Technology

The New ABCs of News Automation

Network becomes the first national broadcaster to automate its nightly newscast 8/01/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Flexibility Key to a Good Night at the Office

In the process to select the first automation system to be used in a broadcast network nightly newscast, maintaining high production quality and developing more flexible workflows were key considerations.

“We operate with very high production values and high standards and we wanted to be very cautious and careful to make sure that we would not hurt the ABC brand and image,” explains Todd Donovan, vice president, technology and operations, ABC Television Network.

Renu Thomas, vice president of news operations at ABC News, cites the system’s flexibility and the fact that they could easily switch from automated to manual production during a breaking news event or special coverage for an election as major reasons for the selection of the Ross OverDrive system.

In terms of workflow, that flexibility has also allowed them to adapt the system to their needs. “When we looked around the industry, we saw a lot of people having to adapt their workflows to the limitations of their automation system but we’ve been able to adapt the Ross architecture to our workfl ows,” Donovan notes.

The new workflows mean more training, however. “When you interconnect so many areas, many more people need to know much more about each other’s areas and how the show gets built,” he says. “It breaks down some barriers in the traditional broadcast, which is a good thing from the perspective of great TV and great journalism.” —GW

The network news business and
the production automation industry
passed a major milestone together recently.
ABC completed a lengthy, 17-month
process to automate the production of ABC
World News With Diane Sawyer
and several other
newscasts.

The upgrade is notable not only because ABC
was the first national broadcast network to automate
its nightly newscast. The project also
illustrates how the rationale for automation is
shifting from the concept of reducing staff, to
one where the technology itself can be seen as
a way to improve the quality of news programming
and gathering.

“It was part of our efforts to put more control
into the hands of the creatives and look closely
at how we can do things smartly behind the
scenes to make ABC News look great,” explains
Todd Donovan, vice president, technology and
operations, ABC Television Network.

No staff cuts accompanied the phased launch
of the automated control room
between April and the end of
July, he adds.

The move will streamline
the workflow for creating news
programming and then allow all
the elements of the show to be
played out automatically during
newscasts without manual cues.

The broadcast news operations
have been reluctant to
automate, citing the idea that
automation systems could not
provide the functionality needed
for their complex, high-profile
newscasts.

Not surprisingly, ABC approached the upgrade
very cautiously, with a team of about 10
staffers spending six months evaluating various
systems. After settling on the Ross Video Over-
Drive automation production control system
with a Ross Vision 4 switcher, work started on
the project just after Labor Day last year.

As part of the overall automation and HD upgrade
to the control room, engineers installed a
new Calrec audio board and Omneon servers
as well as a new HyperX graphics system and
Camio order management system from Chyron.

They also upgraded the Avid iNews newsroom
computer system so it was closely integrated
into the new automation product. The
staff was already familiar with the iNews system,
so that made training easier, Donovan says.

In April, ABC’s overnight newscasts were the first to use the automated control room. Nightline
and the weekend edition of ABC World News
With David Muir
, followed. On July 20, ABC
World News With Diane Sawyer
made the transition
without a hitch.

Viewers wouldn’t notice any change in the
look of the programs, but the automation system
significantly improved the workflow and
newsgathering ability, notes Renu Thomas, vice
president of news operations at ABC News.

“It allows for much stronger news teams and
better communications as they are putting the
program together throughout the day,” she
notes. “It is not so much a technology change as
a culture change.”

E-mail comments to
gpwin@oregoncoast.com

Flexibility Key to a Good Night at the Office

In the process to select the first automation system to be used in a broadcast network nightly newscast, maintaining high production quality and developing more flexible workflows were key considerations.

“We operate with very high production values and high standards and we wanted to be very cautious and careful to make sure that we would not hurt the ABC brand and image,” explains Todd Donovan, vice president, technology and operations, ABC Television Network.

Renu Thomas, vice president of news operations at ABC News, cites the system’s flexibility and the fact that they could easily switch from automated to manual production during a breaking news event or special coverage for an election as major reasons for the selection of the Ross OverDrive system.

In terms of workflow, that flexibility has also allowed them to adapt the system to their needs. “When we looked around the industry, we saw a lot of people having to adapt their workflows to the limitations of their automation system but we’ve been able to adapt the Ross architecture to our workfl ows,” Donovan notes.

The new workflows mean more training, however. “When you interconnect so many areas, many more people need to know much more about each other’s areas and how the show gets built,” he says. “It breaks down some barriers in the traditional broadcast, which is a good thing from the perspective of great TV and great journalism.” —GW

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