendors say it won’t happen anytime soon given technical realities and the way newsroom are organized.
Instead, vendors are working on ways that NRCSs and CMS can communicate better with each other to create a more “unified” workflow.
In addition to making it easier to publish to digital platforms including social media like Facebook and Twitter, NRCS vendors are also making it easier for journalists to use social media as a newsgathering tool, including the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically search for relevant video and audio.
NRCS vendors are also bringing their user interfaces into the field with mobile apps designed to work on smartphones and tablets, and developing new scheduling tools to avoid two crews from the same news organization showing up to cover the same story.
Blake Russell, EVP of station operations and content development for Nexstar Media Group, has been a vocal proponent of improving newsroom computer systems to better support multiplatform production.
He says Nexstar, which uses both Associated Press’ ENPS and Avid’s iNews newsroom computer systems at its many stations, has seen good progress from vendors in the past three years, but that there is still more work to do.
“I would like to have a single screen environment that is connected to both,” says Russell. “I don’t think the CMS needs to be the NRCS, or the NRCS needs to be the CMS. But I would like to have the ability to see all of it on a single screen and drag and drop content where it needs to go, instead of minimizing here, and maximizing there, and the two not talking to each other.”
Broadcasters aren’t in a rush to replace their newsroom computer systems with something brand new, says Russell.
Getting the capital to invest in new technology is already tough, and those systems are working today and journalists are comfortable with them. The MOS (Media Object Server) protocol is also working well to handle integration between NCRSs and other broadcast systems like servers and graphics.
But Russell thinks that new software applications could help bridge the gap between NRCSs and CMSs like WordPress and Joomla. He notes that some editing platforms are developing the ability to distribute content to multiple places. Another possibility might be “middleware” that communicates with and monitors both the NRCS and CMS.
“I already have something that runs my newsroom, now I need to have something that communicates to everything from a single screen,” says Russell.
Besides Nexstar, other big customers for ENPS include Tegna, Gray, Raycom, News-Press & Gazette, CBS and Bloomberg.
Brian Hopman, VP and GM of ENPS for AP, says that when he visits broadcast and digital producers working in the trenches it becomes clear that neither group wants to give up the specialized tools that they use every day.
“We don’t see evidence that digital folks want to give up their CMS and use a rundown, and we don’t see that broadcast folks want to give up the rundown and use something built specifically for digital,” says Hopman.
ENPS had a button to publish stories to Facebook as early as 2010, but Hopman doesn’t believe many customers are using it. “There is really an interest in having various systems do their things natively,” as the needs for the broadcast and digital sides are still quite different.
A long-term possibility, says Hopman, might be a “common authoring system” that speaks to both the NRCS and CMS but doesn’t replace them.
“Theoretically what you need are big pools of content creators, but by and large that is not how most places are organized yet,” says Hopman.
One area that AP does think can be addressed now with a common system is editorial planning. One problem that has cropped up is double-booking, with two news crews (one broadcast and one digital) showing up to cover the same story.
The increased use of stringers and the freedom to stay in the field afforded to journalists by today’s laptop editors and IP-based contribution systems can exacerbate the problem by cutting down on face-to-face communication.
Planning has traditionally been a part of NRCSs, says Hopman, but “as soon as you’re over 30 or 50 people in your organization, there’s a whole set of tasks that people end up doing just to keep other parts of the organization informed,” he says.
“We found high-level editors who spend a lot of time copying and pasting lists of stories and finding a good, robust single place for everyone to find it.”
So, AP has developed a new system, AP Playbook, that is designed to handle multiplatform, enterprise-level editorial planning.
The cloud-based system is accessible from any web browser as well as a Playbook mobile app, and works with ENPS as well as other NRCSs. It allows both broadcast and digital journalists to plan stories, monitor assignments and track coverage expenses.
“It’s much easier to get everyone to agree on a common platform for planning than one common production platform,” says Hopman.
“The new system is really built for multiplatform, enterprise editorial planning, more so than just scheduling. It’s about the assignment desk and all the different teams.”
Avid, whose iNews newsroom computer system is used by major networks like CNN and ABC and large station groups like Nexstar and Sinclair, made a major overhaul of the system last year to make it more story-centric as part of the broader launch of its MediaCentral content management platform.
The new version of iNews, now called MediaCentral Newsroom Management, includes an updated user interface based on HTML 5 that runs easily on both the desktop and mobile devices.
It has an array of new features that run on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, including aggregation of user-generated content and a research app for monitoring and prioritizing social media feeds.
“You can scrape news feeds to access content, and literally copy and paste images or text into a rundown,” says Ray Thompson, Avid director of broadcast and media solutions marketing. “It allows you to easily use social media and citizen-journalist type accounts of what’s happening in a story.”
Other new features with MediaCentral include AI-enabled “microservices” such as auto-indexing of content to create searchable metadata and speech-to-text conversion.
The whole premise of MediaCentral, says Thompson, is to “address the silo’ed nature of media departments” with a common user interface and enterprise-wide search.
The system is “built from the ground up on a microservices architecture” and is designed to run on the cloud and virtualized environments.
MediaCentral includes different modules for not only newsroom management but also editorial management, production management, graphics management and asset management. And the interface on a mobile device is designed to look very similar to the one on a desktop back at the station.
“Since it’s all HTML 5, with any mobile device now I’m connected to the MediaCentral library,” explains Thompson. “Whether it’s new content I’m acquiring, from a broadcast camera connected to an iPad, or the iPad camera itself, you can incorporate that into the story and all of that ends up on the rundown in the iNews app.”
Features like auto-indexing, speech-to-text and transcoding are part of Microsoft Cognitive Services and can run on the cloud, on premises or in a customer’s own data center. Thompson says most MediaCentral customers are currently doing on-premise upgrades with a “multi-phase approach.”
MediaCentral includes basic editing capability, with a persistent timeline. It will also eventually link to Avid’s Maestro graphics system for adding real-time graphics to broadcast segments and second-screen applications, including autosizing of graphics for mobile content.
MediaCentral isn’t currently intended to replace a broadcaster’s existing CMS, but is designed to easily integrate with a CMS and allow journalists to publish to it. For example, stations could create an app to allow them to publish directly to social media channels from MediaCentral.
The idea of broadcasters creating their own software to help bridge the broadcast and digital worlds isn’t far-fetched.
iNews customer ABC, for example, found several years ago that the biggest problem in incorporating social media content such as Twitter posts into its broadcasts was clearing the material for air. So, the network developed its own application, Social Desk, to help manage and track the clearance process across the entire organization so three different staffers weren’t calling about the same Twitter post.
NRCS vendor Dalet, whose Unified News Operations is based on a story-centric workflow and used by the NBC owned-and-operated stations, NY1 News and Italian broadcaster Mediaset, updated its user interface two years ago to better address social media, both from a newsgathering and distribution perspective.
Kevin Savina, director of product strategy for Dalet, says that Unified News was already well-equipped to use the same interface to produce and distribute to multiple outlets, such as premium newscast, a 24-hour newschannel and a website. But the pace of social media significantly ups the ante.
“One of the big differences covering a story on social media compared to traditional TV or the web is the development of the story through multiple tweets and multiple Facebook posts,” says Savina.
In the old days, if a politician came to a TV station to be interviewed you might show the interview live, or if it was prerecorded, you might use the best segment on a newscast and perhaps a few clips in promos; you might also later run the entire interview on the web, says Savina.
But with social media, first there are teasers on Facebook, then perhaps an initial quick tweet while the interview is taking place, then followups on Facebook and Twitter, and perhaps a digital special.
“So, the notion of a story became way more complex, as a story would have many tweets associated with it that would be changing over time,” says Savina. “That was a big difference. You also have many more channels to push it to.”
So Dalet, which first developed Unified News about eight years ago, changed its user interface to accommodate that new requirement. It also added social media analytics to deliver feedback from the audience back into the NRCS platform.
“This data, the number of tweets and shares, actually comes back into the story tools,” says Savina. “So you can very easily see what’s going on with your story.”
Now the French company is employing AI and machine learning to make it easier for journalists to track and use social media content with a new feature called “Content Discovery,” which it introduced at NAB 2018.
The idea is for the newsroom computer system to sift through various social media feeds using automatic content tagging, topic extraction and key phrase searches and make recommendations to journalists on relevant content, similar to how Netflix recommends entertainment programming to its subscribers.
The extent to which customers take full advantage of Dalet’s story-centric approach depends on the existing culture, says Savina.
He notes that both the NBC-owned stations and Mediaset reorganized their newsrooms to produce news with a multiplatform approach, while other customers are still using “old-style workflows.” But as long as on-air newscasts exist, he doesn’t see the rundown going away.
“If you have a show with some live production aspect, then you need the rundown, as it brings together editorial teams around a timed show,” says Savina. “What we’re seeing more and more, is that you’re not producing for a rundown but you’re producing an editorial story that will be used in multiple rundowns. Then the question becomes, how do you organize your work earlier in the process?”
Another story-centric NRCS is Ross Video’s Inception News, which was actually born out of a product aimed directly at social media production and distribution and launched in 2012, Inception Social.
Coming to the NRCS market late gave Ross the luxury of thinking about how workflows are changing in a new-media world instead of trying to modify a system created for the traditional broadcast world, says Jenn Jarvis, Ross marketing product manager for editorial and asset management.
“We said we’re going to build the web and social media hooks first, and then integrate scripting,” says Jarvis.
Inception News has about 175 installations globally, ranging from 10 users to 250 concurrent licenses. The company sells two different flavors of the NRCS , one an on-premise version where the customer buys the software and owns it for one-time purchase price, the other a cloud-based SaaS model sold on a monthly or yearly subscription basis. Call-letter customers in the U.S. include United Communication’s WWNY Carthage, N.Y. and Gray’s KOSA Odessa, Tex.
Jarvis previously worked as a digital platform manager at NBC affiliate and Quincy Media’s KWWL Waterloo, Iowa, and says one of the biggest challenges to multiplatform production was trying to research and post to social media within the constraints of a rundown-based system, where, for example, one needed to use a separate log-in to post to the web.
“Our whole approach lets you consolidate as much of the workflow as possible into a single interface, and then use user permissions as a barrier,” she says. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re producing for TV, the web, Facebook or Twitter, you’re using the same interface.”
That said, Inception News isn’t designed to fully replace a CMS.
“You still need a separate CMS,” says Jarvis. “Inception is not doing the job of hosting your website, it is passing stuff to the CMS. You still need distinct tools to manage things at a high level.”
Another established broadcast vendor looking to expand its footprint in the newsroom is graphics, automation and asset management vendor Vizrt. The Norwegian company has created Story, a web-based system aimed squarely at online and social media production.
“My favorite problem is the need to publish to all these different platforms,” says Vizrt CTO Petter Ole Jakobsen.
Vizrt Story is designed to allow journalists to produce video stories with full real-time, state-of-the-art 3D graphics and immediately distribute them online and to social media.
A journalist can edit a piece once using Story’s built-in editor, and then the system will automatically adjust the video and graphics to fit different aspect ratios for Facebook and mobile apps.
It can also publish a final clip to Vizrt’s media asset management system. Early Story customers include Al Hadath, a 24-hour newschannel owned by Dubai’s MBC; Globosat in Brazil; and Raycom’s WTXL Tallahassee, Fla. and KLTV Tyler, Tex.
Another company to watch in the newsroom space is Czech firm Octopus, which was founded in 1999 and has an established customer base in Europe and Asia but is a relatively new player in the U.S.
The company’s “Octopus Newsroom” is a story-centric system that is platform- and operating-system independent, capable of running on Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X, and sold on a permanent concurrent-license basis as opposed to the subscription model used by most NRCS vendors.
It can deal with traditional newsroom functions for both television and radio operations and also ingest and publish to social media.
The ability to run on the Macintosh platform is appealing to sports networks and non-traditional broadcasters, says Gene Sudduth, director of North American sales for Octopus, and Octopus has found early U.S. adopters in AT&T Sports Networks, Vice Media, Trinity Broadcasting Network and News Channel Nebraska.
“What the company’s focus has really been is to improve and streamline operations to try to give the journalist the least number of steps they can possibly take, to make them more efficient,” he says. “We want to allow them to address everything from the same desktop, and not have to go between multiple applications.”