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Liberty standardizes look for its stations

Jul 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Liberty Corp. plans to deploy a centralized graphics system that would allow it to standardize the look of its 15 TV stations.
That would make it one of the first station groups to introduce such a system, since the notion of consolidated graphics functions is starting to gain traction in the broadcast business.
Though centralcasting has been a buzzword for some time, stations recently have become keen on unifying graphics tasks as a way to save money and reduce headcount.
“We are looking at technology that will allow us to create graphics in a different fashion. Instead of having to composite, you can set the design in a template and serve it from a central server,” said Guy Hempel, VP of operations for Liberty in Greenville, S.C., and chairman of the company’s Enabling Technologies Group, which evaluates new technologies. Liberty is currently considering tools from Vizrt and Chyron.
Pinnacle Systems also offers products that enable centralized graphics. Since many news graphics are fairly generic, such as over-the-shoulder shots, lower thirds and cutaways, it makes sense to create the backbone of those graphics once and then customize with logos and local information for each station, Mr. Hempel said. The user could enter the template number, insert the picture for the story and then slug it with a certain font.
“You can run multiple templates for multiple stations, but you only [have] to create the graphic once,” he said. “There are so many things in a TV station that we do 15 times in 15 stations, and we shouldn’t have to do that and should be freed to do stuff that is unique locally.”
A possible drawback is that stations might all look the same. But Mr. Hempel said he doesn’t think audiences care if the graphics in Louisville, Ky., are similar to ones in Greenville, he said. “You have to look at the graphic look in context with the product,” he said. “Does it feel like the market? Does it feel appropriate? We don’t have to make sure they look different or the same, but that they look appropriate to the market.”
Stations are just becoming interested in centralized graphics, said Rich Hadju, VP Americas, Chyron in Melville, N.Y. Stations’ character generators can be connected via a network, such as a T-1, a LAN or an ATM, as a hub-and-spoke system. The graphical templates could then be created at a hub location and sent over the network to the other stations. Chyron’s main character generator, Duet, contains an Active X browser that allows a spoke station to find the needed graphic elements and request them from a central server, he said.
Instead of having graphic artists at all 15 stations in the group, such as the case with Liberty, only two or three would be needed to work at one station to create the graphics for all 15 stations. “Everybody talks about centralcasting and says it’s all or nothing,” Mr. Hadju said. “Now they are seeing that they can centralize parts like traffic or graphics.”
Unifying graphics provides economies of scale in buying equipment as well as training on the equipment, said Caren Anhder, product manager of the Deko character generator with Pinnacle Systems in Mountain View, Calif. Deko contains tools that enable the file association and master elements needed for centralized graphics. In addition to character generators, stations would need a network and shared servers to store the graphics, she said.
Vizrt in New York is also positioning its graphical tools for centralization. “We’re talking to several groups where they have one location to make the graphics that are new and different and then send to stations,” said Isaac Hersly, president of Vizrt Americas. “We think there is a very minimal need for local graphic artists.”
However, not everyone is sold on the idea. Standardized graphics depend on the size and location of the market, said Karen Rariden, news director at Fox affiliate WXIN-TV, Indianapolis, owned by Tribune Broadcasting. “That’s a tough sell, because what works here might not work at KTLA [in Los Angeles],” she said.