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Independent News Production Teams Capture Breaking News Coverage With URSA Broadcast G2 Cameras

A large warehouse fire comes across the police scanner and a news camera operator and an audio guy jump in their car, specially outfitted with a laptop for editing (mounted to the dashboard) and a tripod that folds out of the trunk, and race to get the story. It’s a scenario that plays out hundreds of times each day at TV stations across the country.

Except this crew is not affiliated with any one station and instead is working independently for Key News Network, based in Los Angeles, which then sells the footage—white-labeled so a station can brand it with their own logo—to broadcasters in a specific DMA. In some cases every station in a particular market aired the exact same footage, edited a bit differently on each channel, on the same night.

While it’s not a new idea, stations have used outsourced footage and freelance news gatherers for years, KNN’s founder and director of photography Zak Holman says in todays’ fast-paced, multi-platform news coverage environment, he’s augmented stations’ newscasts and allowing them to present more news for their viewers.

He said that the need for outsourced news footage among stations is gradually increasing, with his business growing roughly 10 percent in sales since he started the company in 2021.

“We’re not trying to take jobs from anyone at the station,” he said. “We’re expanding the capabilities of the smaller newsroom in the smaller markets. And we’re experienced news shooters that know how to handle a news event, so stations welcome what we do for them.”

Zak Holman lines up a shot on scene with a Blackmagic Ursa Broadcast G2 camera in low light conditions.

Zak Holman lines up a shot on scene with a Blackmagic Ursa Broadcast G2 camera in low light conditions.

Currently operating in four markets—Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego and Bakersfield, Calif.—with a plan to be in two more by the end of this year, a staff of 36 news shooters and editors produce an average of 160 stories (approximately 3-5 minutes each) per month.

A new generation of flexible ENG production equipment has allowed companies like KNN to thrive without breaking the bank. All of KNN’s stories are shot and edited in 1080p HD with low cost equipment that includes six Blackmagic Design URSA Broadcast G2 cameras and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Studio postproduction software. Editing with DaVinci Resolve Studio is accomplished immediately in their cars on scene or at home, depending upon the urgency of the project.

KNN stories have appeared on all of the major new networks and cable outlets as well as on the Associated Press and Reuters websites. When not shooting news, they also take on entertainment projects for shows like “Ellen” and “The Dr. Phil Show.” They also publish video stories through an online newsletter called “NewsBreak” that is read by millions. Oh, and Holman, a veteran news shooter and editor, maintains two YouTube channels that attract well over a million followers as well.

“We’re all mobile based,” said Holman. “Our offices are our cars. We do everything in the vehicle. We have an on-board power inverter for all the equipment, battery chargers, emergency lights. We call it our ‘little editing suite from the driver’s seat.’ Basically, we’re doing what a typical news van does in a Ford Explorer.”

KNN owns and operates six URSA Broadcast G2 cameras and are waiting on two more. They added the URSA Mini Shoulder Kit and URSA Viewfinder to help configure the camera for ENG work. The camera records to SD cards, UHS-II cards, CFast 2.0 cards or external USB disks, using the H.265, ProRes and Blackmagic RAW file formats.

Their field kit also includes Canon and Fujinon B4 mount lenses, Sennheiser handheld and wireless microphones, Audio-Technica shotgun mics.

Holman calls the URSA Broadcast G2 “three cameras in one.”

“We’re doing broadcast, pre-recorded standups, but we’re also doing a lot of live work with it as well,” he said, adding that they use a camera-mounted Teradek Cube H. 264 encoder on each camera to stream the footage (at approximately 15 Mbps) back to the clients they work with. “This camera can handle all three applications, so we feel it’s future-proof, allowing us to expand our business while using the same camera.”

Holman said they can shoot news in the morning in HD with a B2 lens and then change to an EF mount lens and shoot a live red carpet event in 4K or 6K—thanks to the camera’s 23.1 x 12.99 mm (Super35) 6K CMOS sensor. It also offers 13 stops of dynamic range, which allows Holman and his team to capture nighttime news events in ways they couldn’t do as cleanly before.

“The dynamic range on the URSA Broadcast G2 is perfect for filming in these situations, especially at night, and proves itself multiple times in a shift,” Zak said. “We have super dark surroundings with car headlights aimed directly at the lens, and we're able to pull a usable shot, which is usually very hard.”

“It’s also great in low light,” he added. “We’re able to see things in the dark that we’ve never seen before with other cameras. And the image is much more intense for viewers watching at home. It’s a win-win for me as a storyteller and for my clients who really appreciate the great looking footage.”

Each of KNN’s vehicles is equipped with a laptop running DaVinci Resolve software to turn around stories in less than ten minutes.

Each of KNN’s vehicles is equipped with a laptop running DaVinci Resolve software to turn around stories in less than ten minutes.

For editing, DaVinci Resolve Studio software helps turn around stories fast. Holman said they were initially all using different editing software, so when he formed his new team, he wanted to get everyone working on the same platform.

“We found Resolve a dream come true because it allows you to start with the free version and then pay for more advanced features,” he said. “The fast-edit capabilities are great and we’ve only scratched the surface with all of the features it has. It has become our workhorse.”

The software also gives them the ability to perform color grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio postproduction, but that does not happen often with news stories. In news, there’s just not enough time.

“All of our white balancing is done in-camera, so when we get to a scene, the first two seconds I’m holding that white balance button on the front of the camera, trying to target the ideal white balance,” said Holman. “We do white balancing in the camera because it saves time in editing. Once I capture the footage I load an SD card into my laptop (with Nvidia cards) mounted on the console of the car and start editing. I have to turn a 3-minute story around in less than ten minutes or it’s old news to my clients.”

Independent news production companies like KNN are popping up all across the country, saving stations money while they also expand news coverage and/or make it available in places that don’t maintain a full-time staff. KNN’s “virtual company” strategy, with a team of freelancers working from home, is sure to be a model for success going forward.

Using tools that cost a fraction of a typical news production kit—the URSA Broadcast G2 camera (with free Resolve Studio software) is about $4K—is helping companies like KNN be competitive in a cut-throat industry. Expect this trend to continue as station groups consolidate their assets following mergers and large media companies spend large sums on content for their rapidly emerging OTT services.