Vendors of production control automation for news are offering broadcasters ways to tackle new challenges, such as automatically repurposing individual news stories within a newscast for distribution to smartphones and tablets, and controlling complex studio setups with dozens of on-set monitors, entire video walls and sophisticated camera robotics. This is the latest installment of a special series on emerging tech trends, NAB Hot Topics, that will appear each week leading up to the NAB Show that runs April 11-16 in Las Vegas. Next up on April 9 is Master Control Automation, as well as a Tech Roundtable. Read the earlier installments here.
Control room automation has entered a new phase of existence where its raison d’être has evolved beyond reducing head count and squeezing out every last bit of inefficiency from the production of live newscasts.
Today, vendors of production control automation for news are offering broadcasters ways to tackle new challenges, such as automatically repurposing individual news stories within a newscast for distribution to smartphones and tablets, and controlling complex studio setups with dozens of on-set monitors, entire video walls and sophisticated camera robotics.
They’re also making it more affordable to spin up entire new news channels by providing complete scoop-to-nuts automated news production bundles that not only take rundowns from newsroom computer systems and execute MOS commands, but also provide all of the functions associated with a traditional news control room, like switching, graphics, titling and playout, in an integrated solution.
There will be ample evidence of these and other developments in the booths of control room automation vendors at 2015 NAB Show, April 11-16, in Las Vegas.
Aveco will come to the NAB Show with two different news automation systems, Redwood Studio and ASTRA Studio 3.
Astra Studio 3, Aveco’s third-generation news production automation system, provides broadcasters that have multiple studios a way to minimize the time and eliminate the pain of shifting productions from one studio to the next.
“Astra Studio 3 makes it easy to reassign a rundown from one studio to a second or a third studio and instantly have all of the control mechanisms, including those for the production switcher, graphics, virtual sets, camera robotics, production server clips, move to that studio,” says Aveco SVP Jim O’Brien.
Astra Studio 3 also makes it possible to integrate news production control more tightly with master control automation to improve the overall appearance of a newscast. By exchanging cues between the two automatically, the transition from the last frame of a commercial spot to the first frame of a rejoined newscast is free of unwanted “blips of black,” O’Brien says.
The company will unveil new features for Astra Studio 3 at NAB that make it easier for broadcasters to handle fast-breaking news in an automated environment, he adds.
Aveco’s Redwood Studio is aimed at making it easier to launch a new news channel from scratch. The automated news production control system, which the company has dubbed “a news studio in a box,” provides high-end production automation, a production switcher, video server, graphics system, audio system and camera robotics control.
“That brings a new level of efficiency to the implementation of breaking news during times when the main studio is not manned,” he says.
It too will be featured at NAB, he adds.
TV news isn’t simply for television anymore. The general public — aka TV viewers — want to be able to consume what they want, when they want, on the device they want.
The problem for TV newsrooms has been the technology and workflow that have been finely tuned over the past several years to produce news for television have proven to be less than elegant at repurposing television news stories for digital devices like smartphones, tablets and new digital distribution platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
At the NAB Show, Grass Valley will highlight new features for its GV Ignite production automation system aimed squarely at streamlining how linear newscasts can be diced and spliced to serve up individual stories or entire, custom-assembled newscasts for these platforms, says Ed Casaccia, senior segment manager for news at Grass Valley.
“This is an amazing time saver,” Casaccia says. “Basically, as Ignite is executing the show, it uses cues that it received from the newsroom computer system. Ignite interprets those as markers for where a segment starts.”
The barebones configuration needed to take advantage of using those markers as cues to “chunk,” or slice a linear newscast into discrete stories, is a Grass Valley K2 Solo server, the GV Stratus Core Services Express, a Grass Valley production switcher and GV Ignite outfitted with the new features, he says.
The same setup also enables reassembling the order of chunked stories into an online newscast. It also can be instructed to disallow certain stories from being streamed to digital platforms in situations where broadcasters don’t have the Internet rights for content, he says.
To those stopping by the Ross Video booth at NAB, the company’s OverDrive automated production control system might not appear all that different than last year’s version, says Scott Bowditch, Ross Video marketing product manager for OverDrive.
But just beneath the surface of OverDrive it should become quickly apparent what Ross has been up to since the 2014 NAB Show, he says.
“How the product works is not a lot different, but our list of integrated devices has gone way up in the last 12 months,” says Bowditch. Today, more than 200 individual devices — 95% of which are made by vendors other than Ross — can be controlled via OverDrive, he says.
At NAB, Ross Video will also demonstrate how combining OverDrive with the company’s DashBoard facility control system is helping to simplify and streamline the workflows built around automation.
“That may sound funny to say about an automation platform that’s always been about workflow,” Bowditch says. But the integration with DashBoard makes things “even simpler than in the past,” he adds.
For example, to execute a cut-away from a scripted linear segment of a newscast to an unscripted segment has always been possible with OverDrive, but it involved “a lot of use of mouse and keyboard and/or touchscreen or hot-punching something on the switcher,” Bowditch explains.
“What we have done instead is create an interface with our DashBoard control system that allows us to take more granular control of that unscripted segment of the linear scripted program,” he says.
Over the last year or so, Sony has seen an uptick in interest in control room automation for news production from smaller market stations that resisted its initial rollout a few years ago, says Glenn Hill, senior engineering product manager for live production systems for Sony.
“For many years, a whole control room automation system was just not a good mix for the very small market stations,” he says. “There just wasn’t good ROI on it because their staffing costs were pretty low.”
But as the demands on TV news operations have evolved to encompass producing news for a variety of platforms, control room automation has begun to make sense in these markets as stations scramble to produce online content without increasing staff.
“More small market stations are seeing there is a benefit to automation. We have been putting automation into some very small markets like Palm Desert [Calif.] and Laredo [Texas] and places like that that traditionally would never have considered it,” Hill says.
At NAB, Sony will highlight how its ELC automation system makes it possible for just one or two operators to control all of the technology needed to produce a newscast.
Sony has adjusted its pricing of ELC to make it more appealing to smaller market stations, he says.
That, along with the popularity of its MVS-6530 production switcher, which also has seen a price reduction, has allowed Sony to price control room switching and automation at a level that “makes economic sense” to mid-size and smaller market stations, Hill says.
It’s been about one year since Vizrt completed its acquisition of Mosart Medialab, and in that time the company has come to market with its first new broadcast control solution
Introduced in September at IBC 2014 in Amsterdam, Viz Opus combines a full-blown Mosart automation system running on the same computer as the Viz Engine. “We are using the same Viz Engine, not just for graphics but also as a switcher,” explains David Workman, VP of news automation systems at Vizrt.
Viz Opus will make its U.S. trade show debut at NAB. The most important difference between what the company rolled out at IBC and what it will demo in Las Vegas is that the version it will show is actually shipping and complete.
“Viz Opus gives you mix-effects capabilities, DVE capabilities, chromakeying, source switching and two channels of clip player off hard drives,” Workman says. “So basically, in a single box you get the automation, the DVE, the switcher, the character generator, the servers and we bundle in a small Yamaha audio mixer.”
Viz Opus is finding a home among early adopters in the television industry in secondary control rooms, Workman says. “If stations want to repurpose existing content, replay a lot of that content off servers but add new graphics on top, clean up the timing, drop stories or add stories for a secondary channel, Viz Opus provides an attractive solution.”
As people become more comfortable with the idea of having the power of a full control room in a compact size, Viz Opus will begin to gravitate to main control rooms, he adds.
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Both Grass Valley and Ross Video estimate that more than half of TV news operations in North America now use control room automation systems.
In fact, the market for these types of systems has matured to the point where stations that got in on the first round of control room automation are beginning to replace their systems with next-generation offerings, says Grass Valley’s Casaccia.
Stations in smaller markets, which missed that initial wave, are beginning to find benefits from control room automation other than those of a strict return on investment calculation that may be hard to make. The systems are making it possible to reassign control room personnel to more important jobs, like producing news content for digital distribution.
Control room automation also is helping small market stations protect against high turnover of employees moving on to better paying jobs in bigger markets, says Vizrt’s Workman.
By simplifying how the technology needed to put a newscast on air is controlled, smaller stations can sidestep the problem of training employees on how to use a production switchers, graphics systems, CG and other equipment only to have them move on to greener pastures.
Perhaps the biggest indication that control room automation has arrived as a broadcast mainstay is the transformation in how broadcasters have come to think of it, says Ross Video’s Bowditch.
Initially, control room automation was seen by broadcast management as a way to do more news production with fewer people. A few compromises in how productions were put together may have been acceptable in exchange for achieving an ROI goal, but that has all changed.
“Everybody is lean now,” Bowditch says. “Where we are today is that nobody is willing to compromise any complexity in their productions.
“We are now seeing a drastically increased level of complexity in the productions coming out of automated control rooms.”
This is the latest installment of a special series on emerging tech trends, NAB Hot Topics, that will appear each week leading up to the NAB Show that runs April 11-16 in Las Vegas. Next up on April 9 is Master Control Automation, as well as a Tech Roundtable. Read the earlier installments here.