The Weather Company’s NDI Forecast: It’s A Game Changer
End-to-end IP-driven workflow creates ‘virtualized satellite center’ for increased efficiency and productivity, reduced overhead and complexity, better on-air product, and a greater competitive edge
With its recent adoption of NewTek’s NDI®—Network Device Interface—the digital video team at The Weather Company, an IBM Business, has hit the technology jackpot of doing more with less. The team is raising the bar on the quality of live video and clips they produce for their innovative mobile-led weather shows—The Lift and The Ari Effect—while producing more fresh live video for their Facebook page.
Productivity boosts usually come at the expense of adding new video production equipment, facilities or staff, along with technical complexity. To simplify their workflow, the team added NewTek’s NDI software suite including NewTek Connect Pro, NewTek IsoCorder Pro, NDI Scan Converter, and NDI Telestrator. NDI works with industry standard computers and a Gigabit Ethernet network while eliminating the need for format conversion and other time-consuming steps.
The Weather Company’s senior supervising producer, Jim Robinson, calls NDI a game changer. In the following Q&A, he shares his views about NDI’s impact on their time sensitive digital and mobile-led weather news content and how it has helped the Weather team gain a competitive edge.
Tell us about the shows you’re producing and what makes them so innovative and unique?
Last October, The Weather Company launched the first mobile-led morning weather show, called The Lift, *enabling mobile phone users to start their day with a fast-paced rundown of the day’s top weather stories. *The Lift packs snackable video clips focused on breaking weather news, amazing nature stories, cool weather phenomena, fun viral videos and more into a show that can be watched in six-to-eight minutes.
Based on the success of that show, we’ve launched our second mobile-led show—The Ari Effect, which runs in the 4-to-9 p.m. time slot. Hosted by meteorologist, Ari Sarsalari, The Ari Effect features five-to-six video clips that tackle breaking weather, the science behind weather phenomena and amazing viral videos.
Both shows are produced in The Weather Company’s mobile studio in Atlanta, GA, and are available in The Weather Channel app. Currently, 75 percent of our video views are through The Weather Channel’s mobile apps, and we’re committed to serving the mobile audience. After the launch of The Lift, we saw an 80% increase in video views during that morning timeslot.
What prompted you to add NDI to your workflow?
We became aware of NDI one week before the 2016 NAB Show and recognized that it would enable us to optimize our existing, scalable Virtual Private Network (VPN) to bring in real-time video from many sources much more easily than before, without sacrificing its original quality or resolution.
We’d been trying to find creative new ways to aggregate and curate video from many different sources and get it into our workflow and processes quickly. Besides leveraging The Weather Company’s vast resources, and weather data providers like NASA and NOAA, we also receive video content from field reporters as well as citizens who have found themselves in the midst of a breaking weather story. They capture live video using their smart phones and contribute it to us via social platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
What does NDI enable your editorial team to do with all the incoming footage?
Once video is on our NDI-enabled corporate VPN, our entire team—including people here in Atlanta and those working in our New York bureau—can watch all the live video feeds as they come streaming in from storm chasers, field reporters, and other sources.
We’re using NewTek Connect Pro software to create a web server, as well as a web page or URL where authorized users can go to watch as many as 16 different video feeds—as they’re streaming into our corporate VPN—in a multi-viewer fashion on their computer or another display device.
Whether we’re in the studio together or watching remotely from different locations via the web browser, we can evaluate the same raw footage in a fast collaborative way. Using instant messaging, we can discuss our options and make fast editorial decisions about what incoming content to include in our shows. If the video isn’t used within 24 hours, it’s purged from our drives to avoid amassing an unwieldy database that must be gone through at a later time.
What video equipment does NDI eliminate from your workflow?
For starters, NDI makes it unnecessary to have all of the video hardware associated with monitoring, ingesting and recording multiple satellite feeds, along with the satellite time and connection fees. We also don’t need converters to convert incoming video into any other formats to make them usable.
NDI essentially gives us a virtualized satellite center that replaces a video control room—including a large multiviewer monitor wall and racks and racks of routing and processing gear—with a web browser accessible from a networked computer. While off-the-shelf 32-bit/64-bit computers are sufficient, we happen to use high-end computers with fast, ample RAID storage.
NDI Scan Converter is another new software product that takes in anything on a computer screen, such as a webpage, and creates a new signal on the NDI network that can now be treated as a production source. We’re also able to manage assets in groups, putting video into different buckets depending on whether they’re public-facing, just for internal use, or other restricted access.
How do you now handle contribution video?
With respect to our field contributors, they’re still doing the same exact thing they’ve been doing for years, sending us their video via social platforms and content delivery networks (CDNs). But we’re now able to access their direct streaming feeds and repurpose that raw IP feed to a format that can be played in a media player in-house for our productions.
We’re able to really maximize and optimize those unadulterated feeds—before they’re downconverted—because our NDI software converts the full-resolution content into an NDI signal that’s immediately available to our network.
We have a computer running NewTek Connect Pro software, which grabs up to four video signals (per license) at once, converts them to the NDI protocol, and creates a localized web server of video content that anyone on our corporate LAN can watch in real-time.
How has NDI streamlined your workflow, including production processes you no longer need to do?
We’re not just doing real-time monitoring. This is real-time production where we’re literally watching incredible streaming media of weather events as they’re happening—such as tornadoes touching down, storm chaser videos, even the aftermath of severe storms that just wiped out towns.
We can monitor webcams in different locations, such as Miami Beach, and if a waterspout suddenly starts flying up from the water, we’re ready to record that valuable footage before others even know it’s happening. That’s the real game changer here—that our staff people can watch video of events as they are unfolding anywhere and if they see something amazing, quickly begin to record it.
Video sources can roll in from hard-wired cameras, webcams, production switchers—such as our NewTek TriCaster 8000 or two TriCaster Mini’s—as well as our two NewTek TalkShows—among other NDI-enabled video devices. Or the video can be streaming in from real-time data services like the National Weather Service or NASA, as well as user-generated content. Our team can see it all at once, on a single screen, and decide on the spot which ones to record and/or edit for use on our shows. We’re using NewTek IsoCorder Pro, another new software product, to record up to 16 real-time sources simultaneously on a single computer.
Since our digital video operation is now an end-to-end IP-driven workflow, we can even feed live video directly to our mobile or Facebook platforms. And our meteorologists, such as Ari Sarsalari, can use the NDI Telestrator tool—another new software tool—to write on or mark up the live video to illustrate their live reports. It’s mind-blowing what we’re now able to do because of NDI.
Do you feel that NDI leads to a better end product and greater competitive edge?
Anytime you can cut out a middle layer of hardware and many time-consuming production steps to ingest, convert, manage and share media, you’re going to be more competitive. Instead of jumping through hoops converting media every which way and risking a loss of native quality, we’re plugging live feeds directly into our network where they’re immediately available to everyone. To me, that’s a huge win that makes us extremely competitive.
Where do you envision this technology taking you in the future?
With NewTek’s latest updates, it’s now much easier to connect to Facebook Live right from our NDI network. One thing we did over this past weekend, when it was very hot across most of the country, we had a great idea to essentially take all of our viewers to the beach for the day. On the spur of the moment, we pulled live video feeds from a couple of webcams, run by one of our partner sites, that were trained on beauty shots of Ocean City, NJ, Miami Beach, and Emerald Isle, N.C., brought those into our NDI network and streamed them live via The Weather Channel Facebook page. We have also been putting more in-depth reporting, say of Ari explaining cool weather phenomenon, on our Facebook live page.
NDI is enabling us to take in an influx of fresh, live video feeds, record and edit them to create really engaging video clips and features, and output them to our different media platforms. That takes our on-air product to a whole new level.
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