Broadcasters Inch Closer To Storycentric News Production
While the explosion in streaming live sports and scripted entertainment programming has captured networks’ attention over the past three years, broadcast news operations have been juggling digital content platforms alongside their legacy linear businesses for well over a decade.
As they have gained experience in multiplatform production—publishing stories to their websites, mobile apps and social media channels while continuing to pump out traditional 30- and 60-minute newscasts — stations and networks have reorganized their news workflows to foster better collaboration between their linear and digital teams. At the same time, technology vendors have updated their products to better accommodate the multiple endpoints that today’s news needs to hit.
Broadcasters and vendors have talked for years of adopting a “storycentric” approach to news production that is based on serving multiple platforms instead of one tied to the traditional newscast and its regimented rundown. The challenge has long been that linear and digital news stories are generally produced by different teams using different systems, with the broadcast team relying on rundown-based newsroom computer systems (NRCS) and the digital team working with storycentric content management systems (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla.
And often these teams are located in different parts of the building — although some newer broadcast facilities, like NBC Universal’s Boston Media Center that opened in January 2020, feature a common newsroom with a central assignment desk which all teams report into.
Broadcasters have discussed combining the functionality of a NRCS and CMS in one system, but vendors say that isn’t tenable as broadcast and digital teams truly need the functionality of their specialized tools. But there has been significant progress in allowing the NRCS and CMS — and the disparate teams that use them — to communicate better with each other as well as third-party software. The overall goal is to be able to do more from one interface and cut down on the need for journalists to be working across multiple screens with different logins.
Centralized Planning Tools
The biggest development towards effective storycentric workflows, according to vendors, has been the creation of centralized planning tools that allow broadcast and digital teams within a station or network (or different production teams across multiple sites) to get a clear picture of what everyone is working on.
AP, whose ENPS newsroom system is used by big groups including Nexstar and Tegna, introduced its Playbook planning system back in 2018. The cloud-based system is designed to handle multiplatform, enterprise-level editorial planning and is accessible from any web browser as well as a Playbook mobile app. It works with ENPS as well as third-party NRCS’s and allows broadcast and digital journalists to plan stories, monitor assignments and even track coverage expenses.
“That was the most logical step to bringing parts of the newsroom together into a single system around planning,” says Brian Doyle, AP’s director of product management. “Regardless of the various outlets that you may be looking to push for a story, whether that be for your social or digital teams or for broadcast, they can at least unify in a single system around planning. Because the systems being used to publish to those different sites are so different between those teams.”
A new capability AP has added to ENPS is a module aimed at digital distribution called Cast. AP Cast will take stories created and planned in Playbook, Doyle says, and move them to a seamless user interface that is capable of ordering and then publishing them to third-party systems via an API. The most common applications for Cast are for building newsletters or communicating story placeholders to a CMS for posting online.
Avid has been a longtime competitor to AP’s ENPS with its legacy iNews product. iNews has now been replaced by MediaCentral | Newsroom Management, a module within Avid’s broader MediaCentral content production platform. Avid has “absolutely seen that shift” to a storycentric, “digital-first” approach among its customers, says Dave Colantuoni, VP of product management for Avid, and has responded with a new planning tool called MediaCentral | Collaborate.
With MediaCentral | Collaborate, he says, the story is the “seed” for both digital and linear workflows, where customers today often deliver breaking news in near-real-time to digital and then prepare a different version for the 5 p.m. newscast.
“It’s one interface that allows multiple teams to not have multiple logins [to different systems]; to have assignment, planning, calendarization, the ability to write scripts and collaborate on them with multiple team members; to use things like notifications when things are changed; and to assemble a story within a user interface,” Colantuoni says.
Substituting For Face-To-Face
Jenn Jarvis, product manager, editorial workflow for Ross Video, knew that planning was a “huge blind spot” in newsrooms from her experience working as a reporter and newsroom manager. She pushed for a planning tool to be added to Ross’ Inception NRCS a decade ago. Since then, that planning capability has evolved into a new tool called Assignment Manager. Ross has made planning a focus of its software development over the past 18 months, adding better filtering and content search tools so journalists can more easily prioritize their work.
“If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that you can’t always rely on that face-to-face communication, and that’s where the importance of having a centralized tool comes in,” Jarvis says. “Because if your digital team is using completely separate planning tools from your broadcast team, then if they’re not physically sitting together and getting to talk to each other face to face, they’re not going to accidently run into each other to share information in their day-to-day work tools either.”
Jarvis has seen newsrooms in the past where the digital teams and broadcast teams were using separate planning tools and sitting in separate spaces and wound up each sending their own camera crews to the same event. While sending different reporters might make sense, she says, capturing the same raw material twice simply doesn’t.
“Even if the digital team has distinct tools for some of their more complex functions for publishing or analytics, having a shared planning tool is absolutely crucial to reducing duplication of effort, to having visibility of all the resources you have at your disposal, and telling a complete story across all of their platforms,” Jarvis says.
Tapping The Cloud For New Functionality
A longtime proponent of the storycentric approach is Dalet, whose Galaxy NRSC system is used by the NBC Universal-owned stations, the ABC O&Os and Fox News. Dalet is now evolving its newsroom offerings with Pyramid, a new range of cloud-and web-based production applications, or “modules,” that are designed to interface with legacy Galaxy systems to provide additional functionality and “ease the transition of the newsroom to the cloud,” says Mathieu Zarouk, Dalet director of product marketing.
The first Pyramid module or “extension” is Centralized Planning, a modern container-based planning tool that can be connected to one Galaxy newsroom, or several systems to consolidate multiple stations on enterprise-wide planning. Centralized Planning serves as a container where teams can share multiple aspects of stories, including source materials, finished material, different titles and different scripts.
Other Pyramid extensions include a web-based video editor and an automated distribution tool for sending stories to digital platforms like YouTube. Zarouk notes that content distributed to a digital platform may not only have different graphics but could also be presented in a different aspect ratio, and those differences are originally laid out in Centralized Planning.
“We see that trend where a story is not just a TV script anymore, but it’s one TV story and many versions of a digital story,” he says. “They want to tell stories to multiple audiences on different screens and in different formats, and they need to adapt content depending on its destination. It’s not just distributing to multiple endpoints but also adapting it to make it relevant for the platform and also the audience on that platform.”
Another company using the cloud to evolve its legacy products is graphics, automation and asset management vendor Vizrt, which has created Story, a Web-based system initially aimed at online and social media production. While Vizrt doesn’t make its own NRCS or CMS, Story has some of the functionality of both including script creation and editing. It also tightly integrates with the Viz One media asset management system and Viz Pilot template-based graphics system. Customers include 24-hour news channel Al Hadath in Dubai, which has used it to create both digital and broadcast content, and Newsday Media Group in the U.S.
Story is easy to use, and its editing functions can be mastered by most journalists in under an hour, says Jakob Rosinski, Vizrt VP of product management. But the unique selling proposition for the product is its ability to work with Vizrt’s template-based graphics, allowing a journalist to create a graphic once and then use it over and over again many times. Story also supports the use of metadata-based graphics, or “metagraphics,” that can be automatically generated based on third-party data sources such as providers of sports scores or election results. TV4 in Sweden is producing all of its hockey highlights with Story in this manner.
Instead of using a compositor to “burn in” graphics into the video that is then played out, metagraphics allow the video asset to be stored separately from a graphic that is only rendered upon playout. This makes last-minute changes or corrections very easy to make, Rosinski says.
“Some of our clients are producing very different language versions of the same content,” Rosinski says. “They are just reusing the asset along with the meta-graphics and then they’re creating new language versions. And the whole time it’s on a very, very fast pace.”
The Rundown Remains
While the pace of digital news production has taken off, one thing vendors agreed on is that the traditional rundown isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. A particular reason to keep the rundown is that the MOS (Media Object Server) protocol works so well to provide integration between NRCS’s and broadcast systems like servers and graphics, allowing production automation systems like Ross OverDrive and Grass Valley Ignite to cut down on the number of people required for a linear newscast.
But with the storycentric, digital-first mindset, vendors and broadcasters are looking at it in a new light.
“We have some customers that still depend on that rundown-based way of creating stories or planning out their day,” Colantuoni says. “But really a lot more customers are focusing on the story as the beginning, story as the center. So, the rundown is a little less important to them when planning out their day and assigning tasks.”
“The rundown is really just a distribution endpoint, if you think about it,” Jarvis adds. “It may be the birthplace of the NRCS and the original purpose, but the rundown is just one of many distribution endpoints that we have. A lot of content being created may not ever show up in a rundown.”