CNN has made big strides over the few years improving its news production workflow and integrating IP news contribution from the field to the point that it has become part of news organization’s DNA.

And Michael Koetter, senior vice president, media technology and development for Turner Broadcasting System, who took a leading role in the transition of CNN to a file-based HD workflow several years ago, says there is more cutting-edge technology to come at the global news operation.

He is busy these days overseeing enhancements to CNN’s Media Source media asset management system with the integration of the Adobe Anywhere collaboration platform, which supports everything from cuts-only to craft editing.

Koetter also is also looking at ways CNN can use its metadata to expose consumers to news content they especially care about and thinking about dual-mode newsgathering camera that with the flip of a button can switch between an HD newsgathering mode and 4K cinematic newsgathering for documentaries.

In this interview with TVNewsCheck’s Phil Kurz, Koetter talks about how Adobe Anywhere fits into CNN’s news workflow, the importance of metadata, the evolution of cellular bonded systems and the potential of 4K and drones.

An edited transcript:


Not too long ago, TV newsrooms found themselves with lots of separate, single function digital islands. There’s been a great effort to get off the islands and unify news production workflows. What’s been the experience at CNN?

We have had digital islands in news and if you look at the old Sports Illustrated system that we had, we had a completely separate system for CNN Espanol, a completely different system that supported the domestic networks for CNN.

Over the past five or six years, especially since we’ve transitioned to HD, we’ve basically slowly been reversing that with the CNN Media Source system, which is basically a common media asset management system that sits over all of the different repositories throughout news. It makes them appear to the users as a single large repository.

Having a standardized media format and standardized metadata makes it is very easy because now anyone, anywhere can find any content regardless of where on the network it was created.

Are there any rough spots that need to be addressed to realize further news production efficiencies?

I think, in all honesty, things are going really well. One area in particular where we will benefit is when we replace all of our Final Cut [editing software] with not just Adobe Premiere, but with the Adobe Anywhere [collaborative workflow] platform.

We were one of the principal collaborators with Adobe on the platform. All of our editing will be based on the Anywhere infrastructure, which means not only can we find the material we are looking for as we do today, but we really won’t need to transfer it.

This opens up that world of remote editing, and not just for simple, cuts-only stuff, but also for craft editing as well.

What is your target date for the rollout?

It is a rolling set of transitions. We have between 600 and 700 Final Cut systems that need to get replaced around CNN worldwide. A large number of those are laptops that are basically used for field edits. It can take a long time before you hit all of those international machines.

So we are looking at that project going well into 2015 before we complete it.

Are there any other planned technology rollouts?

Another key thing this year is the rollout of Adobe Prelude (a software application that makes it easier to add metadata). The interesting thing about that is it interfaces with all of the cameras we use and provides a file-based ingest platform for Media Source.

So as people are out there using all of these different cameras from Canon, JVC, Sony, etcetera, we’ve got a common way to bring those files into our system along with the metadata that is necessary for production.

So is the CNN Media Source essentially a private cloud?

We are actually a very aggressive adopter of cloud technology overall. But right now those core journalism systems are held within a private cloud. I think the word “cloud” is good.

It’s really getting to the point where all of this content that is part of our digital journalism is accessed through the network. People have much less regard for where the content actually resides.

That allows us to not have to co-locate our infrastructure with the people who are doing the production. That gives us a lot more flexibility.

What has been CNN’s experience with workflow related to preparing and encoding media for different digital platforms, such as smartphones and tablets?

For a long time we have had the ability to encode material automatically for the digital properties. So you can go to the content management system and request video from Media Source, and it will automatically pull the files and transcode them.

We’ve really worked on optimizing the speed-to-Web to be as fast as possible. These days our speed-to-Web is not a second-class citizen when compared to speed to air. They are both very fast workflows.

If we are looking towards the future and things to improve, I think one of the most important things we are thinking about is metadata. As we go to more of a world of Big Data and the ability to match consumer preferences with content. As we try to expose more of CNN’s content through our digital properties, metadata becomes very important.

We are unifying all of that metadata that travels between our production systems and our content management systems for the Web.

CNN pioneered IP news contribution with coverage of the July 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. That was a long time ago. What role do you see bonded cellular playing in newsgathering going forward?

I think it is baked into our DNA at this point. On a daily basis we are doing large volumes of uploaded packages that were cut in the field as well as IP live shots.

It is really to the point where internally we don’t distinguish between the two [IP and traditional news contribution technology] other than a lot of times in a breaking news situation we will start with an IP live shot and follow it up with higher-quality or more reliable forms of transport. So we have a menu of tools at our disposal.

I don’t think all of the trucks are just suddenly going to go away. There is a reason you would want to have a multipath satellite-based video transmission capability.

But certainly for IP, we see the form factor of the devices is getting smaller. In the past we would typically carry a laptop around and hook that up to a camera via FireWire or SDI. That was difficult for run-and-gun or walk-and-talk.

These new devices that we have available to us now incorporate the bonded cellular transport in addition to other forms of IP transport and the video compression onto something that is much more portable.

We have a handful of different vendors’ technologies that we are working with in that area. That definitely started to change the way we are thinking about this from a live perspective.

I think what is happening in the camera space is really exciting because we are finding that the new cameras have the ability to upload material directly from the camera and have live streaming capabilities built right straight into the camera.

Is there anything on the horizon at CNN for 4K acquisition?

I think we are playing with it. We see in other parts of Turner where higher-end post production is taking advantage for 4K capabilities.

The interesting thing, speaking on behalf of news, will be that when we go out to replace the first generation of high-definition newsgathering cameras that we purchased a little over five years ago –and that is coming up soon for us- is the fact that we may not even be able to buy a traditional ENG camera, or at least the market will have shrunk considerably for what people have thought of as traditional cameras.

We are really trying to step back and ask, “What does a newsgathering camera need to be?”

Part of that discussion is large format imagers. A lot of times we take two cameras with us. One camera is for regular ENG. We use it to do our live shots, and then we switch to a large format cinema camera, which we call Cinema News Gathering. With that camera, we are doing documentary long-form work. We would really rather not have to carry two cameras.

If we were to consolidate that to one camera, we would be in this hybrid world where we could still do the run-and-gun bread-and-butter newsgathering, but then be able to switch the camera to cinema mode. If that is the case, what is the resolution of the censor of the camera? And if it happens to be 4K, what would we do with it?

What thoughts do you have about the technical demands of using drones if ever allowed by the government for newsgathering?

We have launched an initiative with Georgia Tech to study use of drones for journalism purposes. We anticipate that that initiative is going to yield a lot of practical outcomes in terms of how we really take advantage of drone use.

As you know, CNN doesn’t own a helicopter. We are not a local news station, but there could be a lot of situations where drones would be tremendously useful. I think the key thing as far as the Georgia Tech initiative is there are a lot of aspects from liability to ethics to the practicality of how you deploy drones that need to be explored.

So we really do think it warrants investment in that greater level of understanding.

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