WWAY uses Vizrt for a TV in a box solution and trackless virtual studio

“The difference from before we installed the Vizrt equipment is like night and day. It’s really that much more improved and the versatility it provides has been a real advantage for us over our competitors.” Billy Stratton, WWAY TV3 Chief Engineer.

In the spring of 2013, WWAY TV3 Chief Engineer Billy Stratton told management at parent company Morris Network, Inc. (a division of Morris Multimedia, Inc.) that he wanted to build a new type of newsroom production workflow that replaced an existing hard set and aging control room and standalone cameras with a virtual set, robotic cameras and the ability to control the station’s entire newscast with one person sitting at a computer keyboard, Needless to say, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Stratton wanted to eliminate the traditional production switcher. Studio cameras should be manipulated with a joystick control panel and taken to air quickly, complete with virtual camera moves. Traditional switcher capabilities—such as cut, dissolve, transition, interstitial, fade to black, fade up from black—should be controlled via a software interface that also handled the virtual set templates, on-air graphics and titles, and MOS newsroom integration as digital files stored on a server. This became the basis of the solution provided by Vizrt.

As an early adopter of digital technology, WWAY-TV, the local ABC station in Wilmington, North Carolina (and Morris’ flagship property), had been broadcasting in widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) high-definition (HD) since late 2009; but it was still using a 4:3 set left over from its analog days. So, it was time for s studio makeover.

Station in a box

The system Stratton put in place at WWAY-TV, includes two 3D graphics rendering and video playout platforms (Viz Engine), an easy to use GUI (Viz Trio) and highly flexible “trackless” virtual set software (Viz Virtual Studio) all supplied and implemented by Vizrt. The Viz Trio software is used in tandem with Viz Engine to playout all graphics and clips to air and as the automation dashboard.

“WWAY is using Viz Trio as their switcher and automation system combined,” said David Jorba, Executive Vice President of Operations at Vizrt Americas. “We are providing stations with the option to eliminate all of their legacy gear and replacing it with a new way of thinking about how news production and broadcast is accomplished. In our model, it’s all done through a single interface, instead of several different pieces of equipment saving a great deal of money and creating an extremely easy workflow.”

Integrated news production and playout

Using Vizrt's Viz Pilot (used by non-technical reporters and producers to create graphics templates), news editors set up their graphics within AP’s ENPS as well as preview how that graphic will look. This saves significant time compared to the way WWAY-TV’s editors worked. Previously, they first requested various graphics, then the production team would create them send them back for approval.

“This took way too much time and manpower,” Stratton said. “With the Viz Pilot, there still may need to be a graphic produced from time to time, but once one is generated it goes into the database for all to use again in the future.”

Video clips are acquired in a “basic, simple way.” As WWAY-TV’s reporters are basically one-man-bands, they go out and shoot their own video for their story. They come back to the newsroom and connect their camera to their desktop edit station. They edit their package(s) and render them out to their desktop. Each desktop has a shortcut to the Viz Engine that plays out the video clips. They drag and drop their clips into that shortcut folder. The clips are then stored in the Vizrt system where the MOS interface is looking for them, finds them, and then clears them for playback in the playlist. WWAY has 16 edit stations in its newsroom plus two laptops that can be taken on the road for editing.

WWAY’s system has been running so successfully that a sister station, WXXV-TV, a Fox affiliate in Gulfport, Mississippi, has also installed a similar system to streamline its news production processes. And it’s improved the on-air look of both stations, which has attracted viewer attention and improved ratings. Morris Network is now looking to replicate the model at some of its four other television stations (it owns 11 network affiliates originating from six physical station locations) located throughout the states of in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The station, which now produces about 16 hours of news programming per week, is also adding a new 30-minute newscast for the CW network from the same studio; but with a different virtual set look. The news department at WWAY-TV is also planning to add new virtual looks for its popular sports and local and national elections coverage.

Improved operations at reduced cost

However, the best part, according to Stratton, is that the system is infinitely flexible and the hardware is configured in a 2RU box that costs a third of a traditional virtual set studio set up.

The new studio includes four fixed Panasonic pan/tilt/zoom cameras and a green-screen backdrop upon which three basic “looks” are inserted into the main program output (for News, Sports and Weather). The Vizrt technology also allows live video to be inserted into virtual monitors on set, which WWAY-TV has done.

“The real advantage here is that we don’t have expensive hardware, yet we still have a great-looking show on the air,” said Stratton. “If anything breaks, we go to the local electronics store and replace it. We can also control the entire newscast from one operator station, reducing our need for more human resources.”

“The solution had to be cost-effective first, and then be reliable,” he said. “We now have a system that is easy to use and also totally flexible enough to allow us to present different looks for our shows in ways we never could before with a hard set.”

File-based flexibility

The IT-centric nature of the Vizrt technology is such that new software modules—from incorporating social media and live lower-third ticker modules to other types of data-driven applications—can be added with time. This expandability future-proofs WWAY’s “Station in a Box” strategy and ensures a relatively fast return on investment. It also allows for a lot of creative experimentation and the ability to launch new programs quickly.

Yet, at the end of the day, it’s the viewers that have to approve of the new look; and Stratton said they overwhelmingly do.

“Viewer reaction has been wonderful because our on-air image is so much cleaner, sharper and brighter,” he said. “The difference from before we installed the Vizrt equipment is like night and day. It’s really that much more improved and the versatility it provides has been a real advantage for us over our competitors.”

Convincing other engineers within the Morris Network family of stations that this new concept is “broadcast ready” has been slow and steady. However, as Stratton points out, they are coming around, as the benefits are obvious. WWAY used to have a graphics system that took up eight input channels on their old production switcher. “With the Vizrt system, you don’t need any inputs for graphics or video clips. And you can have router sources on a couple of your other inputs, so virtually anything on your router can be put to air,” saving the station money in having to buy extra hardware it does not need.

Getting more for less

“Local stations are looking for ways to improve their production capabilities on limited budgets,” Vizrt’s David Jorba said. “That often means streamlining your operations with less people and physical hardware. From the same Vizrt box you can do video playout, live video, and graphics. In the past you needed a different box for everything. So, if you have one output for every source, it makes sense to have one control interface for everything as well. That’s how we’re helping stations save money as they upgrade their studios.”

“I think within ten years virtual sets will penetrate the news industry in a big way,” WWAY-TV’s Stratton said. “News stations used to be afraid of virtual technology, but companies like Vizrt have made it much simpler and easier to use, and it’s completely reliable. That’s what we need in the news business.”

Download the WWAY case study.pdf


About Vizrt

Vizrt provides real-time 3D graphics, studio automation, sports analysis and asset management tools for the media and entertainment industry. This includes interactive and virtual solutions, animations, maps, weather, video editing, compositing, and playout tools. Vizrt has customers in more than 100 countries worldwide including CNN, CBS, Fox, BBC, BSkyB, Al Jazeera, NDR, ITN, ZDF, Star TV, Network 18, TV Today, CCTV, NHK and the list keeps growing. Vizrt has nearly 600 employees and operates in 40 offices worldwide. Vizrt is a privately owned company by Nordic Capital Fund VIII.

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