TV Stations Ride Wave of the Future
In the 1987 movie “Broadcast News,” one memorable image of the television media was an assistant sprinting through studio halls, videotape in hand, with seconds to go before the story on that tape aired.
Welcome to the new millennium. For the most modern of news studios, there’s no longer a cassette to carry.
Two stations in San Diego with new nightly newscasts, KSWB-TV Channel 5/69 and Fox affiliate XETV Channel 6, are working with technology that is virtually tapeless.
KSWB debuted in September and XETV on Dec. 27. With those launches came the creations of up-to-date newsrooms, where wires and cables take the place of what XETV technology adviser Steven D. Rosen jokingly calls “sneaker-net.”
Of course, noted KSWB creative services director Will Givens, “The guy at home probably doesn’t know that the story is coming off tape or off a server.”
However, it does affect viewers, Givens said. “It enables stations like us to get into the news business and to do it on a business model that makes sense, and provide the community with a service.”
The tapeless technology was a multimillion-dollar investment for KSWB, though executives wouldn’t specify an amount. At XETV, newsroom equipment came at a $6.5 million price tag.
Fox Channel 6 contracted more than two years ago with Rosen’s San Juan Capistrano-based TV Magic, Inc. to create its tapeless newsroom.
OK, practically tapeless. A truly tapeless system utilizing a portable hard drive that works well in a camera and stands up to the daily rigors of news production has yet to be perfected or affordable, both stations say.
Both stations’ cameras do have tape, which is transferred onto a hard drive when reporters and photographers return to the studio. They can also send in the video via satellite “microwaving.”
– Quick Copies,
After the images and sound have been transferred onto the computer, the footage can be made into multiple copies that are low-resolution and move quickly, said John Weigand, director of engineering for KSWB.
From then on, video runs through servers, which are large sets of hard drives. KSWB uses one large server; XETV opted for three smaller ones.
Editors, producers and reporters each have instantaneous access to the video to create promotional spots and story introductions simultaneously.
They also have the same immediate access to the video streamed in from other wire services or affiliates.
The computerized assembly of a story or promo is now digital non-linear editing, Givens said. It allows for something rather revolutionary to the TV news-editing process: building a story out of sequence.
When using a traditional videotape and splicing a story together, an editor or reporter has to compile the story from beginning to end, Givens noted.
He compared moving from video to non-linear to the transition from typewriters to word processors. It is particularly useful if a story needs a last-minute update, he said.
After a story has been edited and is ready to be aired, it is sent to a server, which stores the daily show’s picture, words and sounds. Anything that is prerecorded plays off of that server, Givens said. The only things that aren’t played from it are the live shots from the news studio and from the field.
From there, the stories are represented on a giant computer screen in the news department’s control room and are played with the click of a mouse.
Also, with both broadcasts, last-minute changes are electronically updated, including a story’s TelePrompTer script, video and production elements, Givens said.
– More Efficient,
For the news content, said KSWB news director Geoff Roth, the technology adds up to a reporting process that is more efficient and less intrusive.
Eventually, reporters will sit at their desktop computer terminals and have all the elements at their fingertips, including footage, scripts, wire services, E-mail and Internet.
The convenience will offer reporters precious intangibles. “It gives reporters and producers more freedom and time to be journalists,” Roth explained.
They will likely use the time for writing stories, perfecting the picture-script match-up and “being better communicators,” he said.
And, the more time spent on a story, the better it makes the journalist, Roth said.
Roth anticipates further changes, such as the Internet’s convergence with television. “Five to 10 years down the line, the whole way people receive information is going to be so different that it will change the way we do our job,” he said.
Tapeless technology requires a definite learning curve, said TV Magic’s Rosen. Not only for his side of the operations, in which software and video technology must be merged, but for reporters, editors and producers. Most of them are using the technology for the first time, Rosen said.
With easier access to footage, and full crafting of stories potentially being done at one desk, the new technology is changing the way the work flow is organized, he said.
– Upgrades Easier,
Updating the equipment will also be easier and more cost-effective, Givens said. The station will have to download software, he said.
“You can upgrade it relatively easily, relatively often,” he said.
At the other television stations in town, news operations continue to use videotapes, keeping an eye to the new technology.
KGTV Channel 10, the local ABC affiliate, remains “significantly tape-based,” said operations manager Mike Biltucci.
The station has some server technology that plays commercials, but its news acquisition and distribution is done by tape, Biltucci said.
Although it’s been discussed, KGTV does not have plans in the next three to five years for tapeless technology, he said.
The station just started using a new camera and tape system, and it will take five to seven years for it to depreciate, Biltucci said.
KNSD-TV Channel 7/39 also uses tape, with some tapeless editing. Representatives for the NBC affiliate were not available to comment on the station’s technology.
At KFMB-TV Channel 8, staff engineer Gary Stigall said the news department is tape-based. However, KFMB expects to have the whole station working tapeless in about a year, Stigall said.
By the beginning of April, the CBS affiliate plans to begin using tapeless technology for broadcasting commercials, he said.
At KUSI-TV Channel 9/51, the station continues to be tape-based, said assistant news director Gregg Rawdin. Although the station plans to work in tapeless technology in upcoming years, Rawdin said, he thought tape machines will have an ongoing presence in modern newsrooms.