Having to use a production switcher from the same manufacturer as that of your news automation system is becoming a thing of the past. New switcher-agnostic news automation systems give stations that bought a production switcher without a complementary automation system a few years ago a way to add it without having to replace the switcher. The latest software also makes possible better use of the Internet and social media as complements or alternatives to on-air news without adding additional people.
News Automation Gear Going Agnostic
The software used to automate control room operations for the live production of news is evolving, giving broadcasters the ability incorporate social media and other Internet-based services into newscasts and to use whatever production switcher they want.
“The game has changed,” says Scott Bowditch, Ross Video marketing product manager for OverDrive and Inception. “There was a time when Ross had OverDrive, which controlled Ross switchers; Sony had ELC [enhanced live production control] for theirs; and Grass Valley had Ignite for their switchers.”
“Mosart came along and said, ‘We can control everybody’s switcher,’” says Bowditch. “Now we are in the same space as Mosart.”
Mosart, which Vizrt acquired from Norwegian broadcaster TV2 Norway in the spring, was the first to offer automation software that will work with multiple brands of switchers.
Knut Alfred Andersen, Vizrt VP automation worldwide sales, summed up Mosart’s approach following the company’s press conference at the 2014 NAB Show: “We control them all.”
Vizrt Mosart 3.6, the latest version introduced last month at IBC 2014 in Amsterdam, controls switchers and other devices via native protocols, not GPI triggers, which gives users a more granular level of control over the devices it automates.
Mindful of the new direction Vizrt’s Mosart was setting in news automation, Ross Video decided to enter the switcher-agnostic arena with the introduction of OverDrive Caprica.
Caprica is a standalone server that acts as a device control hub sitting between the company’s OverDrive news automation platform and a non-Ross Video production switcher. It acts as an intermediary that allows OverDrive to talk to third-party production switchers, video servers, graphics, cameras and other devices.
Offering a news automation system that is switcher-agnostic gives stations that bought a production switcher without a complementary automation system a few years back a way to add it without having to replace the switcher. “This allows a station to add APC [automated production control] into facilities where a switcher is not written down to zero,” says Bowditch.
For Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 60 stations that produce news, having the ability to deploy a common news automation system regardless of the production switcher could be valuable, says Del Parks, the station group’s VP operations and engineering.
Having been in the acquisition mode, Sinclair has purchased a number of stations with existing Grass Valley, Snell and Sony production switchers, he says. While the group adopted Ross Video switchers several years ago for its HD transition, having switcher-agnostic news automation could be helpful to Sinclair as a way bring news automation to the newly acquired stations without having to replace their various production switchers, he says.
Currently, Vizrt Mosart and Ross Video’s OverDrive Caprica are the only two switcher-agnostic news automation systems that are commercially available. However, Grass Valley has the ability to write the agnostic switcher control into Ignite if requested to do so by a customer, says Alex Holtz, director, segment marketing and digital media.
Regardless of whether they are switcher-agnostic, news automation systems traditionally have been seen as a way for stations to realize a measurable financial benefit: specifically, the ability to reduce head count in the control room and thus lower operating expenses. Where a newscast may have required as many as eight or nine people in the control room, one or two will do thanks to automation.
On the new media side of the equation, these systems are also helping to make possible better use of the Internet and social media as complements or alternatives to on-air news without adding additional people.
For example, Grass Valley’s Stratus DMP (digital media platform) initiative makes it fast and easy to repurpose news stories for distribution via the Web.
“Stratus allows a broadcast journalist when creating content for over the air to repurpose content and in essence become true media-based journalists. They are serving the public with text stories, still images and with video, the bread and butter of the broadcaster.”
“The benefit of having the journalist do this [repurpose on-air content for the Web] is that they’re already editing the video for on-air presentation,” says Holtz. “For them to have the additional responsibility of marking it up for the Web only adds a minute or two of time to the process. And it raises the level of accuracy.”
Holtz adds that when the stories have been marked up for the Web with metadata they can be added to the on-air rundown via MOS for control by Ignite and can be streamed live online.
Stratus DMP also gives stations the ability to re-spin their live on-air newscasts with online-only story content replacing on-air stories as needed. For instance, a station likely will not have the right to publish NFL-related footage online. With Stratus, it is possible to identify and replace an on-air NFL story with other content for online distribution, he says.
Ross Video’s answer for helping stations to leverage the Web and social media is QuickTurn, a new option for OverDrive that makes it easy for a reporter or news producer to create a story clip for repurposing online by selecting a checkbox while preparing a newscast for OverDrive.
By clicking the checkbox, QuickTurn tells OverDrive to send a start command to an Imagine Communication H.264 encoder to create an online version when that story is taken to air and a stop command when it is finished. QuickTurn then takes the Web-encoded file and publishes it to online destinations, such as BrightCove, YouTube or the station’s website, says Bowditch. For the 2015 NAB Show, Ross Video plans to offer support for encoders from other vendors, he adds.
Stations using Ross Video’s new Inception newsroom computer system have the ability via its Inception Social add-on to schedule Tweets and Facebook postings as well to coincide with publishing clips online, says Bowditch.
However, whether online or on-air, there is more to news automation than simply reducing operating expenses, says Sinclair’s Parks.
“I guess you do save some bodies [when news automation is deployed],” he says. “For smaller markets, it’s not like you are going to save a ton of money, but that’s not the value in the news automation.
“The real value in news automation is consistency of presentation across all of your TV stations.”