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Broadcasters are calling on a combination of cloud, software and transport technologies to facilitate collaborating and sharing at a station or across groups. The pandemic has shifted the many news-sharing tools into high gear. Written by Jennifer Pallanich | TV Newscheck | June 23, 2022
Two years after the pandemic prompted widespread acceptance of remote production workflows by broadcasters, sharing content has never been easier.
Whether it’s for a work in progress or finished media, broadcasters are calling on a combination of cloud, software, and transport technologies to facilitate collaborating and sharing at a station or across groups. And as much as the technology has improved, some challenges remain.
There are a number of reasons broadcasters want the ability to enable teams to work remotely yet collaboratively. Even before COVID-19 sent nearly everyone into work-from-home frameworks, broadcasters were looking for ways to streamline workflows through remote operations.
Putting Tools Into High Gear
As Eric Bolton, Zixi’s VP of business development, puts it, “pre-pandemic, these things were very much all underway. Because of the pandemic what we saw was ‘in case of emergency please break glass’” and all the collaboration tools available “got put onto high gear when people couldn’t go onto premises.”
One of those early steps was technology that allowed journalists to quickly work on stories in the field so they could avoid the drive back to the station.
Back then, Samuel Peterson, Bitcentral COO and GM of its News Production business unit, recalls, journalists would “drive down to the local Starbucks and get on their Wi-Fi to contribute remotely” and push that content to the station.
Now, says Robert Millis, product manager for IBM’s MaxCloud, there is so much power in the latest handheld tablets and mobile devices that journalists can work in the field. “Just grab the laptop and go, and yet that’s all I need,” he says. And journalists in the field can be supported by teams back at the station — or in other stations across the country.
Millis says some of The Weather Company’s customers have stations all across the nation that take advantage of cloud and sharing technology so people working different schedules and shifts can complement each other. “Some follow the sun from the East Coast to the West Coast,” he says. Or regional meteorology teams might complete their local content and then support national weather hits “without ever leaving the place they work,” he adds.
More Crowding Into Cloud
Taking that a step further, sharing through the cloud can help disaster recovery should a weather event take a station offline, he says.
“Maybe they can’t even get into the building,” Millis says. “But if they’re on the cloud, their content is protected and available, even if the people who would normally use that content and drive those shows can’t even get into their building.”
Using the cloud opens up many different workflows, allowing greater productivity without adding “a ton more people,” Millis says. Putting content in the cloud breaks down physical location silos, allowing people in different places to collaborate, he says. And that capability has improved as data transmission technologies have advanced. “We have a lot of people in the cloud, and more are coming in every day,” Millis says.
The Weather Company’s Max Cloud “connects parts of an enterprise that may be way across the country and helps them work as … a tight knit team,” Millis says. The platform has been on air with customers for more than a year and a half, he says.
Enabling Transparency, Rights Management
A hallmark of the AP’s ENPS system has always been transparency and the ability to share content easily between users or different stations, according to Brian Doyle, AP’s director of product management.
Users are “able to take that story from their rundown and drag it to any other rundown in the enterprise,” he says. However, he adds, sometimes rights management can be an issue when sharing content with stations, as in some states different affiliates may not be able to run certain content. Rights management is “a key element in the workflow that we’ve been trying to work with customers on,” he says.
The AP Playbook app helps teams like the Voice of America, which has been using Playbook for a few years, keep track of what content is in progress to help ensure efficient coverage in different regions, Doyle says.
“Playbook is crucial to their day-to-day workflow,” he says. It shows “what’s being done on Ukraine for the day, the week, the month; what stories are being covered for COVID, what’s Africa doing for COVID, the Latin America angle on COVID. They can see all that in one location to understand the full scope of what’s being covered.”
Breaking TV And Digital Barriers In News Sharing
Dalet Pyramid uses “a planner approach with an intuitive interface” to allow broadcast and digital teams to use the same system, giving both teams visibility into planned stories, Luis Fernandez, senior product marketing manager at Dalet, says. This allows broadcasters to maximize resources instead of having multiple teams covering the same story, he says.
“We created a workflow that would allow newsrooms to go as linear and digital-first as they are ready for,” he says. Dalet Pyramid “allows you to not duplicate, not overwork, but maximize resources.”
The solution is intended to break the barriers around television and digital, he says. “It’s the story that matters,” Fernandez says. “The different platforms, television, social media, OTT, are just ways to create the content for that specific audience.”
Dalet Pyramid is a web-based, all cloud-native solution that lets teams see what packages are planned locally and in other facilities, he says. Stations can access content from other locations and repurpose it for their own use, he adds.
Tearing Down The Walls
Bitcentral has seen more combining of content from the field and content in the station over the last two years than ever before, Peterson says. And customers were increasingly asking for ways to carry out more activities — like more sophisticated editing — from the field, he says.
In essence, “maybe not make the walls transparent but maybe tear down the walls so they’re not there at all,” he says, so everything is more accessible and powerful even without great bandwidth. The goal, he says is “to make sure it works the same for someone in the station and in the field.”
Bitcentral’s Oasis also lets customers like Hearst, Tegna, Gray, Fox, and others share finished assets. Users can search for keywords, categories, and content in rundowns across all the stations in a group connected through the Oasis Sharing tool.
“Sharing took off in a way that I don’t think we understood,” Peterson says. “People were all grappling with how do we produce news and produce it fast enough when no one can be in the station. We saw those number shoot through the roof.”
And those numbers are still easily 50% higher now than they were pre-pandemic, he says. Before the pandemic, Peterson says, there was less need to share, but there also may not have been the understanding that this was possible.
“They never had to go use it, and so they weren’t fully aware of the power of it, and once they got a taste of it, they were, ‘Oh there’s a lot of really great content being created across the group’” and they are choosing to incorporate that content into their own rundowns, Peterson says.
No More Hiccups
TVU Producer, a cloud-based solution that facilitates remote production, was created before COVID-19 made remote work a necessity, TVU Networks CEO Paul Shen says. “We created TVU Producer … because traveling is expensive,” he says. “If people are sitting at home, they can effectively cover multiple games a day.”
And while TVU Producer wasn’t created to facilitate remote production in the time of COVID-19, Fox did use it for its Coronavirusnow.com OTT channel, which later became livenowfox.com, he says. It also helps broadcasters promote collaboration across teams, Shen says. This is important as the industry moves to improve efficiency of their teams and resources without incurring costs associated with travel, he says.
“In the past, technology was not good enough to support what we can do. Now, today we have major events use our product without hiccups,” Shen says.
A ‘Virtual Production Booth’
Broadcasters had been relying on tools like Zoom and Teams to obtain video of people due to the pandemic’s social distancing needs.
LiveU’s Air Control connects people by video from remote events, Arco Groenenberg, LiveU’s director of sales for the central region, says, allowing broadcasters to remotely bring in guests and take advantage of a remote green room.
“It almost creates a virtual production booth,” he says. LiveU’s Matrix is like a router in the cloud that makes sharing content easier, Groenenberg says. “Sinclair, CBS, Fox-owned-and-operated, NBC — they’re all on this platform to share content between their television stations,” he says. “If they have a breaking story in Cincinnati and they want to share it, they can throw it into this platform and other people can see it.”
Using the LiveU Matrix Dynamic Share service, producers can define their live feed’s destination ad-hoc, via the Global Directory. Matrix is also used for pool content, such as the Denver helicopter feed during the Derek Chauvin trial, he says.
Behind much of the content moving around the industry is the cloud-native Zixi software platform, which supports 17 protocols. Zixi has 350 technology partners, including Panasonic, and has been in the original equipment manufacturing level for over a decade. “The sharing of news and stories has been hyperbolic,” Zixi’s Bolton says. And he expects 5G to impact sharing as it will make it possible to “grab signals” where it may not have been feasible in the past.
Connectivity where signals are iffy is critical for journalists out in the field. Dejero’s connectivity technology has improved since COVID started, Rob Waters, director of global sales for Dejero, says.
The company’s latest EnGo 265 GateWay uses smart blending technology “to create one huge internet connection,” he says.
The GateWay makes it possible to “research on the move, transfer large files, and access MAM systems from remote locations,” Waters says. “It allows them to tell better stories. They’re not constrained by whatever connection they’ve got available.”
One EnGo customer in Australia uses it as a mobile transmitter for a weekly live three-way conversation between two remotely located experts and an anchor at Channel 7 for a program called Sunrise, he says.
The unintended consequence of making it so easy for field crews to remain in the field is that content they capture on SD cards never get to the station because the SD cameras never get to the station, Peterson says. “There’s just a pace at which we’re all working today,” he says.
In the past, field crews tended to pause long enough to ensure all content was ingested and filed at the station, he says. It’s a problem Bitcentral is working to solve for customers, including Hearst. The potential solution is in proof of concept right now. “We need to make sure that content’s not lost to us,” he says. “We’re trying to balance between efficiency and long-term value.”
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