TEGNA’s “Daily Blast Live” Finds New Path For Multi-Station Live Contribution On The TVU Grid

With each new program or channel launch, broadcasters are experimenting with the latest technologies that disrupt the traditional models of distribution and improve upon the sharing of content between stations. They have to in order to produce high-quality and captivating multimedia content with ever-shrinking resources amidst today’s highly competitive TV landscape.

“Daily Blast Live” (DBL) is such a program, now 15 months old, that has embraced IP and the resources of more than 50 TV stations around the country to produce 4.5 hours of live programming each day. The increasingly popular show is owned by TEGNA (Formerly part of Gannett that now operates 47 television stations in 39 markets) and produced in studios housed in the same building as Denver's KUSA-TV.

New technologies like TVU Network’s Grid, an IP-based switching, routing and distribution system, have served as the show’s secondary feed to its main daily satellite transmission since its launch. This year management at DBL decided to deploy TVU Grid as the primary distribution channel for a TEGNA station point-to-point media tour.

The delivery of DBL across competitive station groups, something not traditionally done, is another benefit of the IP-based system that the team—led by Sharon Levy, Senior Technical Operations Manager for the show—took full advantage of.

The daily syndicated program is now airing in 40 markets and 14 other stations (owned by Scripps and Hearst).

The daily syndicated program is now airing in 40 markets and 14 other stations (owned by Scripps and Hearst).

“Delivering TEGNA programming to Hearst and Scripps stations is a significant break with the competitive nature of broadcast groups in the past,” Levy said. “The nature of IP technology and TVU Grid in particular help make this process easy because everyone understands how it works and the benefits it brings.”

DBL goes live from 10:30 to 11:00 and 11:30-3:00, and 5:30-6:00 (all (Mountain Time). The show is live the entire time and participating stations jump in and jump out as previously scheduled—airing the show in different time zones and in different day parts.

DBL recently hosted a media tour across all of the TEGNA stations to promote the second season, conducting live, point-to-point interviews from its Denver studio.For six straight hours in a single day, Daily Blast Live sent 32 different live shots about every ten minutes apart featuring DBL talent to TEGNA morning and noon shows. The goal for the team at DBL was to increase awareness and viewership of the show.

During the media tour, the software enabled DBL to monitor program output of the other stations simultaneously from a single interface. Each participating station receives the feed on their respective Grid systems—all with sub-second latency.

The show used TVU Grid during its first season to interact with all of the TEGNA stations during breaking news and talkback segments, but the media tour was their chance to promote DBL in a more direct and cost-effective way. Management is accustomed to using satellite, but based on the network they had set up with TVU, “I couldn't see any reasons to spend that kind of money on satellite time,” she said.

During the highly successful media tour, TVU Network software and its “Command Center” enabled DBL to monitor program output of all of the other participating stations simultaneously from a single interface.

During the highly successful media tour, TVU Network software and its “Command Center” enabled DBL to monitor program output of all of the other participating stations simultaneously from a single interface.

The frequency of the live shots to promote DBL’s new season made production of this media tour far different from past promotions and much more challenging. Although typical “talkback” promotions between the stations and DBL center on the day’s trending topics and are a periodic part of local TEGNA station programming, the number of shots, the total length of time, and the varying time zones that had to be accommodated made more traditional methods such as purchasing satellite time too cost prohibitive.

The DBL media tour’s audio and video content routed the signals through each stations' own control rooms to air. A return feed of the program was fed back via TVU Grid. This provided a a confidence monitor and a source to record all DBL live shots that day. DBL anchors received IFB audio to talk back to from each of the stations.

“It wasn’t complicated in that we’re feeding our signal out and each station had to go find us [on the Grid],” Levy said. “Then the interaction beyond that was conducted over IFB. It got a little dicey because I wanted to see what we looked like in all of the markets we were in. So, I requested that each stations put their outgoing program feed on their TVU Grid so I could see and record their live shot.

“We could have done it without seeing what the other stations were doing, spit ourselves out, dialed up IFB and we’d be good to go, but the technology was there to monitor all of the feeds and I wanted to see what everyone was doing,” she said. “So it made sense to me to use the TVU Grid, both for distribution and monitoring. Instead of calling all of the stations and asking to out send a copy of their DBL segment; I could capture them all while they were feeding it to me via the TVU Grid. It made the event easier to handle for all involved.”

In comparing the picture quality between a satellite feed and the IP feed, Levy said it was not that different, although a slight audio delay occurred between some stations, due to a number of geographic and bandwidth availability factors. [High wireless traffic areas, such as major cities and mountainous environments, can be more problematic.]

“We sometimes do live cut-ins from the field and there can be latency if the reporter is in a high traffic area,” she said. Based on my environment, I think our stations are far more sensitive to a non-satisfactory video signal than a small audio delay. The slight delay is acceptable.”

The IP routing software is now also used for live shots during breaking news and also for talkbacks (similar to the media tour) inserted intermittently during daily morning shows in markets where TEGNA owns and operates stations. Some will have a live shot in their newscast once a week and Levy and her team uses the TVU Grid exactly as they did for the media tour.

During talkback segments, Levy can see each station on her control room monitors in Denver. When a report is out in the field she can't see their signal unless the station in question runs their signal through an SDI connection. TVU helps pair DBL directly with that individual pack using its specific IP address of the wireless transmitter stored in a separate easily transportable backpack. This pairing process also helps minimize latency but by at least half a second.

“They have to lock me in and give me permission so I can see it,” Levy said. “If I already see it, then that’s fine, some of these stations have so many packs I don't see them all unless I ask. But TVU has to put the pack coordinates on my command center here in Denver in way that I have full access to it.”

In this way, during breaking news stories, Levy can call a TEGNA station that has a crew with a bonded cellular transmitter (TVU Pack) near the scene and ask for a customized live shot.

“I can pair up directly with the pack in the field,” she said. “I call TVU and ask them to pair me up with that individual [bonded cellular] back pack. So, instead of going from the field to that TV station, to me, the pack is connected directly to me so that I have control of that pack.”

In the end Levy said today content distributors of all types have to think out of the box and embrace new technologies as they become available in order to remain competitive and produce great content on a limited budget. That also means sometimes working with competitive stations to facilitate far-reaching distribution of DBL.

“You have to look at what's coming next,” she said. “Technology is moving so quickly and I want to be the first one to find a new way to use the latest technology. My show is ‘Daily Blast Live.’ We are about what’s happening now. We are live and we want to reinforce that. I have to look ahead and say what if we tried this or that. Sometimes if it’s risky, it looks real and that’s the aesthetic we’re going for with our show. The key is to remain flexible, try new things and take advantage of what an IP-enabled system, or any other new system, has to offer.”

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