Sky News Arabia adopted Viz Mosart studio automation software, moving its newsroom away from relying entirely on manual processes, improving efficiency and simplifying workflows.
Improving efficiency and simplifying workflows were the primary factors behind Sky News Arabia’s decision to investigate options for studio automation at its Abu Dhabi facility, and shifting its newsroom away from depending entirely on manual processes. Suresh Kumar, Director of Technology at Sky News Arabia, said, “When we first investigated studio automation, we realised it wasn’t yet in wide use in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) region where our headquarters are based, so we did not have a frame of reference.
“Our workflows are more complex than many broadcasters in other regions due to the need for multiple language broadcasts of the same content. We like to tackle technical challenges, so while some studios may adapt their workflows to suit studio automation, we took the opposite approach instead – we wanted to adapt the studio automation system to our existing workflows.”
In particular, the studio automation system needed to be able to handle changes to content right up to the point of distribution. “We have a very dynamic newsroom and, given the nature of the business, we need to be prepared for last-minute changes,” Suresh said.
Ultimately, several factors pushed the team in the direction of newsroom studio automation, and to eventually adopt Vizrt’s Viz Mosart automation software. Above all – and in line with a long-term policy to improve program quality and reduce errors – the company wanted to enhance the consistency of their output.
Secondly, Sky News Arabia was already using several Vizrt products at the Abu Dhabi studios, including Viz Trio for CG graphics, Viz World for maps, Viz Artist for graphics design, Viz Arc for augmented reality (AR) graphics and, to support all of this software, Viz Engine for graphics rendering and playout. Going with Viz Mosart meant staff were learning a system from a familiar brand and would need less preparatory training. They would also have the opportunity to see Viz Mosart in action at other companies in the Sky group, including Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland.
Viz Mosart also supports direct integration with other key systems in the facility. As a result, Viz Mosart is now being used to automate a wide variety of key studio systems, including the iNews Newsroom Control System [NRCS], a Grass Valley Kayenne vision mixer, an Avid FastServe playout server and a Miranda NV9000 video router controller.
The system is, of course, integrated with existing Vizrt equipment including Viz Pilot and Vizrt Graphic Hub for management and access to all of Sky News Arabia’s Vizrt graphics resources. Viz Pilot sets out an environment to create, manage and deliver high volumes of customised content. It supports live and recorded news, sports, elections and other broadcast productions.
By using a collection of template forms, the editorial staff can enter new data, real-time 3D graphics, images or videos in predefined graphic animations, and preview the result as they go. This approach keeps day-to-day content creation independent from the design department, and makes editors more agile and responsive to incoming information.
Because the Sky News Arabia team needs to work continuously 24/7, minimizing training requirements and interruptions to operations during the overhaul were major concerns. “We held a few sessions for engineers in the run-up to the installation, but most of the training was completed before we went on-air,” Suresh said. “That was very important because we needed to begin broadcasting with the system very confidently, with all our staff feeling comfortable about it.”
The entire process was smooth enough so that the project, originally estimated to take a full six months, was completed in half the time. Furthermore, the team at Sky News Arabia went on-air with Viz Mosart for 24/7 live productions a week ahead of schedule, without errors.
Efficiency and Consistency
As well as improving consistency, one of the key objectives of the automation project was to make Sky News Arabia more cost-efficient and allow the teams to make more targeted use of staff members’ skills. So far, the Sky News Arabia team calculates that its use of Viz Mosart has reduced operational costs by more than 40%.
On the viewers’ side, the studio automation has made other improvements. “When you remove the human error factor, it takes a lot of variables out of the picture altogether. That’s great for viewers because, looking at the log produced by the operations team, the number of errors has been reduced by a significant percentage,” said Varoujan Joulfayan, Head of Creative.
It also means that the team has an opportunity to make the look, feel and content of the shows more consistent. “We focus acutely on maintaining the quality of our shows,” said Wissam Ayoub, Director of Studio Operations at Sky News Arabia. “We know from our own research that our viewers have grown accustomed to seeing things presented within the same style and level of quality, and value that kind of consistency in our production. Maintaining that becomes much easier when you are using Viz Mosart.”
Although skepticism on behalf of staff is inevitable when major infrastructural changes occur, the benefits of the system became apparent fairly quickly. “The staff need to work with it in different ways – the editorial team, for example, doesn’t interact with it in as technical a manner as the engineers – but everyone can recognize its value.” For example, all users can create and share automation templates, and configure the user interface to match their working style with customizable layouts. Live video sources are displayed in the user interface, with clear timing and status for stories, elements, production output and next events.
A key feature of Viz Mosart is Story Recorder, allowing producers to reshoot show segments, automatically resetting studio devices to the appropriate states, ready for the retake. Once the shoot is finished, Story Recorder automatically stitches together the correct show segments, reducing the editing time required per show.
Engine Switcher for Viz Mosart automates the production of graphics-centric content and automated scene-based switching without a dedicated switcher. An entire show can be designed as a graphics scene – including video switching. Viz Engine handles the switching of IP inputs and all rendering of DVE effects and full screen/overlay graphics. By defining show content in the rundown with preset scenes, the process becomes simpler for the journalist.
Wissam Ayoub, Director of Studio Operations, said, “Our operators have really found the system easy to use. Everything is in front of you and the interface is appealing and straightforward – it gives all necessary information to the director, including a real-time updated version of the presenter text, but allows full flexibility to operate both planned and breaking news, and pre-recorded shows. All of that has helped considerably in making this project a success.”
This newsroom automation project has subsequently earned the team an ASBU Broadcast Pro ME award in the Broadcast Project of the Year category for excellence and innovation in the Media and Entertainment industry. www.vizrt.com