- Melissa Mercer
Manager, Studios and Technical Operations
- Peter Nagy
Supervising Technician, News Network
English Television News Production, Media Operations & Technology
As part of CBC/Radio-Canada’s commitment to continue at the forefront of technologically advanced news presentation that is engaging to our audience, a series of new technologies has been brought into the Corporation’s newsrooms over the course of the past few years. The purpose of this article is to concentrate on a technological innovation that features prominently in how news is presented within the English Services: Microsoft’s Perceptive Pixel Board.
Originally, the need for the Perceptive Pixel Board arose during the run-up to the 2011 Federal Elections as well as the Provincial Elections in Ontario that same year. Essentially, CBC/Radio-Canada’s English Services sought out a new and inventive technological solution to tell the Election story in a dynamic way. The U.S. elections had recently taken place at the time and they allowed U.S. broadcasters to showcase a variety of new tools as part of their coverage, the most notable of which were, perhaps, CNN’s Magic Wall and hologram.
Due to these innovations, the English Services started looking into the technology available that would interface with our Vizrt graphics package, which allows us to display graphics on-camera, and, after much research, our team concluded that the Perceptive Pixel technology would allow us to display our Vizrt scenes on-screen with a truly interactive feel to them.
Consequently, CBC/Radio-Canada’s English Services developed an election graphics package that would display such things as seat changes, voting results, and other relevant information as live data arrived on Election Night. Evan Solomon was in the studio and he was able to use the Perceptive Pixel Board to bring up those graphics, display them on the board, and provide a basis for live interaction between himself and Peter Mansbridge, who was with him in the studio. That constituted the English Services’ first take at including the Perceptive Pixel Board in Election Night coverage.
By the time of the Ontario Provincial Elections that same year, the graphical capabilities of the Perceptive Pixel Board had been developed to include an interactive map on which individual ridings could be selected and their information displayed; this allowed journalists to drill down into the riding’s details, such as the levels of support for the various candidates and an assortment of other campaign information.
Once the Perceptive Pixel Board’s full potential was fulfilled as far as Election Coverage was concerned, CBC/Radio-Canada’s English Services seized the opportunity to make the most of other, more regular, opportunities to make use of the technological capabilities provided by the Perceptive Pixel Board. Upon its purchase, it was determined that CBC News Network would make the most of the Board’s capabilities immediately following the end of the elections, and it is now used on a regular basis at the Breaking News desk.
A few modifications were necessary to allow the Perceptive Pixel Board’s capabilities to be used at the Breaking News desk, given the needs and time constraints associated with breaking news. Users needed to be able to build a story quickly and Perceptive Pixel anticipated this need through the creation of an application called Storyboard, which, as its name indicates, allows a user to build a complete storyboard, add graphical elements to it, and drag and drop them into a cohesive storyline. In the interest of simplicity and ease of use, the application runs on a PC equipped with Windows 7 and connected to CBC/Radio-Canada’s network. In turn, this network connectivity allows producers to access footage, graphics, and a plethora of other elements within shared folders on the network, the Corporation’s Avid servers, or even the Internet itself (e.g., YouTube), and easily place them into their storyboards. Beyond that, the Perceptive Pixel Board can even display live video fed from the Control Room, thanks to a video input card on the PC connected to the Board, which allows reporters interacting with the Board to easily do a lead-in on breaking news stories when live video footage is available.
If you would like to see the Perceptive Pixel Board in action, please feel free to look at the following video (video available exclusively in English).
As you have just seen, the Perceptive Pixel Board is an excellent tool that allows CBC/Radio-Canada to present a variety of news stories in a more interactive, dynamic, and responsive fashion that is visually appealing to the viewers, which allows them to better engage with the stories being presented. It adds value to CBC/Radio-Canada’s presence in a very competitive playing field, and the technology possesses enough room for further growth and development to continue providing solid returns on the Corporation’s investment.
It goes without saying that this project would have been impossible without the cooperation and initiative of a variety of people within CBC/Radio-Canada’s English Services, but special thanks are due to Bob Weiers (Senior Producer, Live News & Special Events), Allan Giacomelli (News Art Director), and Andrew Kellogg (IT Maestro Support), as they made the dream a reality with their skills, expertise, and vision.