Ross Video, Grass Valley and Sony will be showing the latest options in news production automation technology at next month’s NAB Show. With a majority of stations in the major markets already on board, vendors are turning their attention to smaller markets by offering new features including customization.
Over the past several years, news production automation has gone from fringe to mainstream broadcast technology, with hundreds of TV stations up and running with systems from Ross Video, Grass Valley and Sony.
“In the U.S. and North America, automated news production has become the majority,” says Jeff Moore, EVP of sales and marketing, Ross Video. “We are getting to the point now where we are way beyond skepticism. We tend to get customers coming to us and saying: ‘I want to automate.’ ”
And the technology is moving so fast that in two more years, news production automation will evolve to a whole new methodology oriented around a desktop as opposed to a control room, predicts Scott Matics, product manager for Grass Valley’s Ignite.
But what of the present? That will be on display at the NAB Show next month.
Ross, which claims to have the largest share of the North American market with more than 200 systems in place, will unveil a new version of its OverDrive software featuring enhanced redundancy.
“You can have two systems running in lock step and can swap between one and the other for really important productions,” Moore says. In this way, he claims, the station can operate with confidence that there will be no disruption.
Ross is also trying to leverage its December acquisition of FX-Motion, a robotic camera systems company. By incorporating the robotics, Moore says, “you can have the camera travel and create some really interesting signature moves to use on production.”
According to Moore, OverDrive is installed at stations owned by NBCUniversal (NBC and Telemundo outlets), Gray Television, Young Broadcasting and Sinclair. Even ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer began using the system last year.
Grass Valley says that its Ignite is installed at around 140 stations. Among its customers: ABC, Scripps and Media General.
For NAB, Grass Valley will unveil Ignite 6.2, says Matics. This latest iteration features ActiveX controls, a management server and a new MOS gateway for linking with editorial systems like Avid’s iNews and AP’s ENPS.
“The new MOS gateway is faster and more efficient in filtering out things,” Matics says. “Traditionally, while on air, if there were a change in the rundown, the Ignite operator’s button would light up to notify them.
“Users have asked us for quite a while to filter out certain things so … the Ignite operator doesn’t have to worry about it … or accept it.”
Other enhancements make Ignite easier to use and understand for new and non-technical staff, Matics says.
“What you normally find when you install Ignite are two or three operators we call ‘super users,’ ” he says. “They will be the most experienced, best directors in the operation, and usually there are three or four other directors who are not as experienced. So what the show looks like compared to the weekend latenight shift is a difference in quality.”
With Ignite, he says, “the most experienced operators can set up the template and pacing they want and it’s easy for less experienced operators to adopt the look and feel of a show. What we hear from a lot of our customers is that all our shows look really good, no matter who is operating the equipment.”
Sony, maker of the Enhanced Live-production Control System, has also responded to customer requests with tighter integration through playout servers and improvements to the coding process — all intended to give “the production guys more flexibility,” says Hill.
“A lot of features our customers have asked for are time-saving features,” Hill says of the new enhancements to ELC being promoted at NAB. In the case of coding, for instance, it will be “easier to cut down on repetitive functions and to cut down the amount of time to code up a show,” he says.
While Hill says pricing in the maturing market has dropped as much as 40%, Moore says the marketing strategy for news production automation has evolved beyond just the appeal of reducing head count. “People want to get more news on the air and allow operators to be more efficient in their daily jobs, to be able to deal with Facebook and Twitter feeds,” Hill says. “In my mind it’s about using these tools to be more productive, to show the long-term investment.”
To further appeal to tier-two and tier-three prospects, Sony is selling its ability to customize its systems for smaller operations.
Sony is also offering a feature that facilities connections to external devices. A station in Minneapolis just set up an interface with a computer that tracks school closings, Hill says.
Sony claims to have cut the amount of time it takes to get automation on air. “We’re quoting two weeks,” says Hill. “It’s still the fastest of anyone out there.”
Sony has been working with Fox and CBS O&Os for a couple of years and it began a ELC rollout across the Univision stations starting in Chicago last fall. ELC is also used by Post-Newsweek Stations and Fisher Broadcasting.
In addition to targeting commercial stations in smaller markets, the three vendors are looking for new customers elsewhere. “Two years ago, we were getting nothing from Europe,” Hill says. “They looked at it and said we don’t care. Now they’re calling us.”
Closer to home, the vendors are going beyond stations providing live newscasts. For instance, noncommercial WGBH Boston added Ignite last October, Matics says.
The vendors also promise to continue to develop their systems.
“We’ve started looking at things like quick-turn automation where you’re not just handling a linear channel, but the system starts handling your website content for mobile,” Moore says. “It’s the next big thing.”