All of those fancy election graphics — whether they are some immersive pie chart popping out of the floor of a virtual set or the more typical lower-third page flips with candidate results — have at their core data from an election reporting service like the Associated Press or state government office, often a state’s secretary of state office.
Without that data, election graphics would be nothing more than meaningless eye candy devoid of the content that really matters, the vote totals.
The VDS StackMaster Boards module generates full-screen election graphics, called boards, with election data and head shots of candidates that populate templates of a station’s graphics system.
To make that data useful to graphics engines from companies like ChyronHego, Vizrt, PixelPower and many others, it first must be parsed from the incoming data stream and fed to the election graphics systems to populate election graphics automatically with the proper race totals for display on-air.
While some TV stations have the talent in house to parse and manage this data themselves, many rely on third-party products to handle the task, says Larry Mincer, president of Video Design Software, a Huntington Station, N.Y., based company that offers its own suite of election software.
According to Mincer, TV broadcasters are feeling “a bit of a sense of urgency right now” to find a replacement for an old standby used by hundreds of TV stations in the United States for this critical data management and graphics control task.
That product, the LeaderPlus Election Management System, will no longer be supported by Avid Technology as of Jan. 4, 2015, according to the company’s website. An Avid spokesperson confirmed the end date of support and added that some 200 stations have received a letter from Avid advising them of the end date and suggesting they seek an alternative.
“Not only is the product at the end of life, but the platform that it is operated on is a pre-Windows XP operating system,” says Mincer. Companies, such as VDS, offer a replacement for the LeaderPlus system that can parse election data and control a variety of graphics engines to display election graphics.
“Over the years, we have had to build a library of control for pretty much every graphics engine on the marketplace at a professional level,” says Mincer. “We don’t approach it from the perspective that we are trying to deliver a complete, turnkey system. Most often broadcasters have their own graphics system that they want us to connect to and control.”
The VDS suite of election software applications includes the Data Parser, the Election Management Tools module, the VDS Election ticker module and VDS StackMaster Boards module.
Shaw Media’s Global Toronto used BL Elector from Bannister Lake Software to deliver real-time, on-air results from the 41st Provincial Election in June.
Bannister Lake Software in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, offers BL Elector, a Web-based solution, as an alternative for broadcasters looking to replace the LeaderPlus. But according to D’Arcy Pickering, VP of sales and marketing at Bannister Lake Software, BL Elector also can be used to manage candidate and historical race data prior to an election, making it available in real time for in-depth race analysis whenever needed.
In mid-June, Shaw Media’s Global Toronto used BL Elector in just that fashion to cover the 41st Provincial Election. Prior to the election, Global Toronto built extensive dossiers on the candidates in BL Elector, which it used together with data from previous elections, to assist in race analysis, says Gerry Belec, director, technology and design for Global News, Shaw Media.
When it comes to controlling graphics engines, BL Elector hands off parsed to on-air graphics systems — even those used to generate virtual sets and immersive graphics — via BLADE, or Bannister Lake Active Data Exchange, he says.
Integration is even tighter with the Ross Video XPression graphics engine, he adds. “BL Elector is quite often bundled with XPression,” says Pickering. “We have what is called an Elector player, which allows an operator to go in and control things like candidate boards, the ticker, even the whole graphical look without the need for a CG operator. So it is a standalone application that manages the output of Elector on XPression.”
While the end date Avid has set for support of LeaderPlus is after the November congressional election this year, discontinuation of support means broadcasters must begin looking for an alternative before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Both the VDS election suite and Bannister Lake Software BL Elector will give them good places to start.