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‘The old investment cycles of broadcast technology are being run over’

ITN's director of technology, production and innovation Jon Roberts and Johnny McGuigan, the BBC's director of news streaming, discuss the evolution of technology in the newsroom

The rise of digital platforms is fundamentally changing the broadcast newsroom and its investment in technology according to Jon Roberts, director of technology, production and innovation at ITN.

During TVBEurope’s webinar looking at the evolution of technology in the newsroom, Roberts said broadcasters are living in a state of ‘perma-change’.

Left to right: Johnny McGuinan, Jenny Priestley, Jon Roberts

“The old investment cycles of broadcast tech are being run over by this sense of constantly innovating and changing,” explained Roberts.

He added that this need for change is proving a huge challenge on a number of levels as broadcasters’ equipment models and relationships with suppliers continue to change. It also impacts staff, said Roberts.

“Managing people through those changes is a huge challenge, particularly in a newsroom. What we’re trying to do at ITN is move from a project-based approach to a culture of continuous development. We’re identifying the unicorns in newsrooms who are technically savvy enough but editorially strong to help us bridge the gap. We’re trying to narrow the gap between operations and technology.”

Roberts said broadcasters can no longer ‘helicopter in’ a new system but need to have conversations with journalists and production teams who will be using the tech. “It’s not been unusual for us to discover our teams are using something that we didn’t install or know about. That’s very different to where we were 10 years ago in a broadcast environment. It’s changing the nature of the technology department’s relationship with the business. We want to be part of the team rather than a service division.”

Jonny McGuigan, news streaming editor at the BBC, agreed with Roberts about changing the mindset of staff to adopt new technology. “We’ve often worried about digital technology being ‘scary’ and across the BBC, and across the sector more generally, there’s a constant lurch to ‘digital is going to change the way we make television’. It’s become a thing that’s kind of hung over people’s head and they become scared of.

McGuigan added that broadcasters need to find a way to use technology in a ‘smarter way’.One such idea is around ‘eventicising’ news.

“We have a real habit in news of covering the moment and then we’re done,” explained McGuihan. “The question is. how do we build up to that moment, build anticipation? If you watch Match of the Day or any football coverage, the game ends and they give you analysis afterwards. What we’re trying to transition much more to in news is a model of being there before, during the main event, and afterwards too. I think that’s a really exciting space for video on demand.”

Other topics under discussion during the webinar included how newsroom technology has changed in recent years, including the advent of mobile journalism.

“Two or three years ago we’d have laughed somebody out of the technology centre for saying they’d put an iPhone to air,” said McGuigan. “Now it’s become part of the norm, particularly for those live moments. You can’t beat being in that space, however technology gets you there.”

The full webinar, produced in association with Ross Video, is available to watch on-demand here.