Dynamic fillers: Tickers, infovisual slates, lower thirds and interactivity

Dynamic fillers: Tickers, infovisual slates, lower thirds and interactivity

Last post of a 4-part blog series

In part 1, we posited that 24/7 News is a TV format superpower and that there are good ways to secure sufficient content for a round-the-clock programming wheel. Part 2 dove into live and breaking news, and discussed factors driving costs down for both. Part 3 delved into content workflow automation techniques including live-to-VOD, playlisting, and filler creation.

There’s a final area of programmatic video creation that’s of particular and growing importance to news content operations supporting a new linear channel. It starts with use cases that bridge attention from one piece of content to the next.

There’s a growing role for automated, data-driven graphics, particularly in sports and news genres. Interstitial programming leveraging headlines, weather data and virtually any real-time metrics is likely to become a critical sight on TV landscape.

Segues: Tricks of the trade

Have you seen the anchor of a live newscast ‘toss’ the program at the end of the hour to their colleague hosting the next hour? That is but one form of ‘bridging’ as it’s known in the broadcast trade – and the goal is to lessen the blow to attention that a commercial break can cause.

Another example of bridging is the execution of what’s known as a “squeezeback”. In a “credits squeezeback”, the master control operator shrinks the rolling credits of an ending show into a small portion of the screen in order to best capture and focus attention to what’s next.

But beyond these traditional live bridging techniques are data-driven videos - both pre-rendered and nearly-live - that are proving increasingly important as sources of filler, segues, and attention retainers.

Data-driven graphics

To dive deeper, let’s divide these data-driven graphical elements into three types.

The first is pervasive for News: the Ticker. The credited creator is Edward Calahan who in 1867 hacked-up a plug-in to the telegraph machine to print out stock quotes in near real time. Today’s TV tickers are (obviously) more beautiful and typically roll along the bottom of the screen.

As with all things video tech, while tickers are commonplace, ample deployment complexities exist. In streaming use cases: How should a user’s location be resolved? Given additional per feed costs, how many feeds should be created? Should graphics be burned into the video? And if so, where in the workflow – in the originating stream or applied further downstream? Can a squeeze-back be used to apply tickers to pre-encoded feeds?

For national or global news outlets with local audiences to serve across a fragmented device universe, the ability to leverage commodity HTML5 graphics to decorate a single video feed with local ticker data can be accomplished with systems from Amagi partners, including Singular.Live.

By feeding a single HTML5 graphic template with a REST API call that has localized data, workflows for managing 20 or more regional feeds with unique tickers is simplified.

The second category is Lower-thirds. These are also highly familiar for viewers, often providing names, locations, and shortened headlines (called “slugs”) to coordinate and enhance the live discussion. Indeed, lower-thirds are so effective they often come with their own editorial risks - lower-third bloopers are viral currency on Twitter.

In this use case, data may be manually entered by a live operator; it might be harvested from existing social media tools in use by broadcasters; or it can utilize any data feed and connect that, with time-offsets as needed, to a primary asset in the playlist.

The third category can be called infovisual slates. A simple example includes a ‘Now, Next, Later’ slate, which can utilize EPG metadata such as title, channel and start time to inform and orient viewers to upcoming programs. Increasingly, you may have also seen countdown clocks and Be Right Back videos (or blank ad slates) that may be presented to the user for a complex number of reasons behind the scenes.

One promise of more creative, dynamic and informative interstitial programming is that it can turn such blank slates, referenced above, into more useful house ads by refreshing, organizing and shuffling creatives.

A better ‘Be Right Back’ slate?

Our industry continues to improve the programmatic TV ad stack, filling ads and reducing blank slates with more precise SCTE-35 signalling, pre-fetching of SSAI creatives and managing ad supply chain waterfalls. But realistically, it will be years, not months, before we eliminate blank slates entirely from the scene. (What do you think about this topic? Reach me at Brian.Ring@Amagi.com.)

The good news? There are creative ways to utilize those slots that mitigate the damage on viewer experience. Here are just three creative examples worth learning from on this front.

The first is LiveNOW from FOX which uses a special “break in progress” filler for unfilled ad inventory. Instead of watching the very same “commercial in break” pleasantries, why not take a beautiful 4K UHD downtown skyline visual across one of your top 25 DMAs, along with local station logos? That’s one such blank slate they roll, and it’s surprisingly compelling.

The second is from YouTube TV. They refer to it as ‘Your Moment of Zen’. It’s simply a beautiful high resolution wilderness scene - I’ve seen at least three different versions with calming, pleasant audioscapes.

In the case of another set of virtual channels, Local Now, they leverage data from restaurants, weather APIs, average rainfall, even local air quality to provide filler content that seems to be a much better use of space than the current, common industry best practice.

Note to live content purists: I'm not suggesting channels need to become 24/7 data driven content farms. However, in an era of accelerating AI and synthetic media production, it seems clear that curating a better feed using data visualization and video mixing techniques makes sense, as long as editorial is strongly in the loop. This could be called Newsroom-in-the-loop AI content.

Best and last: QR codes, interactivity and social media

One final point to make – and perhaps the most fascinating.

In the past decade, social media has cemented its place not only in consumer life but also in the newsroom. As social media became the hub for conversations and interactions of notable and public figures, TV production teams integrated these snippets into on-air storytelling. Today, it is an essential component to high-value newscasts.

Social media also provided journalists and anchors the ability to interact with audiences directly. “Tweet me at Jim Cramer,” is just one example that CNBC Mad Money viewers will recognize – that line is said daily in the show opener by their star anchor.

Covid brought one more thing to the table - QR Codes. Conventional wisdom holds that Covid’s impact was to “pull forward” or accelerate demand that would have otherwise materialized. In my view, that’s not the case for QR. This brilliant computer vision invention was seen as obscure, awkward and uncool for US consumers - if it was known about at all. (Apple included a reader in the iOS 11 camera but never promoted this fact to US consumers.) The pandemic brought new consumer utility to QR codes and that, in turn, has led to increased usage as part of the TV experience whether for audience participation, gamification or monetization.

What is your take on the QR code? Tweet me @BrianLRing to let me know what you think.

On Monday April 25th at our West Hall Booth at NAB Show, we’ll host Dan Albritton, CEO and Co-founder of MegaphoneTV - and interactive TV expert - at the Amagi Booth in West Hall to showcase the way that QR Codes can work with a mobile landing page to advance audience participation, interactive viewer experiences, news and sports gamification and, most critically, monetization using highly targeted and synchronized two-screen experiences.

The use of the QR Code, and simple mobile web landing pages, to vote and interact directly with the video feed, again utilizing HTML5 graphics.

In summary

Dynamic squeezebacks, picture in picture, or even a live toss from from one show to the next are advanced features of master control that can help to retain audiences

Data-driven graphical slates can be used in other ways as well - for example as a more engaging kind of Be Right Back / Commercial Break slate

QR Codes are now a thing - Social media integration is a critical part of TV interactivity as it stands today, and could evolve in compelling new ways in the future.

The ability to deliver higher volumes of more complex, creative interstitial materials can be a competitive advantage and used to embellish your brand.

Post 1: How much live content is needed

Post 2: Going live in five 

Post 3: News scheduling clip playlisting