April 5, 2016 3 years 6 months ago

EXCLUSIVE: How Global's MMC is changing the way TV news is made

The viewer rules

WHILE THE NEW DIGITAL GIZMOS and software used for TV newsgathering, dissemination and consumption has undergone wholesale, massive change, the way TV stations construct their evening news shows still looks very familiar.

Reporters spend the day gathering stories, editing video, voicing and so on and then anchors hit the air at six and 11 introducing those stories and throwing things over to the sports anchor, weather specialists and bantering with each other, live. While the reporters stories run and commercials air, anchors generally still sit and wait for that red light to go back on, the production team does their thing and if all goes smoothly, the news crew pulls off another minor miracle in having created 30 or 60 minutes of content – which they do every single day.

It’s a model that has served the industry – and viewers – very well for many decades and as much as broadcasters all say they now think “digital first”, the nightly TV shows are still the boss because the ads in those shows still pay the freight. So, the processes and workflow largely still reflects the preeminence of The Show.

To truly be digital-first what really has to happen (and what is more important than the technology) is a cultural shift inside news organizations where the story, or the news item, takes precedence. Corus Entertainment’s Global News is leading the way in both the shift in workflow efficiency and culture change and Cartt.ca recently had an exclusive look at how it all works.

Last year, those leading Global News decided to tear apart the old way of doing things for the late news and weekend shows across much of the country as well as chart a new course for the overall news production where digital truly leads, with its industry-leading multi-market content (MMC) story-centric workflow system.

While local morning shows and early evening newscasts continue to be anchored from studios in local markets, the 11 p.m. news and weekend newscasts for Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax and New Brunswick are now anchored out of Toronto. The team at 81 Barber Greene Rd (home to the broadcaster, under many owners, for some 42 years) now produces a total of about 300 news items per day for 68 shows per week.

While re-locating the late-night anchors (and making them the same people in all seven markets) is the part of the story that has gotten the most play in the media and has fielded some criticism, too (Saskatoon MP – and former CTV broadcaster – Kevin Waugh told the Heritage Committee in February he hated the idea of journalists in Toronto telling him what’s going on in his city), the real shift – which not only allows this type of anchoring to happen, but for stories to reach the public at a speed not seen before, and for the type of collaboration and sharing that has made the news better – has come behind the scenes.

No more “film at 11”

THAT WAS ALWAYS the way and it often still is. The best bits of the news were teased on TV in prime time, reminding viewers to tune in at 11 to see what the full story is. That’s a thing of the past with Global’s MMC. As soon as a story is finished, it is then anchored – in the usual way the anchor would do it during a show (Antony Robart and Crystal Goomansingh, pictured above on Global’s virtual set, are the late night anchors in all the regions mentioned) then saved as a separate file and uploaded to the web immediately.

“The audience is now in control,” said Troy Reeb (right), senior vice president, news, radio and station operations in a recent interview with Cartt.ca. “They’ve already heard the news from radio, or they’ve read it at work online, they’ve heard about it on their Facebook feed from friends. What they really need to from us is original storytelling they can’t get elsewhere else – and context… added to the things they’ve heard about during the day. You can only get that if you free up resources from having to do a whole lot of recycling, and TV news for decades has been a whole lot of recycling.

Once completed, the story files are dropped into that evening’s run for each TV show, each with a different  virtual background reflecting the region in which that file is destined to play out. Robart and Goomansingh spend most of their time in a virtual studio so that the Winnipeg or Halifax or Montreal backdrop is inserted. While each story is its own file so that it can go online anywhere, anytime, they are always recorded with an eye to producing the news show – so that all the regular rhythms of the 11 o’clock news are kept since millions still tune in for their regular news show, done the regular way.

This is all done with either Global’s pre-existing technology or with off-the-shelf servers. “There’s nobody else in the world doing news this way, as far as we can tell,” Reeb added.

Serve them where they are

“IF YOU’RE GOING to keep all your eggs in the TV basket, you’re never going to be able to crack any of them online,” Reeb continued. “We have made a very conscious choice to serve the audience where it is growing, while still maintaining the viewer expectations where the audience still is.”

As well, he states emphatically, “the viewer takes precedence over the advertiser and if that means we serve them in a place where we get the digital dime instead of the analog dollar then so be it, because the viewer comes first.”

Doing news this way, focused on the story and not the show, could even lead to the company doing news shows in smaller regions where Global doesn’t even have TV transmitters. The broadcaster would need some local reporters wherever they tried it, but the company could conceivably use this MMC model to establish news shows in many Canadian markets, featuring local content. “It could be something we deliver over-the-top,” adds Reeb.

Anchoring stories all day like this and building the show piece by piece in the Global servers also means that by 11, the show is already completed, save some late breaking sports.

Local leads

THE CRITICISM THAT Toronto is telling Saskatoon what their news is, is just not true, added Reeb. While Robart and Goomansingh are definitely Toronto-based, each local show is driven by the local news teams, based in their communities. “The editorial is very clearly being driven out of Regina, out of Saskatoon, out of Halifax,” says Reeb. “The local teams are the ones responsible for ensuring their vision of what a local newscast should be is reflected in the product… Anything that’s written about Saskatoon, comes from Saskatoon.”

Another benefit to this move is it frees up local resources for more reporting. The local anchors and reporters can now more often get out in their communities in the evenings and on weekends. The file-based system and centralized anchors and the savings that came along with it means that new reporters are being hired and shows that were in danger of cancellation were maintained, said Reeb.

“Our lead anchors are still very much in the community and… if they’re doing their jobs right, should be much more involved in the community now because they’re no longer hanging around the studio to do a second version of their six o’clock news four or five hours later.

“The first and most important thing was to be able to keep boots on the ground doing local reporting and to be able to satisfy our online audience,” added Reeb.

"We would not have been able to do that before.” - Troy Reeb, Global News

He pointed to a tragic story in February in Winnipeg as an example of MMC’s value to its viewers. A teenager named Cooper Nemeth disappeared on a weekend and unfortunately was killed. “That’s a story where a year ago we would’ve been able to get a camera out to and would have been able to have it as our lead story in a somewhat limited way on our 6 and 10 p.m. news on the weekends because our team would have been focused on pulling the show together,” he said.

Instead, because Global refocused resources and removed the production load from the local team, they could worry just about reporting the story and ended up counting over half a million page views on that story online on that weekend “because we updated it continuously. We were able to have a team live stream the police news conference at noon across online and 10,000 concurrent views on that live stream. We would not have been able to do that before.”

Since this shift, online viewership has seen tremendous growth as well. “With the exception of one market, where we were flat online, the rest we’ve all done double digit growth, in some cases more than 30-to-40%,” said Reeb. TV ratings have been tougher (Global News saw its ratings book dip in four of the markets but Reeb didn’t say by how much) however, he chalks that up to viewers getting adjusted to their new anchor team.

That said, Global is managing to produce more local content, overall. “We polled our newscast, and we polled CTV’s, from before we moved to this project and after,” said Reeb. “What we found is that we had, in total time, just slightly less local content in our newscasts. But, that’s not because we had fewer stories. In fact, we had more stories… What we had less of was local chit chat and weather… and what we filled it up with was more actual stories.”

The changes has also meant that of the 900 or so people working for Global News across the country, about 80% now work in editorial and the rest in technical roles. Not long ago, said Reeb, 60% of the employees were in technical roles with the rest in editorial.

“The savings have certainly provided more sustainability to keep the shows on the air but the win for the journalist in me is that we now provide online coverage 24/7 and we actually have more people who are able to get out and cover stuff more often, because they’re not stuck in studio,” he added.

A community of news producers

While the cultural change has been difficult and everyone needed time to adjust to a new way of working, the technical tools were already there. “This is all really quite outstanding when you consider that this is all technology that we already have. We’re just using it in a completely different way,” said Alexandra Henderson, executive producer, MMC.

All this technology and a shift in workflow has revealed an unanticipated advantage to bringing the production of seven local shows together under one roof: A growing sense of community among the production staff. “There’s a real advantage to being together,” added Henderson.

“Let’s say in Regina has a great story… that’s the kind of thing that now you pop your head up and speak to your colleagues – and that ability to share that content, when we talk about tearing down the silos, is a huge step forward in that sense,” she added.

“This probably has been one of the huge pleasures that I’ve uncovered as we’re working on this… having everybody just in the same room is a great opportunity to make sure that we’re telling stories the same way that we’re helping develop a Global news voice."

Click photos to enlarge.