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iTools of the Trade

Ensemble Designs BrightEye NXT Video Routing Switcher controlled by iPhone for professional broadcast television stations

Traditional workflow had the anchors tethered to the desk with microphones, IFB and a pile of papers that could put Dunder Mifflin on the map. Today however, wires have disappeared, the talent is working the set like a golf course, and paper is nowhere to be seen.


According to Larry Rickel, president and CEO of Broadcast Image Group, a consulting and recruiting agency, the latest trend in TV news is to operate in a continuous coverage environment. In the recent past, some journalists would only turn in one story a day.

“Some stories still require ‘four legs,’ while some only ‘two legs.’ Either way, the game has changed” Rickel said. “Often, the reporters post video to social media sites before they leave the building, and when they get on-site, they take a few pictures—either still or video—and post them immediately on Facebook, or other social media sites. This gives the viewers an idea of what they will be seeing later.

“During ongoing stories, reporters and MMJs—multimedia journalists—are now tweeting or blogging about the story as it unfolds. The audience is no longer just a viewer, but a collaborator; often adding fact or insight.”

When asked about the latest trends in the studio, Rickel said that with newscasts running longer, anchor comfort and flexibility had to evolve, including going totally wireless and paperless. Talent often also has untethered access to all studio tools, including very large monitors, interactive regions such as cooking and demonstration areas; and oversized chroma key walls. The latest trend, according to Rickel, is for the news anchor to post video to Facebook from their smartphone during commercial breaks in live shows.

Another growing trend is for stations to display social media web pages on-air, including Facebook and Twitter. Cindy Zuelsdorf, marketing czar for Ensemble Designs, said that sales of their display scalers (making PC signals a TV signal) have increased dramatically in the past 12 months. “In the past,” Zuelsdorf said, “stations have typically had one display device attached to a single computer. That is no longer the case, and now many stations have multiple workstations that can be used to display web or PC content as video.”

For wireless display of iPads on large monitors in the studio environment, Rickel indicated that products like the Apple AirPlay are becoming more prevalent in the studio environment to display tablet images onto large monitors without wires.

Some stations are having anchors read from iPads with scripts displaying a PDF file uploaded before the newscast. This effort created a cleaner anchor desk, and alleviated thousands of dollars from the paper and toner budget, but didn’t allow for real-time updates and newsroom software interaction.

Instant connectivity

The recent evolution of products like ENPS’ Mobile Server allows iPads on anchor desks to have real-time connectivity to newsroom systems, allowing instant updates and connectivity, both in the studio and the field on smartphones.

According to Jennifer Horbelt, anchor at KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs, Colo., the benefits of the iPad for dynamic anchor scripts greatly outweigh any concerns or anxieties anchors may have about switching from paper to electronic display.

“When I was told that we were going to migrate away from paper at my last station, I was skeptical and very concerned about the technology breaking down” Horbelt said. “Overall, I’d have to give the system an eight or a nine on a scale of 10 for reliability, I was really surprised.”

Todd Faulkner, anchor/reporter at WPSD-TV in Paducah, Ky., shared similar results.

WPSD-TV reporter editing video on an iPhone. “At first, I didn’t want to use the iPad, even though script updates would likely be instant and troublefree, but now I totally advocate the use of the iPad on the anchor desk,” Faulkner said. “It’s easy, very comfortable to operate, and it’s the next step in technology.”

Both Horbelt and Faulkner expressed dislikes about page advancement, as there is no button with “tactile” feedback. According to them, you have to learn where to press on the flat screen to advance to the next page. Regarding the volume of paper use for news production, while an iPad on the anchor desk can remove one or two hard copies, the audio and video directors each still need one. With news automation products like Ignite, OverDrive, and others, however, the entire print job can be eliminated.

iTools in the field

In the field, things are changing as well. Rickell said that journalists in the field are able to be more in charge of the project, actually producing in the field.

“With smartphone connectivity to newsroom software, delays and confusion can be eliminated, and reporters can submit their script immediately.”

Jonathan Warren, an MMJ at WPSD-TV in Paducah, Ky., has used his iPhone 4 to shoot, edit, and send back packages from the field.

“When I arrived to cover a recent bank robbery, the first thing I did was shoot an “as live” tease on my iPhone 4 to send back to the station. I looked at the scene, wrote to the video in my head and just let it go. I made three short segments, edited them together using iMovie, exported it out to camera roll, and attached the video as an email. It was airing on the station about 20 minutes from when I arrived on scene.”

According to Warren, he had his MMJ gear setup and rolling while he prepared the as-live, but the iPhone allowed him to leap-frog traditional ENG. Warren adds that the there is a small learning curve on the editing/import/export phone app, and the editing capabilities are really limited, but once you figure out how to shoot for the iPhone-iMovie combo, it’s easy.

Faulkner, who also reports, has used his iPhone 4 to shoot teases and post content on Facebook from the field. He said to keep it simple and easy.

“While driving through one community on my day off, I saw some suspicious folks asking for donations,” he said. “I identified myself as a reporter and used my iPhone 4 to shoot video of the solicitors… the fundraising was indeed a scam, and my video was used on the air. I could have just as easily been a viewer contributing the same content!”

For live from the field, many stations have adopted the use of Skype or FaceTime for fast, easy remote setup. These products have decent quality, and they re-enforce the concept that content is king. Both Warren and Faulkner cautioned that in the field, connectivity is important with any “smart” device and you need to be prepared for glitches, and the occasional unplanned device reboot.

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