Case Study: AXIS Graphics at Gannett Broadcasting
Gannett Broadcasting Using Software-As-a-Service
for Graphics Production
By: Rob Mennie, Vice President/Senior News Executive
The concept of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is gaining acceptance in many professional services industries and is increasingly being used to successfully create broadcast graphics. This new, highly scalable, subscription-based approach to graphics production is heralding an important watershed; both in terms of the method by which graphics are produced and in the positive impact it can have on the news production workflow.
The Graphics Goals of Gannett Broadcasting
A case in point is Gannett Broadcasting, which wanted to centralize its graphics production across its group of 23 affiliate television stations, primarily to enable its highly skilled creative services team to concentrate on larger projects such as show opens, news series and promo animation, or graphic re-enactments, as well as improve efficiency and quality across the Gannett group – stations large and small - by virtue of ready access to shared graphics content.
Just as important, the move to SaaS was also viewed as a way to give individual Gannet stations as much autonomy as possible, while at the same time reducing workload by eliminating the frequent requirement to recreate similar graphic elements multiple times.
The implementation of SaaS was seen as a way to enable all of this to happen quickly and economically.
Because news doesn’t work 9-to-5, smaller stations within the Gannett group were sometimes unable to create appropriate graphics for 24-hour breaking news for the simple reason that a graphic artist was not available at the time.
This situation had to be resolved because being first-to-air has never been more important for news operations. Although the benefits of using SaaS in the form of Chyron’s AXIS Graphics program ensures that all stations in a group have rapid access to shared content for a consistent and professional look - as well as centralized asset storage, easier maintenance, archiving and search capabilities – there were many questions to be answered.
As is the case with any new working practice or software implementation, there were concerns within Gannett about the concept of SaaS - the most common being “Is it reliable?” “Is it secure?” and “Can we learn it?
The simple answer to the first question is that an SaaS vendor’s infrastructure is by nature designed to be an extremely robust, reliable and fault tolerant system, with the added benefit that a problem can usually be diagnosed and resolved before the user is even aware that there was one.
As far as the concern about the availability of a reliable Internet connection, the Internet now has extremely high levels of availability, redundancy and security and is a fundamental component of every newsroom. Large scale Internet outages are extremely rare, and even in a worst-case scenario, backup plans for short-term, localized outages are invariably in place because of news production’s dependency on an Internet connection to acquire information. In Gannett’s case, theyalso store a back up of all graphic templates locally at each station.
There were also questions about the safety and security of data being transferred to and from a remote host. In short, for SaaS to work it must engage the highest levels of security. However, the only way to be absolutely sure of the veracity of safety and security claims by a vendor is of course to ask the right questions and ensure that a vendor provides demonstrable evidence of their ability to ensure the necessary levels of safety and security; data backup procedures; redundancy in hardware and power systems; and geographic redundancy.
Aside from safety, security and reliability concerns, the primary “Can we learn it?” challenge meant that champions of the new technology within Gannett needed to win over experienced users as well as those who had no experience at all, but who would be expected to broaden their skill sets.
Because many Gannett stations are highly graphics intensive - some of the larger stations within the group can typically generate approximately 25-35 graphics per show for 10 hours of news produced each day - they obviously had high expectations and high demands for their respective look.
Because of this graphics-intensive nature, Gannett was very thorough in its evaluation of what SaaS in the form of Chyron’s AXIS could actually do for it. It is fair to say that initial reaction to the implementation of the program was mixed. In general, stations that previously had limited graphics capabilities more readily embraced the new method because they instantly acquired improved levels of graphic capabilities. But larger stations that were already creating a high volume of complex graphics realized that they were going to have to negotiate a learning curve to maintain, and ultimately extend, their existing levels of quality and complexity, so the buy-in there was perhaps more hard won.
A rigorous, comprehensive and highly collaborative approach to training was rightly identified as the key to a successful transition. Gannett went to considerable lengths to ensure that training was collaborative process and established a broad-based program to teach reporters, anchors, assignment desk editors, producers, and photographers how to use the system.
Over the course of three to four months, Gannett’s commitment to intensive training across all levels of their respective newsrooms soon meant that the capabilities of SaaS graphics could be fully exploited at levels that were appropriate for the varying requirements of each station, by both highly experienced users as well as those who were only creating graphics for the first time. Granted, many of the latter had no formal training as graphic artists, but the templates provided by Gannett’s core graphics group ensured consistency and high quality across the board.
It’s not surprising that those who use the system more frequently are more efficient with it, but as a result of the training process there are now dozens of people in Gannett newsrooms, in the field or at a home office who can quickly make a map, build a full screen graphic or get a mug shot on the air within seconds.
So while there were some initial misgivings about having to rely on SaaS to generate graphics as well as less experienced personnel having to learn how to use the system to create their own, Gannett’s close working relationship with Chyron to fine tune the product for its needs – coupled with its comprehensive approach to training - helped to successfully overcome those concerns.
Gannett stations are now seeing increasing numbers of ways that they can make SaaS work. Although there were those who had doubts, Gannett’s across-the-board approach to training means that producers, field reporters, production assistants and many others can now create high-quality graphics for a newscast or Web site. And because AXIS is Web-based, users can work from any computer — at their desk or on their laptop, at home or straight from a live shot - anywhere in the world.
The traditional barriers of graphics content creation workflow are therefore all but eliminated, with a further advantage being the freedom of graphics professionals to concentrate on higher level aspects of creative design and branding.
SaaS has great promise and is a model that has many advantages over traditional software applications, and at a lower cost. And although SaaS applications in broadcast production are still at a relatively early stage, the benefits are already obvious. Gannett’s success begs the question of not whether the broadcast industry should use SaaS, but for how long it can afford not to.