Turner Entertainment Networks has been a leader in experimenting with reducing viewer churn and maximizing promotional and advertising placements. Now it’s using an automated system from graphic specialist Chyron to smooth transitions between Cartoon Network shows by running the credits for a show in part of the screen while a promo fills the rest of the picture.
Atlanta-based Turner has been using the digital-video effect, which it calls a “Hot Squeeze,” over the past year on networks such as Cartoon, TBS and TNT in an effort to keep viewers from switching channels between programs.
While the on-air time of the effect is relatively short, creating it has been a laborious process. Editors at Turner Studios have been pre-producing it by taking the last segment of one show and the first segment of the next and editing it into a single segment for playback, with the Hot Squeeze effect in the middle.
But the Hot Squeeze process for Cartoon got easier this summer. Turner implemented a new automated Chyron system that allows the effect to be created without needing to pre-produce transitional segments in an edit bay.
The system integrates Chyron’s Channel Box channel branding and automated promo generator with Turner’s existing Pro-Bel Morpheus automation software. It squeezes the credits down into the lower third of the screen while a promo runs above. Then another effect, which depicts an animated character staring up at a TV screen, pops onto the screen before a quick full-screen transition into the next show.
The Chyron/Pro-Bel solution can also be used to squeeze-back the credits while the next show starts in the rest of the screen. Besides fighting churn it can free up time for more promos or commercials. Turner is already using that capability for WPCH, its broadcast station in Atlanta that it calls Peachtree TV.
Chyron began working on automating Hot Squeeze earlier this year at Turner’s request, says Kevin Prince, Chyron’s chief operating officer. Much of the system is based on Channel Box’s ability to take in two separate program streams, from either tape or playout servers, and instantly perform a digital video effect that displays both in the program feed.
“Instead of doing it in post, we can do the whole thing live,” Prince says. “Partly because of the core technology of Channel Box, they can now do squeezes live. By becoming integrated with the automation system, as soon as they start playing a new program it automatically does a squeeze-back of the previous show. And that can all be programmed into Channel Box.”
Automating Hot Squeeze for Cartoon was a priority for Turner because most of the network’s shows are 30 minutes, shorter than the one-hour dramas on TNT.
“On Cartoon, the majority of stuff is shorter-format shows, so it’s very time-consuming,” says Naveed Aslam, Turner Entertainment Networks’ senior director of broadcast technology and engineering for network operations. “So this is a neat way to do it, to do [the Hot Squeeze] at time of air, still get some promo time in and not necessarily have to pre-produce it all. It moves the effort onto the scheduling folks.”
Aslam says getting it to work seamlessly took some heavy integration work between the Chyron and Pro-Bel systems, particularly to make sure that closed-captioning and SAP audio were preserved during the transitions. “It took a lot of finessing, and a lot of that was how to construct commands from Pro-Bel to Channel Box.”
For now, the Hot Squeeze effects for TNT and TBS will continue to be pre-produced in edit bays, though they may eventually move to the automated Chyron/Pro-Bel system. While Hot Squeeze can free up commercial time for those networks by jump-starting the next show, on Cartoon it is used only to run promos because of restrictions on commercial time in children’s shows.“That’s an important distinction between Cartoon and the other networks,” Aslam points out. “It’s not about creating extra inventory—it’s more to do with the look and feel of the network.”
But Chyron’s Prince expects that Channel Box, which costs around $55,000 for a hi-def unit, will eventually be creating more spot time for Turner and other programmers while eliminating the costs in labor and edit-bay time of pre-producing transitional effects like Hot Squeeze, which he estimates to be more than $200,000 a year per network. “It keeps the audience’s eye on the channel and frees up another 30 seconds of programming that can be used for advertising revenue,” Prince notes. “That’s the core motivating factor behind the whole process.”