TVNZ eases into digital news

Viewers of TVNZ's midday news programme last Tuesday may not have noticed anything new, but for the broadcaster the bulletin was a milestone.

Viewers of TVNZ’s midday news programme last Tuesday may not have noticed anything new, but for the broadcaster the bulletin was a milestone.

That edition of Midday was the first to be completely recorded, edited and prepared for broadcast using a new server-based Inspiration digital newsroom production system.

The project has reportedly come in on budget, at around $7 million.

Project manager Steve Browning says the rollout of Inspiration went extremely well, and that over the next few months the rest of TVNZ’s news shows will start to be produced entirely digitally.

“Digital cameras are being rolled out now in Auckland, and when that is done it will effectively be end-to-end digital.”

Midday will continue to be the testing ground for Inspiration, with Breakfast and TV One’s 6pm news programme making the transition in the next few months.

“As with all technology you make sure that you minimise the risk, so initially we went for the show that has the shortest duration and has the lowest viewers, so if we had any problems it wouldn’t affect our flagship 6pm bulletin,” says Browning.

All news footage, whether from analogue or digital cameras, or feeds from news bureaus, will be stored on a Quantel server, with editing software provided by UK-based OmniBus Systems.

On any given day the server is expected to house around 100 hours of MPEG 50i video, the highest bit-rate available.

Inspiration, the brand name for the collaborative effort between Quantel and OmniBus, brings TVNZ in line with systems used by overseas broadcasters such as CNN, BBC, ITN and CBC.

Like those companies, Inspiration allows TVNZ’s footage to be used for multiple broadcast outlets — including, digital channels and normal analogue television — thus improving both the public’s access to current affairs and helping TVNZ chase new advertising revenues.

Different cuts of news will soon appear in different outlets — such as a planned early-morning bulletin for broadcast exclusively on Air New Zealand national flights.

Midday news producer Darryl Walker, one of the trial users of Inspiration, says the introduction of the system has been a behind-the-scenes revolution.

“The funny thing is, we’ve spent an awful lot of money producing a show that doesn’t look that different from the old show,” he says. “It’s fantastic for journalists and producers because it gives them far more control and ownership of their stories.”

But Walker says the concept of a digital newsroom also raises the prospect of the public being able to select their own news programme content online or via digital TV programming options. “We haven’t even begun to realise the potential that exists for expanding the news service,” he says.

Although reporters will edit much of the news footage, Browning says specialist editors will still do “finesse” work.

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