Bridging/Making/Linking Tools Into Real News Workflows
“Tom”, they said to me in the closing hours of a major trade show: “could you possibly write 1600 words or so on the topic of news?”. I immediately said “yes” and once home I skipped breakfast then sat down to write this – I thought about my recent attendances at NAB, IBC, various DPP, EBU and SMPTE conferences to try and identify what I thought people actually want to hear and realized that while it’s very easy to come up with 1600 words on a specific topic (say, “the potential long-term impact of 5G on contribution workflows”, or “the possibilities of ingest-stage AI metadata on improving monetization of file-based archives”, for example – pick a topic from your favorite conference) it’s far harder with a topic as broad as “News”.
Looking through the lens of Ross Video doesn’t help narrow it down as much as you might think. These days we build components for almost the entire workflow – there’s little between your cameras (be they studio, ENG, or anything else) and the master control playout that we don’t make and can’t scale to fit.
Some of these components (our graphics, connectivity, or switchers, for example) are dominant forces in their spaces and have been extensively documented. They’re excellent and lots of people know it. So, instead of the hardware I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about the software - that turns these product nodes into complete news production workflows, and that involves going from a product problem (“I need a new 40 input switcher with more MEs than last time”) to a solution problem (“I want to achieve X, how would you go about it?”).
Over the last few years news production workflows, rather than just news production products, have become a major focus for us. A lot of very skilled managers and developers have been working for a long time to realize a strategy that is only recently swimming into focus for the outside world, and it’s worth talking about.
News starts in a newsroom, so that’s where I’ll start. About 11 years ago we launched Inception - the world’s first fully browser-based newsroom. Story-centric, collaborative, social-media connected, deployable in any way you need (cloud, Virtual Machine (VM), on-prem) and massively scalable, it changed the landscape for how people thought about what an NRCS (News Room Computer System) should actually look and how it should function. Its continued development has added phone apps, a powerful XPression graphics integration, the ability to share content between separate systems and more. Between its scalability, integrations, deployment, and access options it’s probably the most flexible NRCS anywhere. You can tell journalists designed it (and still manage its development today).
In hundreds of broadcasters worldwide (the most any automated production control vendor can boast, we’re proud to say) you’ll also find OverDrive. In addition to our products, we’re now up to over 250 different 3rd party integrations and counting. This drives huge efficiencies and increases production quality, complexity, and repeatability making sure the timing and execution of even the most complex productions comes out perfectly every time without sacrificing the flexibility you need in the reliably unpredictable situations news provides. Whatever the mix of tools you already have or however complicated you think your show is (we’ve never found a news show that we couldn’t run with OverDrive).
So far, so good – Ross does live stuff and has a newsroom. Great!
If you sat at a vision switcher in a control room, you could look around and see almost nothing but Ross equipment – indeed that’s where we came from so that makes sense but when you take a step out of that room and start thinking about the parts of that broadcast you’re producing that don’t come from inside the building there were questions we didn’t historically have such a strong answer for.
Customers started to ask us: “can you do Media Asset Management?”. After all, there are live feeds coming in that need tagging, recording, management and incorporating into our broadcasts, to say nothing of the thousands of clips ENG crews are bringing in every week.
For a long time, we’ve had some great tools for managing graphics assets and the media within them, but these were stretched when it came to heavier media-creation tasks at scale, remote workflows and NLE and archive integration.
Our code of ethics (a real thing people actually work by, by the way) have led to a very healthy eco-system of integrated 3rd party solutions (and customer developed panels and workflows too) but it was a gap felt by a lot of our customers. Surely if we built the whole thing we could do more, faster, and more smoothly?
Recently, we acquired Primestream. This is where we quietly started to close the last of the gaps. It was always about much more than “Ross has a MAM now”.
But before I embark on that, it’s worth mentioning Ross has a lot of requirements when it comes to reliability, supportability, and consistency so as with every new company that joins us, we spent a while “Rossifying” the offering and a lot of the back-end processes to make sure it all aligns with our product portfolio and our values.
The Primestream acquisition added Streamline Xchange – a full media asset management suite that integrates with NLEs, video servers, archives, cloud storage, has compelling remote workflow capabilities and scales to your needs.
This year we showed the first glimpse of Streamline Pro – a drag-and-drop panel interface from MAM to NRCS allowing for fully connected newsroom and content creation teams including media search, adding assets to rundowns and placeholder fulfilment workflows.
While the MAM was the big-ticket item, there was something else exciting we found within the Primestream portfolio that many people overlooked.
Media I/O is an incredible bit of software – essentially it does exactly what it’s called - it takes media in and sends media out. Lots of vendors offer something like this but the elegance of Media I/O is how powerful it is while remaining so simple.
It can take almost any input (streams like HLS, NDI, SRT etc or with an interface board SDI or 2110) and output almost any file – DNxHD/R, ProRes, XAVC, AVC-I, XDCam, H.264, all that good stuff you actually use in broadcast and 95% of what you’d use in post, too) along with all the metadata you could possibly need.
It also does the reverse. It consists of a management and control layer and then you just add channels as you please. Combine four channels to create a UHD channel. Then uncombine them. Change the direction of any channel at any time from ingest to playback. It schedules, crash records, gang-rolls, and runs on COTS hardware, the cloud, VM or we can provide it turnkey. It’s stunningly simple to configure and order – you just tell us how many channels you want and how you want to deploy it. Everything else is included. It also has MOS, AMP, VDCP, router control and an API. I wouldn’t be very good at my job (in business development) if I didn’t casually drop in here that it’s very price-competitive too.
So, let’s close the loop. The grand picture I’ve been hinting at that’s being revealed.
Inception is where the story starts (it’s another well-named product). It coordinates what’s supposed to happen and when, be a repository for story information, and allowing journalists to build the news. The media and graphics that support that news are integrated with panels that make access to the resources seamless. Everything gets assembled.
Streamline Pro loops in the NLEs, fulfils placeholders created in Inception and manages the media lifecycle right through to archive.
Media I/O brings the media in and out as you need, whatever type it is and whatever unusual use-case you might encounter tomorrow.
Tom Crocker, Director of Business Development – Production Workflows, Ross.
When it’s time to on-air, OverDrive conducts the whole symphony, communicating with everything to make sure every camera movement (Cambot, Furio), switch (Carbonite, Acuity), route (Ultrix), media clip (Media I/O), graphic (XPression) and fader movement happens when it’s supposed to.
Pretty much all of this is available to run in the cloud or on-prem, virtualizable, available as subscription or perpetual licence. The idea is that we can help you build the whole workflow you need, for you to deploy as you need.
The point of all this is to be able to have those “How do I achieve X” discussions mentioned above without running into those “it depends on the limitations of [insert vendor here]” discussions. We’re now free to build best-of-breed workflows, guided by our customers, by linking up the gaps between workflow components wherever we find room for improvement. It’s a very exciting time.
There really isn’t a lot we can’t achieve. The panel was a small launch, but it closed a gap on a very large, exciting circle.