With New Tech, Stations Are Finding Creative, Different Paths To Generate More Content
When the Netflix series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story became a cultural sensation this past fall, Vanessa Strouse-Kenney, VP and head of digital at Scripps News and Court TV, recognized the unique position her company was in to capitalize on its emergence. New to Scripps, she learned from a colleague that a grim treasure trove of taped interviews with the show’s titular serial killer, which had aired on a Scripps affiliate in the 1990s, was lying around in storage. Strouse-Kenney and her team lifted the content off the old tapes, tagged the digital transfers with metadata and uploaded it all into a repository, now accessible to anyone at the company. This process would not only pave a path for new content that Court TV broadcast during the recent period of renewed interest in the case, but for possible future projects across Scripps stations as well.
“We’ve really done a lot of educating on how important it is to be able to tag things appropriately because then it’s much easier to discover it,” Strouse-Kenney told the audience at TVNewsCheck’s NewsTECHForum on Tuesday in New York City. “It’s an uphill battle, but the idea of getting all this content into a singular repository that we can all access, as things come up, we can look back.”
The anecdote was shared during a panel discussion, Creating More Content for a Multimedia Audience, moderated by TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp. It highlighted the importance of improved visibility and transparency within networks as publishers scramble to fill time with quality content across a growing number of channels, without overly taxing resources and budgets.
Strouse-Kenney said Court TV has taken the same approach to the development of other content steeped heavily in archival materials. When Showtime premiered a docuseries devoted to Phil Spector, the late music producer who was convicted of murder in 2009, Court TV refurbished archived trial footage into a new package.
The archived content doesn’t even have to be so old that it drums up feelings of nostalgia for it to hit audiences hard. Strouse-Kenney said she recently stumbled across tagged coverage of the war in Ukraine from earlier this year that hadn’t made it into an initial linear broadcast.
“We put it up on YouTube; we had over five million views,” Strouse-Kenney said. “Those are the types of nuggets that, if we can make things easier to discover, there is really long tail value on a lot of the content you already have.”
Though a worthwhile endeavor, Strouse-Kenney observed that the process of digitizing old tapes and tagging them with useful metadata sometimes feels like an “overwhelming” proposition. But new technology can help. AI-driven machines can generate transcriptions, embed metadata into digitally converted tapes and even offer recommendations of content that might pair well with previous searches. There’s also cloud technology that makes access to content across a company far more widespread, spurring greater collaboration possibilities.
“[There’s] a great opportunity for technology to show what it is it can do to help people work on the same thing,” said Stephane Guez, co-founder and CTO of Dalet. “Before, other [collaborators] were in the same room; now they are not necessarily in the same room, they are across nations. [There’s] this notion of being able to work around a platform that provides a space where you can see what everyone is doing.”
This new reality, Guez pointed out, helps keep those with creative minds focused on creative productivity instead of taking on rudimentary tasks that ultimately feel as though they function as a mere time-suck.
“You really want everyone to produce things together and contribute to the production of content that, in the end, is going to be more effective,” Guez said.
Sinclair Broadcast Group has partnered with Sony to develop another tech tool to help speed up productivity and boost transparency and visibility. Ernie Ensign, senior director of news technology at Sinclair, said five of his company’s stations are working with a camera innovation on a pilot basis, allowing a photographer in the field to upload footage to a cloud-based grid, which the digital team can access immediately.
“If it’s a big breaking story the digital team can grab video and produce for the website or mobile app while the story is being shot,” Depp said. Ensign explained the footage is also tagged with metadata by the photographer as it’s uploaded to the cloud, joining other metadata-rich content in the company’s repository.
“You don’t know what you have until somebody can look at it,” Ensign said. “Crews out in the field don’t always communicate [what they’ve captured] effectively enough and we find in certain instances there’s content there that [is] visible to producers back at the station and they may [recognize] that it’s great to blast out everywhere.”
Discoverability of footage also allows breaking news producers to realize the possibilities of multiple stories built out of coverage secured in one sitting, perhaps with the addition of broader context, Ensign said.
Publishing companies would do well to leverage their entire network as well — a much easier proposition with all the innovative tools on the market that allow for greater collaboration between newsrooms. A number of organizations are generating content out of centralized teams, with affiliates producing related stories in concert, specially iterated for a local audience. Gray Television’s InvestigateTV is one outlet that has effectively adopted this approach.
“Whenever they have a national investigation that’s getting ready to roll out, they’ll send all the markets individual data for that particular market if the market wants to localize or even customize that investigation for their viewers,” said Lisa Allen, Gray’s VP and GM of Washington operations.
She disclosed that regional markets are coming together to build capitol bureau reporter positions who provide far-reaching political reporting emanating out of state government hubs and cited the recent documentary Bridging the Great Health Divide as another example of Gray’s group-wide collaborative efforts that paid off. InvestigateTV, Gray’s D.C. bureau and stations in other markets worked together to produce the hour-long film about various health concerns in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia.
Fox Television Stations’ 24/7 streamer LiveNow also leverages the production power of the company’s 17 O&O stations to aggregate — or, as Depp put it, “DJ” — news from across the country. Emily Stone, VP of digital content operations, said a key to the entire operation is LiveNow’s producers being able to inform its partners about its mission and what content they’re looking for.
“It is a lot of communication and process,” Stone said. “We have to know what’s out there in order to know what our best options are and be able to prioritize 25 stories from multiple places.”
All these technological advancements and aspirations for greater collaboration and more robust productivity are only as impactful as the rate unto which they are utilized, however. Getting employees to alter habits and workflows may be tricky and challenging, but it’s necessary for integration of these solutions.
“You really have to show them the value of what they’re doing, you have to make it easy and show them that ‘If you do X, here’s the result,’” Ensign said. “You just have to keep working toward change.”
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