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Controlling the News

Sundance's NewsLink runs production devices from one interface 4/04/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Newscasts produced with only one operator? That's what Sundance Digital is aiming for. Its NewsLink 2.0 grabs control of different devices involved in the playout of a newscast and brings them all under the management of one interface.

And that means one person can handle the playlist, graphics devices, tape machines, video servers, cameras, and even audio consoles that help bring a newscast to air.

On the surface, the system sounds similar in function to the lineup of automation gear from ParkerVision. Sundance Digital President Robert Johnson, though, points to one big difference: flexibility.

"Our system allows stations to buy the hardware that is best-suited for their needs," he explains. "It gives them the flexibility to buy the best-of-breed switchers, character generators, audio, and other devices and have them under NewsLink's control." Or, he adds, "they can use their existing hardware."

ParkerVision's system, on the other hand, requires the purchase of the company's hardware. That could make it harder for a station to make the move to automated newscasts because the finance department might not sign off on the capital expenditure until all the equipment is depreciated. "We've found that stations like the basic idea of reducing headcount," Johnson says, "but they didn't like the way ParkerVision forced them to buy ParkerVision-branded hardware."

Stations can control the system via an interface placed in the production-control room and monitored via mouse and keyboard. Typically, they run the newscasts straight off the production switcher. A 15-button box is also used to handle sequences, making it easy to advance to the next item that will be played to air.

Johnson expects that most stations will buy the $40,000-plus system as part of a broader upgrade to digital, a move that usually involves editing systems from companies like Avid or Pinnacle. Sundance has device drivers for a large number of third-party products, he says. "The goal is to allow either a straight headcount reduction or to make a newscast more efficient so they can add more newscasts without adding people. They can make the quality of the newscast better and add channels or services."

One addition Johnson expects to be popular is the Sundance News Recorder, a product that automatically cuts a newscast into separate segments while it's broadcast. The station can then tie the segmented newscast in with Sundance's Titan or FastBreak automation systems for replay later and can insert new commercials.

That's what WPXI Pittsburgh is doing. Johnson says the station has used NewsLink to repackage its newscast onto a local cable channel called Pittsburgh Cable News Channel.

Another product Sundance is rolling out is the Pathfire Content Manager, which works with Pathfire's IP-satellite delivery system used to ingest news feeds and syndicated content into video servers. The Sundance system is designed to make that process easier. "The Content Manager takes the metadata associated with a file and puts it into our automation system database and the transmission server so there is automatic frame-accurate timing," Johnson explains. It is available as an option for Sundance's Titan, FastBreak Spot Play, and FastBreak automation systems. FastBreak is for small-scale demands (one to five channels); Titan handles large-scale operations.

Sundance is addressing signal monitoring this year with Sundance Sentinel. The system is based on SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), which enables monitoring of hardware located throughout a facility or on the same wide-area network (WAN). Sentinel is expected to be available shortly after NAB.

The company is also addressing the need for digital asset management. The promise of the DAM market fell apart under the weight of its own ambitions as players introduced systems that were so complex and expensive that only the largest media companies found them attractive. Seeker 2.0 is an attempt to provide asset management on a smaller scale.

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