Feeding The Voracious Multiplatform Beast

As television news broadcasters move to expand their reach into web, mobile and OTT platforms, they are adopting a number of tools and strategies including more automation, better collaboration tools and, in some cases, internal software development. L-r: Gray’s Mike Fass, Avid’s Ray Thompson, Fox’s Emily Stone and ABC’s Fabian Westerwelle. (Photo: Wendy Moger-Bross)

NEW YORK — Increased use of automation, better collaboration tools and, in some cases, internal software development are key for broadcasters as they seek to feed web, mobile and OTT platforms while maintaining high quality traditional newscasts, according to technology executives speaking at TVNewsCheck’s annual NewsTECHForum here.

In the panel session “Multiplatform Production Without the Pain,” moderated by this reporter, representatives from the Gray Television, Fox Owned Stations, the ABC network and editing and newsroom system vendor Avid described how technology is evolving to allow easier sharing of content between digital and broadcast production teams and less duplication of work.

They said leveraging existing content ingest, storage and management systems from the broadcast side is crucial as stations and networks seek to create more unique content for social and digital platforms.

Production automation systems like Ross OverDrive have helped Gray tackle the multiplatform challenge at its stations, said Mike Fass, VP of broadcast operations for Gray, allowing it automate camera robotics, templated graphics and audio mixing into a single control room that runs traditional newscasts and is also flexible enough to feed digital platforms.

That has allowed a single person to sit in the “cockpit of the control room” and be in full control, Fass said.

“We’ve also been rolling out what we call OTT desks in our newsrooms,” he said, describing it as a simple desk with the ability for a video journalist to go live from the newsroom.


“They’ve got a couple cameras in play, the ability to switch video sources, roll video, layer simple graphics, some intercom capability and the ability to bring in live sources as well,” Fass added.

The intent, he said, is for a single video journalist to be able to operate the equipment themselves and to go live separate from the traditional broadcast control room and go live on digital platforms.

A good example of the OTT desk in action is KLTV, Gray’s ABC affiliate in Tyler, Texas, which has launched a digital product called East Texas Now, streaming live in between newscasts directly from an OTT desk in its newsroom.

Automation’s Key Role

“The automation component is really critical,” said Ray Thompson, director of broadcast and media solutions marketing at Avid. “That can mean a lot of things, particular when it comes to social and digital. We’re at the very beginning of that and how we’re going to leverage things like AI to further automate that.”

At IBC 2019, Avid introduced a new application for its MediaCentral content management system, MediaCentral | Publish, which automates much of the process of creating content for multiple digital platforms including transcoding and versioning.

Thompson said the new application enables clients to not only publish to different platforms at different bitrates and protocols — either for live or on-demand content — but also allows customers to modify that content in multiple different ways.”

That could include adding closed-captioning, changing aspect ratios or adding titles, whether they be static titles or titles that can move across a screen, as well as calls to action for monetizing that content, he added.

A New CMS For Fox

For Fox Television Stations, improving the group’s multiplatform workflow meant scrapping its existing third-party content management system (CMS) for web, mobile web and apps and building its own, a six-month project that just wrapped up in October.

“It’s a complete 180,” said Emily Stone, VP of digital content operations for Fox Television Stations, of the new WordPress-based internal platform. [Editors note: Fox appears to be in good company in going in-house, as the NBCUniversal station group announced a similar move this week.]

Developing its own CMS meant a completely new user experience (UX) on the consumer front end, said Stone, as well as — for the first time — a complete UX redesign on the back end for Fox’s digital production teams.

Stone said Fox’s stations have two sets of users on both the front and back ends. “The front-end users aren’t going to have a good experience if our production teams and our content teams don’t have an easy time creating content that’s great,” she said. “So a few goals for the CMS were that it be flexible, that it be stable and really easy to use.”

She said WordPress has the advantage of being both simple and a timesaver. “It just makes it easier for content to be created. At the end of the day, our content teams should be spending their time storytelling, instead of trying to get a CMS to work for them to put a basic story out.”

Sharing Workflows At ABC

When ABC launched a full-time OTT channel, ABC 24/7, last year, the network’s major goal was not to treat the new digital channel as a completely separate entity, said Fabian Westerwelle, executive director of media and technology for ABC News. Instead, it looked to exploit resources from the broadcast side, as well as existing social media efforts, and share workflows wherever possible.

“We already have an exceptional editing environment, we have a great newsgathering environment, we already had a lot of live streaming capabilities,” Westerwelle said. “So the first thing we did is look at all of that, and say how can we leverage all of this expertise we already have and build this streaming service in a way where basically we are just delivering TV in a different way.”

In managing the live workflow, tape workflow and metadata for the new channel, a key component was already having a strong media asset management/production automation management (MAM/PAM) system from the broadcast side in place, Westerwelle said. ABC is a longtime Avid MediaCentral customer.

ABC also took advantage of a new media center it was building to manage its overall content feeds by bringing together ingest, live streaming, transmission planning and coordination in one place.

The master control for ABC 24/7 is housed in that new media center, which was built under Westerwelle’s direction.

“And that happens in the same room as the actual contribution and transmission coordination,” Westerwelle said. “So all of those folks are working in real time with modern technology in order to be able to bring live news to air basically within seconds of the story breaking.”

At the same time, he said ABC built it on top of the infrastructure it already has for its social networks; the same team can stream so streaming live events to Facebook, Twitter or other platforms out. “So really it was just taking those events we already had and funneling them into this channel,” Westerwelle said.

Stone says that effective collaboration tools for multiplatform production are still missing from both CMS’s as well as traditional newsroom computer systems like Avid iNews, so the Fox group has come up with some effective workarounds. Its digital teams use a Salesforce product called Quip, which she described as a spreadsheet program like Google Docs, to track what they’re working on. They are also big users of the Slack messaging app.

UGC Needs

Broadcasters are using more user-generated content than ever before in both traditional newscasts and on digital platforms. While repurposing that video is relatively easy with the latest transcoding and version tools, both Stone and Westerwelle said that managing the rights for UGC video is a complicated process that is still heavily manual.

“It’s a part of more stories than it ever was before, so finding a workable solution to managing the rights situation is something that we struggle with, because it’s very time-consuming,” Stone said. “It’s something that definitely needs to be solved.” She noted many others in the industry have told her they face the same problem.

“We’re all scouring the internet all the time … looking for great content, and it’s just a matter of asking permission from users who put it out there,” Stone said.

But she noted that Fox is just one station group with stations in 16 markets around the country doing the same thing. “Often if it’s a national story or a local story of national interest, we’re all asking for the same content,” she said. Meanwhile, all the other station groups are going after the same content when it comes to UGC.

“There’s a lot of duplication of effort, and that can be improved,” Stone said.

ABC News has developed its own internal system to help track UGC rights, Westerwelle said, so the network doesn’t have multiple people reaching out to the same people on social media asking for permission to use their content.

For its part, Avid has integrated its MediaCentral system with third-party vendors like Burst and to help find, track and manage UGC content, Thompson said. It has also created open APIs that allow media companies to write their own software for customized applications — an increasing trend among broadcasters — and integrate those workflows into the Avid environment.

Overall, Fass believes there still needs to be better integration between the digital side and the broadcast side, particularly traditional newsroom computer systems and digital CMS’s. He said it would be great if one day production teams were no longer working on separate platforms.

“Something that I see when I go through our newsrooms are all the various windows that the producers have open on their computers,” Fass said. “If we could get to the point where everybody’s looking at one system, whether that’s the newsroom system or something similar to manage all of these assets, and then to share these assets … that would be good.”

Watch the full video of the session here.

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