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Five Technologies Reshaping TV News

Whether it’s virtual or hybrid sets, Ka-band satellite contribution or tools to make story-centric workflows a reality, the shape of TV news production, presentation and even publishing — not just to air, but to multiple platforms — is changing. Here’s a look at five important technologies that are helping to transform television news. Above, a virtual set in use at Raycom's WBTV Charlotte, N.C.

Like the stories it creates on a daily basis, TV news must remain fresh when it comes to the technologies it uses to produce, present and publish content.

If those technologies become stale, the news will likely suffer as will viewership.

What follows is an examination of five technologies now in use that are helping reshape television news and helping keep it relevant.

While the list could easily include a dozen technologies, these five have been selected because of their unique ability to bring a fresh perspective on the news to viewers or because they are making newsrooms more efficient, and thus enabling them to cover more stories.

News Drones

The prison break of two inmates from a maximum security facility in upstate New York last summer will be the stuff of textbook studies on the use of drones for newsgathering, says Jon Ollwerther, CMO at on-demand drone services provider Aerobo.

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“For the first day-and-a-half — before we knew it was going to be such a big story and before we had drones operating — all we saw were images of men beating the bushes shot from the shoulder or from a tripod,” he says.

“When we got drones up there and had a drone’s eye view, we could see that this wasn’t a needle in a haystack. It was a needle in a field of haystacks.”

Coverage that lasts for days or weeks of big breaking stories like the prisoner escape is an ideal setup for drones because they give companies like Aerobo time to get on site with their aircraft and pilots.

The other perfect setup for drone use is a long-term story that can be planned for in advance, Ollwerther says. “Right now, an enduring story that is happening is the campaign trail. We know when and where news is going to occur. So we can have a drone in place in advance.”

Aerobo, which to date has deployed drones in more than 30 states to gather news shots, primarily services the large news operations of the major networks and counts ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox and CBS among its best clients.

At least for the foreseeable future, Ollwerther says he expects drones will be used nearly exclusively to gather news by large TV networks and major stations.

Hybrid/Virtual Sets And Augmented Reality
Dennis Milligan, news and content director at WBTV, the Raycom Media CBS affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., won’t go so far as to say his station’s February ratings win was solely the result of WBTV’s new hybrid set, but it was an important factor.

“The big question we’ve been asked is: ‘Strategically, what have you done?’ ” to move up in the ratings, Milligan says.

“There have been a lot of things, like beefing up our investigative reporting and our brand identification,” he says. “But the other big part of the puzzle was doing vast improvements on our set — both the FX Design Group hard set they designed and built for us and the virtual technology [from Hybrid TV] that allows us to, in a virtual sense, double our studio space.”

The February ratings book win, which The Charlotte Observer described as a “historic sweep,” saw WBTV displace WSOC from its long-held top spot in the market.

Industry-wide momentum appears to be building for virtual set technology, hybrid sets that combine hard and virtual set elements and augmented reality, if interest at trade shows and conferences is any indication.

Coverage of the political season, culminating with election night coverage in November, will likely advance virtual and augmented reality technology further as stations and networks look for new and interesting way to tell the stories of individual races.

As for WBTV, the station will be upgrading its virtual set with an election package this summer, Milligan says.

One-To-Many IP Distribution
Not only has IP newsgathering transformed the tools news crews in the field use to contribute stories, but it is also opening up new possibilities for how content is shared with others at the station and among multiple stations at the same time.

For example, KING, the Tegna Media NBC affiliate in Seattle, is one of Tegna’s news-producing stations relying on the TVU Grid as a way to stream stories to the group’s stations across the country. Typically, it is used to send live stories, says Greg Theis, KING news operations manager.

However, since fall 2015, KING and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s KOMO and Cox Media Group’s KIRO (also in Seattle) have relied on the TVU Grid to share news footage shot at events typically covered by a pool camera, he says.

“Certain events, like a mayor’s news conference, will be covered using common content,” he says. “Everyone is going to be getting the same shot.”

Typically, crews from the stations in the pool will take turns sending a pool camera, he says. Participation in the pool does not preclude any station from sending its own crew if it’s deemed as necessary.

“There are no circuits between the stations, so the easy solution was to put the Grid between them,” Theis says.

Ka-Band Connectivity
It’s been more than two years since Jim Casabella, director of advanced engineering at the ABC Owned Television Stations, remedied what he described as the “Achilles’ heel in bonded-cellular technology” by overlaying terrestrial wireless bandwidth with Ka-band satellite connectivity.

The idea was to have two sources of IP bandwidth — satellite and terrestrial wireless — that can complement each other by sharing the data load, or in times when one isn’t available, provide connectivity to continue uninterrupted contribution of news.

The result is an IP contribution network that delivers reliability on par with what broadcasters expect from traditional ENG COFDM microwave links, he says.

Growing interest in Ka-band as a supplementary — or even standalone — source of IP bandwidth helped spur satellite service provider Inmarsat to build its own Ka-band constellation of satellites providing global coverage.

In August 2015, the company launched the third in a trio of Ka-band satellites into orbit, and at the 2016 NAB Show Inmarsat conducted a live demo of how its new Global Xpress Ka-band service can provide broadcasters with 4 Mbps of data throughput with live HD shots from a journalist in Brazil.

Global Xpress is as simple to use as a cell phone, says Daniel Cooper, Inmarsat head of media. “You take your mobile phone from one state, one country or one continent to another, and you never really consider how it works. You just expect it to work.”

The same is true of Global Xpress, which Cooper says “is the first worldwide Ka-band network commercially operated by one provider.”

For U.S. broadcasters who don’t travel globally, the new Ka-band service is still beneficial because it offers “multiple [satellite] footprints across a landmass, which really gives you cellular-like coverage.”

Cooper adds that connectivity from small satellite terminals has come a long way since Inmarsat provided it L-band BGAN service to CNN for its award-winning use of IP newsgathering to cover the July 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. The Global Xpress data throughput is about 10 times greater than what was available to CNN at that time, he says.

Social Media, Web, Mobile
TV is no longer the only game in town. Mobile phones, social media and the web have seen to that.

To remain relevant, broadcasters are looking for ways to put the story — not the newscast rundown — at the center of the newsroom workflow. The goal is to enable journalists to create a story and publish it — or different versions of it — to the platform that is most appropriate without continually ducking in and out of separate applications.

Newsroom computer vendors are working to reorient their platforms for this new story-centric emphasis.

There are even tools that can be added to existing newsroom computer setups to put the story front and center.

For example, Wolftech Broadcast Solutions’ Wolftech News offers TV journalists access to what company chief of sales and innovation, Robert Strand, calls “Newsroom 2.0.”

“Wolftech News lies on top of a lot of existing [newsroom computer] systems,” he says.

Wolftech News integration with NRCS brings many new tools to journalists for setting up news feeds, managing resources and monitoring internal news desks. Perhaps the most important feature, however, is making it possible for journalists to publish stories to different platforms, including social media sites, with only a couple of mouse clicks.

TV2 in Norway, where Strand years ago conceived the idea for the product, is using the system to publish stories to Facebook and Twitter, he says.

To stay up to date on all things tech, follow Phil Kurz on TVNewsCheck’s Playout tech blog here. And follow him on Twitter: @TVplayout.


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