Scripps Television is making headway on overhauling news graphics production at its ten stations, following through on aggressive plans it announced last July to centralize graphics and traffic functions for the group and reduce staff at the local station level in the process.
Scripps has completed building a graphics hub at its Tampa station, WFTS, to produce high-end graphics and has selected Chyron’s Axis Internet-based graphics software as the underlying tool that individual stations will use to fulfill everyday graphics jobs. The template-based Axis system, which is already being used by Gannett and Fox stations, allows reporters and journalists to create graphics at the desktop that are then rendered “in the cloud” by Chyron servers and delivered through the Internet.
Scripps had previously indicated that creating the Tampa hub would result in laying off about 30 local graphic artists across the group. Creating a traffic hub at KNXV Phoenix would likely result in laying off one or two traffic employees per station.
Four Scripps stations have now gone live with the Axis system and are using a new standardized graphics package created by the Tampa hub which features earth-tone colors and larger fonts. They include ABC affiliates WEWS Cleveland and WCPO Cincinnati and NBC affiliates WPTV West Palm Beach and KSHB Kansas City. The stations are playing out the Axis graphics on Chyron hardware.
KSHB went live on the new Axis system last week. The shift was more challenging for KSHB than other stations, says creative services director Randy Thurman, because the station had previously produced its graphics using Vizrt software and supporting hardware. Other Scripps stations had already used Chyron graphics hardware. Since KSHB broadcasts in the 1080-line interlace HD format favored by NBC, it also has to upconvert the graphics from Tampa, which are produced in the 720-line progressive format used by Scripps’ ABC affiliates.
“It was not a flawless launch, but it was the next-best thing,” says Thurman. “We’ve been making in-house corrections, and they’ve been making corrections at the newly-created hub. But we’re pretty much going 100% right now, with very few errors.”
As part of the move, KSHB has eliminated its art department, which consisted of an art director and three artists, though the art director has gone on to run the hub in Tampa. The station has trained its journalists on the Axis system, which consisted of three weeks of both online and hands-on training and a week of mock newscasts. Producers are now creating the bulk of graphics for its 4.5 hours of daily news, with associate producers and directors doing the rest. KSHB’s sales and promotion departments will eventually be able to request custom graphics from the hub, though they haven’t done so yet.
The viewer response to the new look in Kansas City has been mixed, with some viewers complaining that they miss the station’s old red-and-blue graphics and others quickly accepting the new earth-toned package, which is complemented by new music.
“It’s a totally new news package, and it’s just basically a look that has never been done in this market,” says Thurman.
He notes that KSHB isn’t yet taking full advantage of the Axis software. It is still running static maps, for example, since it experienced some initial problems setting up animated maps and upconverting other animated graphics.
“The whole idea in the beginning was to keep it simple for the first few shows, get it on-air and be as mistake-free as possible,” says Thurman. “It’s the old cliché of walk before you run. We’re starting to jog right now, and we hope to be in a full sprint as soon as we can.”