Technology in production and broadcast of News Programs

TM Broadcast Technology of News Program report opening image with sponsors

It is hard to establish how a sector as changing as news programs production will develop, being so influenced as it is by the evolution of content management technologies, its inevitable binding to telecommunication companies for signal broadcasting and, of course, due to the ever fulminant communication trend as shaped by consumers themselves. However, the TM Broadcast Informative Breakfast, hosted once more by the renowned Santo Mauro Hotel, proposed quite a faithful approach to the lines that will ultimately configure the trends to be present with us in the coming years. Sponsored by Sony, Datos Media and Ges-It.

Text: Sergio Julián
Photos: Pedro Cobo

This was achieved, of course, thanks to the knowledge shared by experts who attended to this breakfast spanning over two and a half hours. Representing the broadcasters, we were honored by the presence of Amadeu Gassó, Operations and Engineering Director, Corporació Catalana Mitjans Audiovisuals (TV3); Alberto Alejo, Head of the Software Engineering Software, Corporació Catalana Mitjans Audiovisuals (TV3); Víctor Sánchez, Technical Manager, Televisión Española; and Jesús Sánchez Villalba, Technical Manager, Castilla La Mancha Media (Castilla La Mancha TV). On behalf of the companies that made this event possible attended, David Martínez, Operations Director, Datos Media; Rafael Zapardiel, Sales, Datos Media; José Antonio Bolós, Key Account Manager, Professional Solutions Europe, a division of Sony Europe B.V.; Miguel Ángel Sánchez, Senior Solutions Architect de Professional Solutions Europe, a division of Sony Europe B.V.; Juan Dorrego, Technical Manager Ges-It; and David de No Coma, Commercial Director, Ges-It.Luis Sanz was in charge of moderating this discussion in also took part Javier de Martín, CEO, Daró Media Group.

INTEGRATED NEWSROOM

After a few minutes of relaxed conversation and the opening welcome to the event by Javier de Martín, consultant Luis Sanz took on his role as moderator by presenting the first topic for discussion: Integrated systems, how the same tool can be adapted to various types of releases.

Amadeu Gassó, Operations and Engineering Director, Corporació Catalana Mitjans Audiovisuals (TV3), opened the discussion by confirming this notion is a “driving idea” in his organization: “We have three semi-independent newsrooms, the one in TV3, in Catalunya Radio, and Digital Media”. At present, they have three distinct Media Asset Media programs: “Digition -developed in-house- for TV, Dalet in radio, and Deliverty in digital media. Quite the opposite as it may seem, as remarked Alberto Alejo, Head of the Software Engineering Service of Corporació Catalana, connection between them three is permanent: “We have worked on making it easier to share contents between the various MAMs, as well as on improving workflows”. However, progress lies in complete unification: after having made a decision to implement the Galaxy version of Dalet in radio broadcasting, consideration is being made of whether it could eventually work in the TV newsroom.

The vision expressed by Víctor Sánchez implies maintaining the particular language used in each area, which require “specialist tools” accordingly. The Director of the Technical Area at Televisión Española noted that nowadays there is no alternative covering all their needs, something not being favored by the current trend prevailing in the market: “We see it heading toward specialization and focusing on doing well a certain thing”. However, he admitted that such multi-disciplinary approach is pursued with MAM systems.

On the other hand, Jesús Sánchez Villalba, Technical Manager, Castilla La Mancha Media, says such unification of newsrooms is a reality in his environment: “There are three of them: news programs, radio and a digital one. All of them are very tightly packed at management level, which makes everything flow quite smoothly”. Technology has contributed to enriching these conversations: “We were pioneers in the side of integrated digital newsroom, so there is a broad culture of integration. Furthermore, with the updating of our AVID system, all contents reaching our station are shared in the three newsrooms”.

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The vision of broadcasters on this topic is crystal-clear. But what about manufacturers? First to speak was Miguel Ángel Sánchez, Senior Solutions Architect, Professional Solutions Europe, a division of Sony Europe B.V. Beyond advocating the relevance of integrated solutions and underlining that Sony’s vision lies in increasing such “flexibility” of being able to integrate various systems, he admitted that at present there is no perfect solution catering in full to the needs of TV stations. On the other hand, he endorsed the notion of “Story Centric”, based on the principle that each story is a container to which journalists gradually contribute content from various sources as the story unravels, thus allowing the creation of various types of content from different angles adapted to the various destinations for release. Later on the conversation, he reverted to this issue to stress that although “it is all the same for journalists where content is stored, what they really want is access to it”, further underlining this flexibility line.

In representation of Avid, David Martínez, Operations Manager, Datos Media, remarked that is the direction where his company has been going to for years now: “What matters is the news, regardless of the media where is to be released; it is about content, looking for different angles”. In the end, present-day newsrooms require “information to be available” for all areas.

In regard to this issue, Amadeu wanted to advocate for journalist specialization in contrast to this notion: “In the offices, the possibility that a journalist who is currently working in radio switching to TV in a week is idealized”. David Martínez went a step further: “integration of radio and TV is technically awkward, but it is even harder from a human point of view. In this area, he wanted to remark that maybe the road to simplicity should include integration of third-party applications for managing specific issues, as it is the case with Avid’s Cloud UX.

UNIFIED SYSTEM, CUSTOMIZED TOOLS

“What we are definitely witnessing is that small broadcasters prefer a unified tool, while the biggest ones –having separate departments- require more specialized tools.” This thought from Miguel Ángel opened a new topic for discussion. Víctor ratified his point: “Each medium has its own peculiarities and what they are claiming is to have the specific tool for each of them”. Jesús shared this opinion: “In my company people flow a lot through various departments because, with the exception of radio, we have a small specific tool, all the rest is the same. What changes is the way of telling the story”.

David Martínez increased even more the scope of the issue by asking two questions: “Does content have to be moved around social media in order to “heat up” a specific information topic? Who coordinates that versus what will be placed into a news program?”

After some puffing and sighing –by those who could not come up with answers- Amadeu broke the tension by saying “There are some battles…” followed by a general roar of laughter. Alberto replied on behalf of the Catalan producer: “Nowadays, TV is the real big player. Although it is true that a couple of years ago this debate did not exist, it is now a hot topic. Workflows are constantly changing, but the problem there is not the tool, as it will be adapted as needed”. In this regard, the Head of the Software Engineering Service deems necessary making a distinction between to layers in regard to content: “Although it must be available in any newsroom, in each of these a different treatment is made as adapted to the medium being targeted. For example videos in social media include text as in many instances they are played without sound activated”.

Rafael Zapardiel, in charge of Sales at Datos media, closed this section highlighting a simple example in showing the peculiarities of each medium to which information pieces are channeled: “Graphic content is of no use in radio as it would not make sense, while on TV and, most of all, in social media, it is a key for highlighting the identity”.

NEW POSSIBILITIES OF MAM SYSTEMS: FLOW CREATION, AUTOMATION, AI…

The development of MAM is unstoppable, as remarked Luis Sanz in the following topic in the morning, with issues such as “automatic indexing” or the various “artificial intelligence” applications. They implement new solutions catering to the needs arising in news programs, but… to what extent is a benefit derived from them by broadcasters?

Jesús recognized that in this regard they have still some way to go, although they find it essential: “We have a MAM that is not even such a thing: it is a file that works the way it does. There is a project for improvement that we would like to start as soon as possible, which I think is absolutely feasible and I hope we can have it finalized within a year. We are still at project-definition stage”. Víctor, on the other hand, makes the most of the possibilities offered: “We are working quite a bit in this area. At documentary fund level we are going through a conservative renovation project, but which includes improved equipment, flows…” His gaze is geared toward the environment of artificial intelligence applications. “We are –in our innovation areas- working in speech-to-text issues for subtitling; work is being also undertaken in sports recognition, changes of takes”. Víctor sees two stages in which it can be implemented: “At the start of news generation, with the extraction of metadata enabling the journalist to put the news together: keywords, who is shown, changes in takes, and final storage of the finished piece of information”.

TV3 is also committed in making the most of its full potential: “For example, in the Catalan Process trials, all audio was being produced in Spanish, but as soon as it entered the system it would be translated into Catalan in order to enable access to the same in this language. On the other hand, we are currently focusing all regarding automated indexing and catalog creation in the documentation department”. In this area, as pointed out some months ago in the TM Broadcast Breakfast on documentation, professionals are becoming “coaches and validators” as machines show their novelties in the field of “detection of people by means of face or voice recognition” through novel automations. Amadeu ratified the words of his colleague: “Documentation tells us: we humans make a high-level catalog creation and automation enriches us”.

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Rafael Zapardiel highlighted how advanced is the AI field in regard to sports and how contents are enriched nearly in real time, as achieved by Watson in IBM. This was ratified by José Antonio Bolos, Key Account Manager, Professional Solutions Europe, a division of Sony Europe B.V. At the same time, José Antonio used his intervention to underline that although the future lies in automation, the human factor ensures and certifies this. At this point, Víctor wanted to highlight that technology still has some way to go. His example reverts again to the speech-to-text topic: “If just one person speaks on the same content and the machine is trained, it can perform reasonably well. But, if in a five-people discussion, each of them speaks and the topic is a wide one, you manufacturers have a complicated task there”. Juan, from Ges-It took over to claim how AI can be also applied to production as he replied to the RTVE senior executive. “Machines are capable of deciding what take you will get or who will be monitored. It is a virtual director. We come from the IP world and this format is already a reality. I agree with you that machines should be given some time to learn, but once they have achieved this, they work smoothly. The logical course of development for manufacturers is providing increasingly improved functionalities, including assisted production”. In this line of reasoning, Juan remarked that with the aim of speeding up processes, metadata insertion from the source could be enabled. However, Miguel Ángel was cautious in this: “We agree about using artificial intelligence as an automatism facilitating flows, but I do not know what would be the approach about how to enrich information on contents before sending them for filing”. As they recognize themselves, “nobody has Google’s translation capabilities, so the alternative lies in getting their products integrated with systems and services. So has been recently done by Sony with a Swiss-based company which after developing an algorithm and implementing machine learning, created an app for translating from Swiss to German. Víctor agreed: “At broadcaster level, what we want is production tools to be easily integrated with those from third parties”. As David noted, Avid assumes such “integration” route through the creation of a “middlework” layer, as companies such as Amazon, Microsoft or Google “will not undertake such process”.

RESOURCE MONITORING AND SEARCH

Beyond the possibilities of identifying the truthfulness of content, a crucial matter is monitoring the number of times it is used in such a way that the discourse of a TV station is not impacted. Is it limited to online storage? Is there a full control in place for reuse of pieces? Víctor was the first to speak: “The whole file is unified in the documentary fund, although each area has a local file that would enable them to operate in the event of a general disaster. (…) There are thousands of files traveling through the areas at documentary fund level, but I do not know about levels in regard to repetition”. Jesús shared the view of the RTVE senior executive and contributed a field case: “In an afternoon news program comprising about 60 pieces there are about 90 and 100 videos coming out from the files. There is more filed content than live program”. On the other hand, Amadeu agreed that for them is an “absolutely essential tool”: in terms of online storage, according to his company mate Alberto, they have 1.5 petabytes. David, from Datos Media, pointed out that although MAMs report the number of times a file is downloaded, “downloading content does not mean it will be used”. However, solutions such as artificial intelligence could in the future be capable of “analyzing the images broadcast” in order to “provide the file with feedback”.

At that point, Miguel Ángel threw a question to all attendees: “What tool does a journalist use for doing a file search’” Alberto noted that Digition presents several modules (Broadcast, current topics, programs and documentation) which access is a “Google-like” search engine, although then “you have to filter out by terms”. They are working on improving the search tool. In the end, documentation is still being used” for more specific searches.

THE CLOUD AS REPOSITORY, MANAGEMENT OF APPLICATIONS AND BUSINESS MODEL

It is funny enough that “the cloud is actually in a basement” as commented by Luis Sanz to attendees. Jokes aside, the truth is that the notion has meant a revolution, not only in regard to storage or production tools, but also in business model, as remarked by Miguel Angel as he took over: “the major news agencies are shifting from investing in their own infrastructures to a cloud-based service model. That is the trend we are seeing”. For the representative of Sony Europe, this provides flexibility and mobility, most of all to corporations deciding to move their central headquarters. On the other hand, he presented XDCAM Air: “What this does is that all camcorders featuring wireless backpacks contribute live content to the cloud, and this content is directly shared and made accessible by the various journalists at any time”. Additionally, “it allows both live streaming and file transfer” and, according to Miguel Ángel, “it is not costly if transport and number of people are considered”. José Antonio added that the system allows “remotely controlling the camera”, which enables a single journalist to travel and cover news with the equipment ; and “sending the planning metadata directly to the camcorder, so this content, when coming back to you, is already being managed within the system”.

 On the other hand, David noted that in regard to cloud, Avid has launched Nexis Cloud, a solution that adapts to the nearline models, which enables sharing several workspaces with different features. It also allows “migrating all tools to the cloud, even under a hybrid model, with the possibility of using an on-premises volume to migrate to the cloud little by little”. On the other hand, “many Avid third-party tools such as NetTV or Wildmoka are already based on cloud systems”.

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In this regard, Juan added that backpacks allow “working in the cloud”, with data uploading to a “web browser” accessible to users, although at present steps are being taken to have the possibility of working with said content from live production as that signal is received”, something that, to Miguel Ángel, is similar XDCAM Air.

According to Víctor Sánchez, each and every comment made so far about the cloud “makes sense”: “All of you manufacturers tend to have the streaming signal available from the cloud in order to provide even faster release functionalities. And then, at production systems level, I agree that large, highly-global corporations are moving into a cloud-based system”. The problem lies in the large amount of data being moved, as that is precisely one of the pricing schemes of cloud providers: “Then you have to make some numbers about how much making it in the cloud or locally may cost”. The Director of the Technical Area of Televisión Española, faced with this and even though he admitted that price was strongly determined by the media manufacturer, the IP communications provider, and the storage provider, favored a mixed approach: having a certain amount of online storage locally or semi-locally and use, as David said, some applications that generate very specific content”. In this issue, Miguel Ángel pointed out that even though he agrees with his colleague, “one must take into account how much having this infrastructure in your headquarters will cost”: Items such as staffing, infrastructures, space, air conditioning, power supply…

CURRENT USE OF THE CLOUD

Alberto Alejo ratified that, of course, it is configured as an important solution for TV3, but he is not at present focusing in it “as a repository”, as they have “a history, staff, machine, amortization of robots…” His efforts are instead directed to contracting “cloud-managed services” as “live transcoding service and VOD for digital media (web, mobile phones, tablets and SmartTVs)”, in view of the “elasticity provided by the cloud, the assurance that you have machines available and you will not run out of them”.

Víctor confirmed that RTVE focus its use in “added services” such as “uploading content with connected cameras” or “servers for a specific content, as subtitling”. He is developing a project aimed at achieving a hybrid technology that will be geared, largely to “services focusing on production and journalists”. “It will be the first approach to be made at RTVE”, which will be performed taking special care in “data production” issues.

This topic was closed by Jesús Sánchez, who noted that in Castilla La Mancha Media are using the cloud for full management of their OTT Additionally, he uses the Dropbox platform to speed up processes with 20 collaborating producers scattered throughout the region: “It is quick, responsive and offered at a very low cost. A very simple way of managing and monitoring the work being carried out by these producers. (…) They finish up their work, drag it down and it is automatically managed”. Miguel Ángel raised two doubts regarding metadata management and data protection guarantees. In regard to the former, Jesús noted that as they are finished work, they are supplemented by scripts that are sent to documentation through e-mail. In regard to the latter issue, he added, “the same as with Azure: there is a confidentiality agreement in place when you purchase the service and we assume that everything coming in is protected, that access is exclusive…”

ELECTIONS: BIG DATA AND GRAPHICAL SPECTACULARITY

In recent times, the Spanish political and social agenda has been deeply influenced by calls to elections, events that news programs have covered with staging featuring striking visual content and high presence of cross-section data.

Alberto told that TV3 has been since 2015 researching on big data, which has enabled them -four years later- to make a powerful deployment in this regard: “We had been gathering momentum. News programs were intending to do more stuff, as usual. We offered them to be able to load social and demographic data details together with working data so as to bring them together with election outcomes so as to enrich the electoral information. We already had processes and workflows in place for collecting elections-related information, validating and publishing results in the various media, including for automatic generation of headlines for broadcast on TV and digital media. We put social and demographic information together with election-related outcomes. Journalists were able to derive richer information than the information we generated during the days following the call for voting and therefore, to find patters in election results.” “In the end, they have so much time to discuss these topics that the more they can get in, the better for them”, concluded Amadeu.

Televisión Española was “very much focused” on the making of special election formats, as well as on the monitoring of information regarding the election calls. “Production was made with the use of augmented reality and graphic displays behind anchor people was used for integrating graphics”, commented Víctor, who finds AR increasingly more stable and perfect” thanks to the new rendering systems and their implementation, which provide “value” to viewers: “We have made use of nearly all technology available in the market: Brainstorm, Avid for an issue, Vizrt and ChyronHego. All of them have better and no so good things, but the general comment is that the final result achieved is quite a good one”. To Víctor it is clear that beyond their current efficiency, survival of this kind of graphics is up to viewers: “Some years ago a move was seen from virtual to real; now we are in augmented reality. This is the trend. It is not a matter of being better or worse, but of what we are dealing with right now”. In regard to this issue, Amadeu believes it necessary to introduce these resources at the right time, as sometimes “technology just for the sake of it turns out to be a bit of a disaster”.

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Castilla La Mancha Media “sticks to the model implemented in TVE”: “We use a graphic style that is worked out in detail. We have been relying on Virtualia for a long time. They use Brainstorm and undertake the whole technical side for us. We also use augmented reality, but we basically focus a lot on design, presentation”. Quite the opposite as other stations, Jesús and his team favor an approach of reducing on-screen data and go for clarity in view of their profile of viewers who live in the “countryside” and are of “older” age.

David had the opportunity to tell his experience in this matter along with Telemadrid, as his company was in charge of developing both augmented and virtual reality for the autonomic, local and European elections. Although, alter being awarded the job they still had three months for implementing their deployment, the call for general elections tightened the deadlines. “With just one month to go, we had to do crazy things, but things turned out quite well actually”. On the other hand, the Operations Manager at Datos Media reflected on standardization of these techniques for the day-to-day activities, as other players such as Atresmedia, Televisión Española or Telemadrid are starting to do. “That is the real challenge of graphical systems: How to produce content in a smart manner and consistent with the development of current issues”.

5G TECHNOLOGY AND MOJO

Although backpack standardization brought about a technical revolution as for live news coverage, the arrival of 5G promises to provide new solutions, either in view of stability achieved, lack of latency or the volume of data conveyed. Víctor and his team have been studying this connectivity for some time now: “We are already doing tests. This will allow us to generate content anywhere with fast connectivity as well as editing and assembling from any spot”. However, he does not hesitate in stating that success will depend on its degree of coverage. Juan, from Ges-It shared this view and added the complications brought by the lack of existence of a global standard. There is no standardized 5G protocol for every country and we will go to the frequency of land digital TV, 700. In spite of this, as the DTV network will be used, he finds there are reasons to be optimistic, as “the infrastructure is already in place and investments have been already made”. Amadeu voiced yet another concern to journalists working with these machines: “We may have a problem here: our journalists were used not to have latency in connections. It was assumed to be 2-3 seconds under 4G. What will it happen when we have a mix of one and the other?” José Antonio also added the problem of access: Will you have your connection or your signal will be used by other services?” In the end, the process lies in the set-up of APNs itself or using a dedicated network in view of potential crowding, as pointed out on the desk.

There is some way to go before the arrival of a real 5G network: Juan regards it will take about three years. That will be the time, for Victor, in which technology will be useful.

WHAT IS BEING MISSED IN NEWS PROGRAMS?

Apart from all topics covered, Luis offered the attendees the opportunity to state the needs existing within the scope covered in this session. In regard to this Victor found necessary an improvement in product integration by manufacturers”. “They are really hard to configure and update, while the trend in phone apps is that you install them and then they are automatically updated until the device becomes obsolete”. According to the representative of TVE, nowadays these systems are a kind of jigsaw that, from an engineering point of view, are hard to manage”. All broadcasters present agreed with this, as also in the following proposal from Amadeu and Alberto: “De-localized work”. In words by the Head of the Software Engineering Service: “Journalists want to be able to work anywhere”, a statement ratified by Jesús Sánchez: “Everything would be much easier and quicker”.

These last words put an end to the TM Broadcast Informative Breakfast devoted to technology for production and broadcast of news programs. Other highly-interesting meetings are scheduled, with topics to be announced in short.

We at TM Broadcast we would like to express our appreciation for the cooperation shown by all attendees, thus making this interesting event possible. 

This report was included in TM Broadcast International #72.

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