Broadcast Newsroom Systems: Advancing the Art

Broadcast Newsroom Systems: Advancing the Art
by Jonathan Hughes, Managing Director, ATG Danmon

Well produced, credible and up-to-date news coverage is an industry-proven element of successful broadcast television channels, attracting audience attention and encouraging long-term viewer loyalty. Public interest in global, regional and subject-specific news is higher than ever given the popularity of accessing text-based headlines and video clips via mobile phones. This in turn increases demand for the detailed coverage and on-the-spot reporting at which television news broadcasters excel.

ATG Danmon has 30 years of experience designing and building broadcast production and presentation facilities that position our customers ahead of their competitors. The following short article describes some of our most recent projects in the news-related category.

Al Araby Television Network

The Al Araby Television Network broadcasts via satellite to viewers throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, as well as globally via cable and online. The channel has offices in many countries, supported by more than 60 correspondents around the world. Al Araby programmes are supplemented by an online web service including on-demand video. Al Araby Television can be viewed via satellite and via various regional service providers. Live broadcasts can also be seen via the Al Araby website or using smartphone applications.

ATG Danmon was commissioned to advance the network’s news reporting, ingest, production and playout systems to latest-generation workflow, allowing staff to operate with maximum efficiency and creativity as a unified team. We were chosen to design, engineer and integrate a complete system from content acquisition right through to presentation. Studios 1 and 2 can be seen in Figures 1 and 2 respectively.

The front end comprises 12 channels of news ingest capturing to a dedicated server with proxy file-generation capability. This feeds through to a 75-client news production platform with full asset management resources, 120 terabytes of production storage and cloud-connected browsing. Studio playout is fully automated. The graphics system provides a range of image generation capabilities including a scrolling text news ticker, virtual studio generation plus a video wall feed. We were also commissioned to upgrade eight craft edit suites, replacing a third-party installation with latest-generation Avid editors, plus network switching and transcoding.

As is normal on projects of this kind, we partnered closely with Al Araby’s management team and studio staff to ensure that full broadcast continuity was maintained throughout the entire process of upgrading. Programme rehearsal, live presentation, post production and playout all proceeded as normal throughout the upgrade. Much of the installation work was performed at night so that studio operation could proceed without disturbance. Legacy infrastructure remained active until the new system was fully commissioned so that editors and their production colleagues could transition as easily as possible.

Independent Television News

One of the UK’s foremost television production and news organisations, ITN (Figure 3) is recognised globally for its quality, integrity and creativity. ITN makes the daily news programmes for ITV, UK Channel 4 and UK Channel 5, providing comprehensive and impartial news to the British public and reaching millions of viewers every day, as well as television production; sports; advertising; corporate films; education content; entertainment and news footage syndication; and post-production. Each year ITN produces over 650 hours of non-news unscripted content for UK and International broadcasters including ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, the BBC, Netflix, Discovery, Amazon and NBC.

ITN commissioned ATG Danmon to perform a studio control room upgrade including the integration of a latest-generation production switcher, control surface and production server. A key challenge was the need to ensure that the upgrade could be completed without impacting the facility’s normal schedule which in this case included daily news presentations plus Monday through Friday magazine shows. Production requirements included the ability for the switcher to interact with the control systems. Graphic cues and spot-on audio cues are controlled directly from the vision switcher which is linked to the sound desk. The vision switcher also interfaces to a clip replay system allowing the production team to set up and build the shows.

Based on our long experience of time-critical projects, we pre-installed and tested the complete system into an onsite development environment so that daily studio and control-room operations could proceed without interruption. The development area was also used for preliminary operator familiarisation. We were then able to perform a complete changeover on a Saturday followed by full testing and in-situ training on the Sunday prior to the new system going live on the Monday morning. Everything went fully to plan. The new infrastructure is futureproof and can be upgraded from HD to UHD and SDR to HDR if or when required.

We also integrated a robotic camera tracking system for ITN’s main news studio. This included an optical tracking for use with ITN’s existing cameras plus virtual studio graphics, replacing a third-party solution which was nearing the end of its useful life. Integrating the tracking system involved mounting infra-red sensor cameras onto five existing ITN camera systems, placing markers across the studio and calibrating the two lens types currently in use. Mapping is a vital element of any virtual studio system. We then performed final testing of the tracking system and graphics, fine-tuning as the results were evaluated. The project was completed successfully over a weekend with the new system on air for the Sunday evening bulletin.


Global News Agency

Another news-related project was included the design and integration of studios plus associated galleries and a master control room for one of the largest and longest established global news agencies. This assignment coincided with a relocation to new premises in London’s Canary Wharf financial hub. The studios form the UK core of a global service the agency offers to television and radio broadcasters in addition to its role as an international news provider. We partnered closely with the studio management team from the initial design phase through to system completion, testing and staff training. Cable prefabrication was performed at our Letchworth headquarters prior to the onsite build. New equipment installed included power-efficient LED lighting, routing and talkback. We also integrated cameras from the agency’s former location and installed a 12G SDI routing core. This is configured for HD but can also handle UHD if required at any time in the future. We have also upgraded the graphics and character generation facilities to support perspective-based image manipulation and real-time animation. This includes a MOS software gateway with an offline render engine. Audio infrastructure includes audio-over-IP networking bridged to the router which performs the embedding and distribution switching. The intercom system was upgraded to handle up to 128 ports in a 1 U chassis with support for up to eight such units.

For the Studio A gallery, we integrated a main production desk facing a wall-mounted array of UHD video monitors in multiscreen configuration. A desk with an integrated audio mixer was also populated and connected into the system. For the Studio B production gallery, we integrated a desk equipped for graphics, vision mixing, newsroom-computer and robotic camera control. An audio mixer is located on the right. The monitor wall display has essentially the same configuration as that in the Studio A production gallery.

The project was completed on schedule and within budget.

Developing trends

The ATG Danmon team along with our Danmon Group colleagues maintain a watchful eye on new developments across the entire broadcast media spectrum to ensure that our system proposals deliver the greatest possible operational advantages at the most competitive price point. In the newsroom sector, automated content recognition is now used widely to assist newsroom staff in selecting the stories they need from incoming feeds as well as their existing archives. AI even offers the prospect of auto-animated presenters if viewers find that an appealing option. I have my doubts on that one! The primary aim, as ever, is to ensure maximum efficiency and viewer-attraction at every point in the workflow from content ingest to transmission.

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