Sinclair Broadcast Group Transforms Multi-Station News Content Sharing and Archive Workflows

An in-depth look at how Sinclair improved content archiving and sharing across their newsrooms

Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. is one of the largest and most diversified television broadcasting companies in the United States.  Sinclair owns and operates, programs or provides sales services to more than 190 television stations in over 100 markets, with station affiliations including ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, MyTV, NBC, Azteca, Telemundo, and Univision.

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More than 60 of these stations have news production operations, involving hundreds of local journalists. Built up over time both organically and through station acquisitions, Sinclair’s newsrooms employ varying combinations of newsroom computer system (NRCS) and video production platforms. Stations also had differing levels of capabilities for managing their news video assets.

Against this backdrop, Sinclair sought a solution to improve their news workflows, with an emphasis on three particular needs:

  • Enabling stations to save the daily content they produce (video with linked stories) into an archive where it is available to all other stations in the group.
  • Enabling stations to share fresh content (potentially before it has been aired) with all other stations in the group.
  • Making these functions as simple as possible for journalists by eliminating manual steps and additional pop-up windows and user interfaces on the journalists’ desktops.

Sinclair required that the solution work across their existing NRCS and production systems including AP ENPS, Avid iNEWS, Avid Interplay and BitCentral Precis. They also strongly preferred that the solution be driven through their familiar NRCS interfaces, reducing training requirements and enabling journalists to focus on the core of Sinclair’s publicly-stated mission statement: producing “compelling, engaging, informative newscasts.”

To meet their objectives, Sinclair chose MassStore for News. Integrating deeply with the ENPS and iNEWS NRCS systems and leveraging Masstech’s API-level support for over 100 third-party systems as well as standard protocols, MassStore for News transparently bridges the diverse systems used across the Sinclair group. Monitoring the NRCS queues and rundowns for journalists’ routine actions, MassStore for News executes automated workflows ‘behind the scenes’ to automatically perform archive and sharing functions, eliminating manual steps and shielding users from technical details.
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Sinclair journalists, already familiar with dragging and dropping stories into rundowns to send them to air, now use the same easy operations to move text and video between sites or archives, right within ENPS or iNEWS. Journalists simply drag-and-drop the story into the appropriate queue or rundown, and Masstech’s Video-Follows-Text technology ensures that any associated video is moved with the story accordingly.

Automated, Accessible Archives

Sinclair’s stations had varying degrees of existing archiving capabilities. At one end of the spectrum, some stations were using manual, DVD-based archives. Other stations had more automated archiving processes but used systems tied exclusively to spinning-disk storage in an architecture that was not optimally suited to Sinclair’s goals for scalability and seamless content sharing. Journalists were generally dependent on technical staff to retrieve archived video, even from their local archive. Retrieving video from another site required coordination of remote technical staff in addition to local technicians. Adopting MassStore for News enables Sinclair to build consistency between stations and broaden their storage options while removing obvious barriers for journalists.

Sinclair journalists empowered by MassStore for News typically don’t perform any extra actions to send their stories to the archive. Stories included in daily show rundowns are either automatically sent to the archive after the show ends, or reviewed and approved by a manager before archiving.

Content being archived is not limited to what was used on air. Journalists can archive any video, even raw footage or B-roll, simply by dragging a story with a standard production video link into a special NRCS rundown or queue.

In all of these cases, MassStore for News performs the required technical actions automatically, effectively eliminating manual steps required in the legacy process. Under the hood, MassStorefor News intelligently monitors workflow within ENPS and iNEWS and looks for activities that indicate a journalist wants to accomplish a specific media-related action, such as archive, restore or share. MassStore for News automatically recognizes rundown or queue context, story slugs, text and metadata, along with various forms of video links.

It uses this information to intelligently move video between the production environment, the archive and even other sites. Essential editorial elements such as story slug, story body, show, date, source, and more remain intact and linked with the video. This is Masstech’s unique Video-Follows-Text advantage.
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Whether moving stories into or out of the local archive, or sharing stories between sites, Sinclair journalists are always able to see summary status of MassStore for News processes directly within their ENPS or iNEWS interface on their desktop, but are never directly exposed to transcode or file copy operations. MassStore for News transparently converts video between formats on-the-fly, so files always arrive at the destination in the correct format, no matter where they started. As a final technical step, MassStore for News embeds a permanently active link to the video within the iNEWS or ENPS story for later use by journalists. This link provides an always-ready preview within the story, no matter where it is moved or how it is found.

Now when a Sinclair journalist searches for a story by keywords – for example, “house fire” – using their familiar, native iNEWS or ENPS search tools, they will find not only the story text but also a direct link to the archived or shared video, with no separate video searches or additional user interfaces needed. A single keystroke or click will play a proxy of the archived video for the journalist to preview. To retrieve the video from the archive, the journalist simply drags and drops the story into a rundown or queue named “Localize”. MassStore for News copies the video from the archive to the local production server while automatically performing any transcoding required for compatibility with the local systems – all completely transparently to the user.

Sinclair users at sites running ENPS can also use MOS protocol federated search to return results from multiple Masstech-enabled sites.

In addition to the NRCS’ native search tools, Sinclair journalists can also use MassStore for News’ optional plugin, which enables more advanced searches through additional features not available in the standard NRCS. The plug-in enables users to search metadata fields, search specifically for content produced at other sites, and to perform a basic edit to select only a portion of the clip to be restored from the archive rather than the entire original.

Sharing Simplified

In addition to users being able to find and ‘pull’ video from other sites within the group, Sinclair stations also share content by ‘pushing’ it out to their other newsrooms.

Prior to deploying MassStore for News, Sinclair stations had shared content via simple FTP-based processes with many manual steps. Content was manually copied from production servers, manually transcoded to a lower bit rate for transfer, then manually copied to one or more FTP sites used as national and regional repositories. Emails containing a short description, filename, FTP location and story text were manually sent to distribution groups. On the receiving end, content was manually downloaded with an FTP client, manually transcoded again to meet the requirements of the receiving station’s systems, and then copied to the local production server. Story text was copied from the emails into the NRCS.

This process was time-consuming, required specialized technical knowledge and was vulnerable to delays and error. Journalists were largely dependent on production and technical staff at both ends of the transfer. To maximize the benefits of sharing content across the group, Sinclair wanted a process that was faster, fully automated, and could be entirely driven from the journalist’s desktop.

The Masstech Media Wires feature of MassStore for News solved these problems for Sinclair, enabling the creation of internal national and regional wire services that the group now uses to share content between their newsrooms. To journalists using ENPS or iNEWS, these appear just like wires from the major new services, with the added benefit that associated video appears as clickable links – and for ENPS users, as thumbnails – within the body of the story. There is no need to leave the NRCS to find or preview video for stories sent on the internal wires.
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Sinclair newsrooms are tasked with “publishing” local stories with potential regional or national interest to these wires for the group’s other stations to use. For instance, a journalist in the Baltimore newsroom can publish a story of national interest by simply dragging it into a rundown or queue associated with Sinclair’s national wire. Sinclair newsrooms around the country then receive the wire story in ENPS or iNEWS, where they can preview the embedded video. If a journalist in Seattle wishes to use the story and video shared by the Baltimore station, the Seattle journalist simply drags the story from the internal wire into the “Localize” rundown or queue on their NRCS, just like they were retrieving it from their local archive. The video is then copied into their local production server, with any required transcoding automatically performed behind the scenes. In Masstech-enabled newsrooms video simply follows the story text, so for the journalists in both Baltimore and Seattle, the formerly cumbersome process of sharing and transferring content between stations has been reduced to a single drag-and-drop operation at each end.

Sinclair chose a phased approach to deploying MassStore for News. While the stations chosen for the first implementation could take immediate advantage of the full capabilities of MassStore for News, stations slated for deployment in subsequent phases continued to largely depend on the older, manual FTP-based processes to share content. To bridge these new and old workflows while ensuring consistent content availability across all stations, Masstech provided a service to mirror content between Sinclair’s internal Masstech Media Wires and their legacy FTP sites. Thus, stories sent over FTP with the older workflow appear to Masstech-enabled sites as wires within ENPS or iNEWS, and video published on internal wires from Masstech-enabled sites becomes available as files in the legacy FTP repositories.

Tangible Results

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s deployment of MassStore for News has enabled them to achieve their workflow objectives, providing tangible benefits across their news operations.
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From an archive perspective, the ability to fully automate the process ensures that content is saved reliability and consistently for future re-use while eliminating the significant manual labor requirements previously faced by some of the Sinclair stations. Meanwhile, the tight association created between the story text and related video makes it faster and easier for journalists to reliably find and access archived video directly from their familiar NRCS interface, enabling and encouraging the re-use of content. And the ability for journalists to easily search and access the archives of other stations in the group – and then retrieve that material without needing to consider any technical details – provides them with a richer pool of content to draw from, thereby reducing costs while enabling better productions and faster turnaround.

The results from a sharing perspective are equally impressive. In the past, it could take an hour or more for Sinclair newsrooms to transfer content between two sites. Masstech-enabled transfers now happen up to 10 times faster, with much greater reliability, and without the journalists needing to consider differences between production systems. One site can be using iNEWS and Interplay, while another uses ENPS and Precis; all of the text and video formats and workflow requirements are converted automatically and transparently. Differences in NRCS and production systems are no longer visible nor relevant to the journalists who share content.

These advantages have translated directly into quantifiable results. Sinclair’s phased deployment approach, described above, provided an opportunity to directly compare sharing usage between Masstech-enabled sites and those still using legacy FTP processes. The first phase of deployment encompassed one-third of Sinclair’s newsrooms – but those stations accounted for over 55% of the total stories shared per month. On average, Masstech-enabled newsrooms share over 2.5 times the number of stories compared to those using the older, FTP-based contribution method.

“By removing workflow obstacles and automating our news sharing and archiving processes, MassStore for News has fundamentally changed how we produce and share news video between our stations, making us faster and more efficient than ever,” said Scott Livingston, Vice President of News at Sinclair Broadcast Group. “It provides easy access to more content resources, eliminates manual steps and frees our users from the technical details, enabling our journalists to focus on creating the best possible content for our viewers.”

“Maintaining our leadership in local news requires optimizing our workflows to make the best use of our content resources across the entire group,” said Del Parks, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Sinclair Broadcast Group. “MassStore for News has enabled us to do exactly that, delivering measurable results that prove it to be the right decision.”