Raycom’s Digital Vision

Panasonic, Avid help improve newsrooms

Raycom Media, the 17th-largest station group in the U.S., is the latest to overhaul its news operations with new digital hardware.

Joining a handful of others hoping to scoop the competition with technology, Raycom newsrooms will be powered by Panasonic’s P2 DVCPRO solid-state–based recording format. A combination of Avid NewsCutter nonlinear editing systems, an Avid Unity video server and Panasonic gear will form the backbone for the 25 Raycom stations that have news departments. WXIX Cincinnati and WTVR Richmond-Petersburg, Va., will be the first to make the conversion this summer.

“The new digital [formats like P2 and Sony’s XDCam] only make sense if the station is prepared to move off of traditional tape-editing in the studio,” says Dave Folsom, Raycom Media VP of technology. “Otherwise, it would be like driving a race car on city streets.”

The P2 format will get stories on-air more quickly, in part because P2 records video as files on solid-state memory cards, giving users instant access to any part of a clip. Users can also mark which clips are most important—during recording—and even rank them in importance.

This is a valuable tool in news when seconds count. When the file is dumped into the Avid editing system, the editor can pull up the soundbites in order of importance, assembling them into a story ready for air in mere minutes.

In Richmond, for example, the P2 cards can be plugged directly into laptops; it is even possible to transmit the files back to the station using a cellphone. “Having the capability to send compressed video files over cellphones, if needed, is just one of a variety of ways it will improve things,” says Peter Maroney, WTVR VP/general manager.

Not Like Tapes

Technically, the changeover should present few problems for Raycom, which has been using Panasonic’s DVCPRO format since 1996; the P2 uses the same DVCPRO compression as the tape format that Raycom stations now use.

Still, “it will take a while to get all of the folks in the news department to really adopt it fully and exploit it so we aren’t doing things the same old way,” says Folsom.

Raycom WTVR Director of Engineering and Operations Don Cox, however, says newsroom personnel are enthusiastic about the move. “Any time you move to nonlinear editing, there will be errors and problems, but we’ll find solutions,” he says. “The only apprehension with P2 is that it doesn’t have an archive capability.” Because the memory cards cost about $1,500 apiece, they can’t be stored like tapes.

Folsom doesn’t know how much gear Raycom will eventually purchase, as it will be phased in as the older DVCPRO gear wears out. But he says each station typically requires up to 12 cameras and up to seven Avid editing systems, plus numerous producer workstations that allow the producer or reporter to browse video clips and even assemble story packages.

“The Time Has Come”

WXIX and WTVR will add a total of 17 AJ-SPX800 P2 cameras, 17 AJ-PCS060 P2 storage drives and four AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 camcorders. Later this summer, six or seven Avid NewsCutter editing systems and multiple producer-review workstations will be installed at each station.

“I think the time has come,” says Maroney “The whole world is switching to IP-based systems, and as one of the early adapters of DVCPRO, we’re right at the point where it’s time to replace the gear.”

The use of the HD P2 camcorders could boost the strength of Raycom’s news teams—and not because they record HD. Folsom says the price point (less than $10,000 for the unit and two 8-GB recording cards) and form factor (it is a small palmcorder-style unit) could help the group get more reporters in the field because the units don’t require a separate cameraperson. “With those units, we can get more cameras on the street,” he says. “And we need to, because our stations are doing more hours of news—and that means they need more footage.” He says the cameras will also be used to shoot station promos in HD.

The potential for losing a P2 card is big, too. Each memory card is about the size of a credit card—and easy to misplace. Cox says the station doesn’t have a policy set up yet to handle the cards.

Hard To Lose

But Panasonic has an answer Raycom will put to use: the AJ-PCS060 P2 storage drive, which costs $1,500 per drive and has 60 GB of storage, enough to store content from 15 P2 cards. The drives, which are about the size of a third of a carton of cigarettes, are much harder to lose than the credit-card–size drives.