You may not have realised it, but broadcast news is undergoing something of a revolution.
No, we are not talking about the return of ITN's News at Ten, but the increased quality and diversity of footage one sees during bulletins.
When was the last time you saw ancient, grainy footage with ‘library pictures' stamped at the bottom used to illustrate a story?
And the sources of such footage are becoming more diverse. During the 7 July 2006 London bombings and last summer's floods, footage from ‘citizen journalists' armed with mobile phones and digicams reached every major news outlet very quickly.
Today's omnipresent rolling news format obliges broadcasters to produce the images, eyewitnesses and experts that add value for viewers and do it better and quicker than the competition.
So while technological developments have given us portable broadcast quality cameras and decent recorders on mobile phones, they have also put pressure on TV news editors to use current, relevant footage.
The problem for traditional broadcasters has always been delivery of footage they have not filmed themselves - long known in the industry as B-roll. Traditionally distributed either by satellite or physically on tape, this can be a logistical nightmare where regional and international media are concerned. Now, more sophisticated digital delivery methods are handing power back to news editors.
In December, Virgin Atlantic organised a ‘global extravaganza' with the newly reformed Spice Girls, who named a plane in Los Angeles and, 12 hours later, opened the carrier's new terminal at Heathrow airport.
‘Previously, we would have had to send out video on tape from location by courier or set up a satellite feed,' says the carrier's director of communications, Paul Charles. ‘But digital advances and the higher bandwidths now available meant we were able to turn around coverage within half an hour.'
Traditional broadcast and internet journalists were sent an online link for downloading footage from the airline's virtual press office on Digital News Agency (see box, right).
As the latest digital technology can push content to wider audiences, this means significant cost savings for clients. Charles reports it is not uncommon for his organisation to spend £50,000 on satellite time alone for an event.
Broadcast news is also no longer just about television.
‘There is a huge appetite for richer content from the media, including traditional print publications, who now see themselves as broadcasters over the web,' says Helen Moore, editorial services director of broadcast specialist Markettiers4dc.
She points to the complex broadcast mix and increasing burden on online journalists to write and film what hits the headlines.
Last December, Moore's organisation set up live interviews and short tailored broadcast packages for The Clothes Show Live at the NEC. This was distributed to national and regional TV producers through liaison with ITV1 Central, and uploaded to web editors using FTP technology direct from an on-site production suite.
Times Online lifestyle and women's editor, Jennifer Howze, roamed the halls filming highlights and interviews. This resulted in a written article of top style tips and a standalone video package on how to get spotted by a model scout on the Times site.
‘We're always looking to create as much web-friendly, interactive content as possible and while shooting video has always been part of my job, it's definitely snowballing,' reports Howze.
Is this type of distribution only available to the lucky few with hi-tech IT capabilities? Not at all. Here, PRWeek looks at how three news distribution services are delivering quality, convenience and speed for broadcasters.
DIGITAL NEWS AGENCY
Launched last October by The Television Consultancy, the Digital News Agency (DNA) challenges the notion that the rise of citizen journalism in the online space means cutting out the middleman and communicating directly with consumers instead.
‘The emergence of sites such as YouTube and Facebook and the hype around developments such as podcasts and blogging has produced a level of panic,' says the service's director Nicky Minter-Green. ‘However, people seem to have forgotten about traditional media relations, where brands need to build old-fashioned relationships with media who have robust, demonstrable demographics, but just happen to be servicing an online audience.'
As such, DNA looks to be both exclusive and inclusive, delivering content in a variety of formats, tailored to users' digital capabilities.
All footage is free to download from its website for use on radio, TV, online and other digital purposes without copyright restrictions. This includes low-resolution pre-cut packages for web journalists, which take seconds to download in a Flash or Windows Media format and, similarly to the old video news release (VNR), can be run as they come.
Meanwhile, bloggers with limited hard-drive space can register to embed video on their sites, so footage appears as their own, but is effectively hosted by DNA.
For traditional broadcast media, however, the agency provides high-spec footage or D-Roll, in a DV-pal format, that can be cut and edited, enabling editors to retain control.
‘At the moment this takes around 45 minutes to download, which is too long, and the technology needs to improve,' says Minter-Green. ‘However, for regional or international broadcasters, such as CBS in the US, it's an instant win compared with FedEx-ing or satellite feeds, which is what happened before.'
The service is divided into two sections, with alerts on ‘latest stories' sent out as a priority to regular journalist contacts, according to their interests.
In addition, DNA hosts virtual press offices, building libraries of content for clients that, to date, include Virgin Atlantic, O2, Norwich Union, AMD and the charity Peace Through Sport.
This places archived D-Roll, web video, stills and documents at journalists' fingertips.
‘We provide an access point to stories for journalists and enable our clients to build grown-up relationships with the media,' says Minter-Green. ‘Clients no longer have to worry about tapes flying around the world, while for journalists, it's clear where the content comes from, so it lives and dies on its own merits and there are no questions of misrepresentation.'
PR NEWSWIRE MULTIMEDIA NEWS RELEASE
Launched across EMEA last October, PRNewswire offers a Multimedia News Release (MNR) service that brings together video, audio, text, logos, photos, hyperlinks and related documents into an easy to use HTML format. Video of a company representative, celebrity or other spokesperson can be included.
The firm can also repurpose video, soundbites, B-Roll and audio footage from commercials, product launches, FDA approvals and CEO presentations, and package this with text, photos, hyperlinks to the corporate or brand website and other relevant documents.
Developed in conjunction with US sister firm Multivu, which has been offering the service for the past five years, stories are sent out on the wire and on the web, with clients able to target the 96,000 registered journalists on the PRNewswire for Journalists site.
If interested in the initial text release, recipients can then click on an embedded link to access footage or audio in the most appropriate format. For webcasters and bloggers, this includes Windows Media, REAL and Flash packages. More traditional broadcasters can download high quality broadcast video in an MPeg 2 format.
To ensure custom distribution of video, the service pushes out video to more than 3,600 websites, including YouTube, Google, Yahoo, Metacafe, AOL, MSN and Blinkx.
There is also a ‘forward to a friend' option for viral marketing, while each MNR is enabled with social media tags for sites such as Delicious, Technorati, Google, Yahoo, Digg, reddit and newsvine.
Recent projects include the launch of an enterprise security product for Alcatel-Lucent. This included video endorsement by a spokesperson from one of the telecoms specialist's key clients. Meanwhile at the start of the year, the firm put together an MNR for the Earthrace team, who are attempting to raise awareness of environmental issues with a world record attempt to circumnavigate the globe in just 65 days in an eco-speedboat.
‘As technology advances and people have increased expectations on the speed of receiving information, content needs to be provided in a usable format straightaway so it can be turned round in time to be newsworthy,' says Sam Proctor, head of EMEA marketing for PRNewswire Europe.
‘Also the emergence of social media means that blogs and general websites are becoming increasingly newsworthy, so by posting information on these sites and allowing bloggers to link to MNRs we are opening the communication up to a far wider audience than ever before.'
Unlike PRNewswire and DNA, USP Content sells in broadcast stories and programmes manually. Originally a multi-platform production company, the firm has more than 16 years
of experience delivering entertainment and information to both mass market and niche audiences. This ranges from providing coverage on air, online, and on digital of major music
and sporting events, to highly targeted and discreet webcasts or podcasts for select communities.
‘We are more targeted with who we are talking to and have a more personal approach,' says director Pam Sharpless. ‘And we actually know who we are talking to, rather than emailing them or hoping they find the time to log in and pick up our stories.'
This involves building relationships with editors and webcasters, discussing what they and their audiences like to see, which often results in creating sponsored programming that has little or nothing to do with the nature of a client's business.
For example, before Christmas, ITV4 premiered an hour-long USP-produced ‘Life behind Lewis' documentary about F1 world title runner-up Lewis Hamilton, sponsored by print cartridge and mobile phone recycler Ink Again.
‘It's about brands talking to audiences about the stuff they're interested in, which for Ink Again's core audience of male business decision-makers, aged 35 to 44, is F1,' says USP's MD Dominic Smales.
Other recent projects include placing footage of spokespeople from healthcare package provider Healthcare Connections, discussing the risks of a bird flu pandemic.
Meanwhile, in the run up to the Rugby Six Nations championships last February, the firm filmed a series of chats by rugby legends such as Lawrence Dallaglio and Kenny Logan for England team sponsor O2, in front of a live audience.
This was undertaken in partnership with The Times and made accessible directly to consumers on The Times Online and O2's online entertainment section, blueroom. This footage was downloaded 20,000 times in its first week of posting and a further 20,000 times when the Rugby World Cup kicked off later in the year.
‘I believe that it's quality, relevance and longevity - whether the footage is used again or simply forwarded to friends - that will achieve cut-through,' says Smales. He highlights that all USP programming is shot to the highest broadcast quality on DigiBeta cameras and then distributed in whatever format is most appropriate for each broadcaster, which for O2 includes mobile packaging.
‘The important thing is ensuring the content is good enough and not just communicating advert-ising messages to journalists and consumers,' he says.