For O&Os, RevampingNewsroom Is Top Story

Engineering execs look for better approaches to newsgathering and operations and ways to re-monetize what is already in place

Why This Matters

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Like other major broadcast groups, all of the O&Os are moving toward technologies based on Internet protocol (IP) infrastructures with low-cost equipment from the IT world that is run through increasingly complex software systems. “The good old broadcast plant as we know it is slowly evolving into an IP plant,” says Jeff Birch, VP of engineering, CBS Television Stations.

But this transition makes it difficult to find engineering talent that can handle both the newer IP technologies and the traditional broadcast infrastructure. “I’d have to say that finding the right combination of skills is one of the biggest concerns we have,” adds Dave Converse, VP of engineering at the ABC Owned Television Stations.

Jeff Morris, senior VP of operations and technology at the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, agrees. “It is almost impossible to find someone who understands transmitters these days,” he says. “We’ve had a few retirements, and finding people to step into those shoes has been extremely difficult.”

To overcome the problem, NBC and all the other O&O groups have been aggressive in recruiting and training campaigns to attract new talent from inside and outside their organizations. “With our industry changing considerably, our focus has been on creating internal candidates through station operations,” says Tim Redmond, VP of engineering and operations for Fox Television Stations.

As part of that effort, the Fox group has selected “champions” for various parts of their operations, such as master control centralization efforts. This person then becomes the point of contact for other stations in helping solve problems. “It gives our people a recourse internally that more often than not can solve the problem,” Redmond says. —GW | @GeorgeWinslow

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Ask top Engineers at the English-language owned-and-operated TV stations about their tech priorities, and the first words out of their mouths invariably involve local news.

“We are primarily in the news business,” says Jeff Birch, VP of engineering, CBS Television Stations. “So anything to do with newsgathering that can separate us from everyone else, or things that help us do our job better, is our main focus.”

Why This Matters
Network O&O stations agree that news operation efficiencies are a top battleground, right alongside the ratings fight.

Others agree, saying they are constantly looking at a long list of new technologies for streamlining news workflows and improving quality, including: cellular bonding ENG equipment; better multiplatform delivery of content; smaller cameras; less costly news archives; next-gen non-linear editing systems; better touchscreen technologies for news sets; and better tools for journalists in the field.

“The continuing theme at our operations involves how do we do more with the same investments and what are the technologies that will allow us to re-monetize the efforts we’ve already put into creating content,” says Dave Converse, VP of engineering at the ABC Owned Television Stations.

Digital Designs

As part of that effort, better systems for delivering more local content to websites, smartphones and tablets has become a key priority. ABC, for example, has upgraded systems at its stations for the launch of the Watch ABC app that will provide a live steam of its owned stations to authenticated multichannel subscribers.

Meanwhile, NBC just streamlined its workflows so that producers and journalists can send material to the Web from their newsroom systems in just a few clicks; CBS is looking for more simplified multiplatform delivery systems; and Fox is currently testing a variety of possible solutions that might be used to standardize its extensive streaming and multiplatform efforts.

“We are doing a lot of things individually at the stations, but we’re working to develop the right strategic approach so users get the same great experiences on alternative platforms as they see over the air,” says Tim Redmond, Fox Television Stations VP of engineering and operations.

Breaking the Mold

In terms of major upgrades, Jeff Morris, senior VP of operations and technology at the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, says that they upgraded sets at a number of stations in the last 18 months that included more touchscreen technologies. The group is also building new facilities in Dallas and Los Angeles.

Fox is working on a large upgrade to the facilities at WJZY in Charlotte, N.C., where it is planning to launch local newscasts later this year. “We really want to break the mold,” says Redmond. “We want to take the lessons from other projects and use them to take Charlotte to a whole new level with an IT-centric work environment and a unified workflow.”