FEBRUARY 18, 2022

The Digital Dimension

Making the Media S2E06: The Digital Dimension Banner

Europe’s Public Service Broadcasters are facing battles to secure their future place in a rapidly changing media landscape.

In this episode, we discuss a pioneering project to enable broadcasters to share digital stories in a bid to appeal to younger audiences. Discover how AI helps the process, how the team have reached more than one million online views only a few months after the project began, and how this is helping ensure public service journalism remains relevant.

Listen to Hear:

  • Why this project is fundamental to the future of public service journalism
  • How AI is being used to enhance the process of sharing stories
  • The way Europe’s leading broadcasters are attempting to attract new, younger audiences

Our Guests This Episode

Justyna Kurczabinska

Justyna Kurczabinska is leading the News Strategy and Development of Eurovision News at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)—the world’s leading alliance of public service media. Until recently, she was also the head of the Eurovision News Exchange, where she provided EBU members with ‘round-the-clock access to live and edited news stories as well as eyewitness media, as they happen, across the globe through the unique network of over 70 public service media newsrooms operating in over 50 countries and specialized verification team.

The most recent initiative she has been championing as project owner aims at redefining digital news online collaboration among the PSM organizations with the objective of providing audiences across Europe with powerful and relevant public service journalism through the project called “A European Perspective,” embedded in the Monitoring News Intelligence Platform for PSM journalists, developed by the EBU in 2020. Since 2017, she has also been overseeing the Public Service Journalism Initiative aimed at strengthening and supporting independent trusted news.

Sébastien Noir

Sébastien Noir has been active since 2012 in the broadcasting industry, first at RTS, the French-speaking Swiss national broadcaster as a software developer, later evolving to lead the development of multiple digital products and mobile applications. He then became the product manager of the VOD Platform PlaySRG for Switzerland, coordinating development teams and delivering multilingual products for the different linguistic region.

In 2017, he joined the European Broadcasting Union to work as product owner for PEACH, the personalization and recommendation system developed by Broadcasters for Broadcasters.

He now acts as head of software engineering in EBU Technology and Innovation Department, coordinating teams and development efforts of innovative services like PEACH, EuroVOX, and the EBU News Pilot (monitoring tool and EUropean Perspective).

This is very important for the future of public service media and building this completely new presence and understanding in the digital sphere, which is our sphere for the future.-Justyna Kurczabinska, European Broadcasting Union

Mentioned in This Episode

Making the Media S2E06: The Digital Dimension Banner

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Episode Transcript

Craig Wilson: Hi and welcome to the latest episode of the Making the Media Podcast. My name is Craig Wilson, and if you haven’t guessed, I’m your host.

It is no secret that the traditional broadcast media is challenged on many fronts to attract new audiences. With budgets tight and pressure to deliver eyeballs across online, social, and on-air, it’s a struggle.

Tools like MediaCentral | Publisher from Avid help streamline that process to get stories to multiple online platforms—check out the show notes for more details on that—but if you are some of Europe’s biggest broadcasters, how can you band together to share stories once they are online which are relevant and of interest to audiences in different countries? And how do you do that at minimal extra cost?

Well, a pioneering project being run by the European Broadcasting Union and trialed by eleven public service organizations across the continent is aiming to do just that. Using artificial intelligence, innovative technology, and a spirit of experimentation, the initiative, called “A European Perspective” is underway and has already reaped initial success.

On the podcast I am joined by two of the key figures from the project. Shortly we will hear from Sebastien Noir, who is head of software engineering in the EBU’s Technology and Innovation department, but first let’s hear from Justina Kurczabinska, who is the head of News Strategy and Development of Eurovision News at the EBU.

Justina Kurczabinska: The project is really about exchanging online news from different broadcasters, public broadcasters around Europe, but online. So what happens is, for example, if I am France television and I've got an interesting story, I share it to the special hub and if other participants of the projects (other broadcasters who have their online outputs) are interested in the story, they will usually translate it in their language or publish in English if they have a English language service, and they publish it in what we call a kind of a box, which looks like a box of carousel stories, and they will, for example, Swiss Info, which is the Swiss online service of the public broadcaster, or for example RTP, which is a public service media in Portugal, they will publish this info article in their languages on their websites.

So, what is important is that these articles are being published as they were published by the originating broadcaster, and also for the first time in the history of our content exchanges that EBU specializes in, the main aim of this exchange is to promote a quality journalism, Interesting stories, but also, the members are promoting other broadcasters because the stories are published with the logos of the of the originating broadcasters of the story. So that's what makes this project unique. And this is really in the of course in the online sphere.

CW: Why was there the sense that there was a need to deliver these kinds of news on these sorts of digital platforms?

JK: At the very start of this project, it started really in the onset of COVID, and it started in 2020, and we got together, and we said, “OK, we are more present at public service media in the digital. Of course, younger audiences are in digital. How can we cooperate? We have great cooperation in the broadcast, but how can we cooperate in the online world?” And that's how the pilot started with a kind of B2B exchange between members. And then, uh, we envisaged also the public facing aspect of this project which came into being in 2021.

So, at the bottom line was really how to share valuable public service media stories to audiences to pan-European audiences across Europe.

CW: Is there a sense as well by providing this kind of service, you're actually trying to attract audiences that perhaps the members haven't traditionally tried to address? Is that part of the motivation for doing it as well?

JK: Yes, absolutely. I think that this is trying to extend the perspective and the content, so hoping that it will bring other audiences and perhaps also younger audiences. And I think that, looking from a broader strategic perspective for public service media, there is of course a huge debate going now in many countries now, most recently about the BBC about the future of the BBC and whether public service media, you know, what is the future of public service media? How much value it brings to society? And I think that this really goes to show the importance, and it goes to show that the value that is being created can be beneficial not only to a particular nation, but through sharing the stories. Whatever we pay for public service media, for example in Switzerland, brings the value to the rest of Europe. So I think this is a very also important aspect from a strategic point of view of the value that public service media brings not only to a nation, but to nations across Europe.

CW: Lots of really interesting stuff Justina that you raised there, a couple of things that I want to pick up on, but for now I'll switch across to Sebastien.

So, Sebastien, we've heard there a bit of a kind of background and the reasoning for obviously having the project. Really from a technical perspective, how does it actually work?

Sebastien Noir: Well, basically the way it works is that we need to have the content in a single place and to achieve that we have two different options, either the different sources that are creating the content in the first place as soon as they publish it, they will also send us the content, and this way we have it around. Or, the other way is just in the opposite direction. We would be asking those sources probably every five minutes or “Can you give us the list of all the different contents that you just published?” And then we will retrieve that and put that in our own systems. So this is the basics of it, let's say, but obviously it's just the starting point, because getting the content is one thing. Then, while you need to download the associated media, speech, audio, videos, and images, you need to prepare them for distribution, you need to index that for having the quick search capabilities and so on and so on. So there are lots of things that are being done as soon as we get this content in this central hub.

And then, well, once we have everything in one place, and well, what was not mentioned, but I guess is quite clearly a need and makes this project more possible, is just that we are able to translate the content because otherwise the possibilities of sharing the content between different countries would be pretty much limited. But with the help of translation automatic translation, that is, we are able to bring the stories first of all in English to whatever is the source, we translate everything to English as it as it comes, and then the journalists can have this kind of common language that they all speak to read the stories in the first place. And then, when we want to basically publish that to further places, maybe for example, I don't know it's France, or it's Germany, or RTP in Portugal, they need to have that also possibly in their own local language. So then we perform even more translation to make it possible for people to publish that to their own websites.

Well, it's not always the case because sometimes people prefer to just keep things in English or in their original language, it happens as well. That's an editorial decision that they can obviously make, but this automatic translation is really something that enabled us to move the cooperation at another level between the different TV members and to basically provide everything that is being published by the different participating EBU members in a single language that all journalists would be able to understand. So you don't need to wait, you don't need to go to some external tool to translate that and understand the story. You can just go through the different items and see and understand them directly, so this is a game changer.

CW: And how much does this rely on automation and services that you've developed yourself and perhaps services that are more widely available, say through APIs?

SN: So, we have another project with DBU, dealing especially with those questions of translation, we call it Eurovox. The initial idea of this tool was very simple. Antonio, the director of the department, presented it as a… I mean, over time, it's not something we do in one day, but the final goal is that every European citizen then listen to any media in real time in his own language. So it means for live. And while we are not doing live in the tool for the moment, we are able basically to translate.

And we use it to translate the texts, which is fairly common. But we also use it to translate the audios and videos. And what we have achieved here is that we have brought under just one roof the different vendors that are out there that are well known, Speech, [inaudible], Google, Azure, AWS, and all the other domains. And we can then access them in a single unified way.

So it means that we have really a wide language support. Almost any language that will be existing on the market, we are able to use it and to process this language as a source language or a target language. So we have more possibilities there by being able to move from one vendor to another one. And also we can choose the best possible quality or best possible speed or service or whatever it is as it moves on because those technologies, as you know, are evolving very quickly, and by having these abstractions over the different providers is just a matter of configuration and decision,  and we don't have to redo the integration every time, so this has proven very useful for us to be able to move from one vendor to another and we had requests from journalists exactly in this direction: “Your tool is not bad, but we really believe this one would be much better. Can we try it?” And we were able to deploy that in a matter of days for the whole workflow. So that was very useful.

Now about your question on how much we rely also maybe on people there to do this, but your box is meant to be both fully automatic system where you can really send your text and retrieve a translation or send the media and retrieve the translated media that you can then listen in the new language, but it's also possible to have people in the loop and editors can then see the different steps, for example, for media, it means you are going first from the audio to a transcription of the audio, then from the transcription you will do the translation. So text-to-text translation, and finally you will have the translation being either re-voiced or transformed in subtitles.

But you can basically intervene in any part of the process if the transcription was wrong, you can go and amend that and fix the possible mistakes, or if the translation is not good enough, if you want to rephrase something to make it sound better or anything like that, you can also do it. So you have basically the possibility of choosing between something that is fully automatic, quick, and non-expensive, to spending more of your time to have something that is of better quality.

CW: That’s really, really interesting. What kind of volume of material is coming through the service? Perhaps on a daily basis?

SN: So at the moment I guess we are close to 2000 or 2500. Depends on the days articles every day and probably 40% or something of those would include specific audios or videos as well. So that's  the kind of volume.

JK: In terms of numbers, I think it's also important to give you an insight on what was the impact or how successful this is. As I said, it is a learning process and I will give some numbers, but then I will try to explain think the potential, which for me, is the most important measure that comes out of it.

So we say that the articles are published in the boxes and we just had a glance at the last six months of the operations: there was 29 million box views and about 61 million article previews in the boxes. In terms of how many times the audience is clicked on the article during those six months into the boxes, that's over 1,200,000 times. Now, when I talk about the potential, of course, if we think of the biggest websites, well, over 1,000,000 is not a huge figure, but it is huge if you think about the potential, because the number of stories that were ultimately republished on one or more websites during those six months was about 2000 stories. So in all our members cleared in five months, about 5000 stories, but 2000 stories were selected for publishing, so these 2000 stories in fact generated over a million reads, and I think this shows the potential. So as the as the knowledge about this grows, as the exchange and the volume grows, then I think there is really quite a big potential in spreading quality journalism.

CW: Yes, Sebastien, so how do the members integrate this into their websites? How is that actually done at a practical level?

SN: And so when we started this phase, we thought it would be very important that the work on their side would be as minimal as possible. Obviously people are struggling with COVID during that time, and while they don't have tons of developers just lying on the side and wondering what they could be doing, everyone there was under quite some stress. And every time you want to start a new project, you need to get approval to get the money to do it and so on.

So we started with the idea of exactly that: It should be as simple as possible, possibly even involving zero developers for the integration part of the widget. So, the recommendation box like we used to call it internally is basically a simple widget that you can deploy in a matter of seconds or minutes usually so we have a full bit of JavaScript code, so the same way as you would integrate basically, let's say, a YouTube video or tweet within an article, you basically do the same thing for our widget.

So you go on the main hub, you create your box, you define the specific titles, you set the content that you want in the box, and so on, and as soon as you have done that, you can say, I'd like to get the code, and then you pass that simply within your article within your own CMS or whatever system you may have, and then the box will start to show on the website. And obviously after that, any changes that you would do on the box itself on the on the hub itself will be reflected without you having to do any kind of changes. So, in practice, we have seen that people have basically taken the box, but that possibly, for example, on their home page of their website or in a specific place, then they don't touch this integration anymore and they just change the content within the box from the remote management that we have in the hub itself. So, in practice it's very simple.

CW: So they access the box, they integrate it into their website, but who is then making the decision about the content that's in that box? Is that something that EBU is just providing to them? Or can they go in and actually select themselves “these are the stories that I actually wanted to use”?

SN: Yeah, it's exactly that. They are in full control. So they decide what gets in the box, they decide when to put it, when to remove it. They can decide also about the box publication status, whether it's active or inactive. They are in full control. The EBU takes no roll into this, so they have full control at any time.

CW: Justina, now maybe come back to you. There's a there's a couple of things that you mentioned earlier on that I think are worth exploring a little bit about. And I think this project, you know, that says a lot about public service broadcasting and what's involved with it.

One thing that you mentioned was about trust, and trust is actually something we've spoken to a number of different people on the podcast about that trust in journalism generally is something which, you know, I think a lot of people feel has been under attack, and again, trust in public service broadcasters. We spoke to Alexandra Borchadt, as you know, just a few weeks ago. And that was one of the things that we talked about with the EBU report. So I'm wondering how you feel that this particular project actually enhances the trust that people can have in public service journalism?

JK: I think that, through this project, we are actually raising awareness on the European level of what public service media is and exactly of the quality of journalism. Because here, the members are promoting one another. And this, I think is important to the audiences, but I think it's also very important and it brings a different perspective and the support, for example, to the journalist. Maybe it's also worth mentioning that within our tool we also have two types of dashboards. So the members who are offering the stories—they can see in real time how the stories perform and how their boxes perform, and I think that's very important to us, as Sebastien says to inform themselves on their work and to make decisions. And of course they have this full editorial in what they want to publish within the framework of this project and something that gives a European perspective.

CW: Then the other point I wanted to ask around is around, you know, funding for public service broadcasting and public service journalism. As you mentioned, there's a lot of discussion here in the UK about future funding of the BBC, for example, it's something that I know is coming up in other countries as well.

I'm also kind of assuming that what this kind of project does, is it actually enables a really efficient way, not just of sharing the content between the members, but of also then reusing it and providing additional value in the service they're actually providing.

JK: Oh yes, of course, absolutely. I think that's very important, especially for the digital services. You know, there are many other ideas on the table of how this could develop and how this could further strengthen their position, because for the moment, we are publishing and we are present on members’ online platforms. But one of the ambitions if we secure the additional funding, one of the ambitions and one of the important steps in order to increase the audiences and reach especially younger audiences would be to go, for example, on social.

So in terms of the funding, I think that all the organizations are under pressure. And when you have innovation projects, it's of course not easy to find, you know, to dedicate the resources to make an extra effort, because the news budgets are under a lot of constraint. But the opportunity, as you said, we are showing the value on a pan-European level of the quality public service journalism. We are promoting quality journalism, you know, cross-border.

CW: Where do you see in the future more members? You mentioned social. What do you think is the way it can go?

JK: One of the visions that we have for the next phase, we have invested in the application for the new funding. We are waiting for the decision, and this kind of also shows where we could go. So in this new phase we thought about going social to reach other audiences than the ones who are already on members platforms, and especially younger audiences. And in terms of organizations that are coming together. We also wanted to leverage the work that is going on in different organizations on developing a public service algorithm or public service algorithm that serves, you know, increasing trust and that delivers good quality journalism.

CW: It's a really, really interesting project. There's no doubt about it. I think that there's a pan-European aspect to it that I think is fascinating. And I think in how you're trying to deliver it is really, really interesting.

And so to wrap things up, as you know, there is one question that I ask everyone in the podcast, so Justina, when you look at the market at the moment, and when you look at things in your own life, what is it, if anything, that that keeps you up at night?

JK: I usually sleep pretty well because we work quite hard on the project, but no seriously, I think that my thoughts are about being able to sustain this innovation against the realistic pressure that exists in real life. And I have no doubt that I think we have a lot of trust of all the people who are participating in the project. We see in the EBU and the members, and we've heard now, which was very very good first opinions from audiences. So we know there is a potential, and it sparks every time we have a workshop. It sparks a lot of ideas that is really really confidence building, but what sometimes scares me is that, as I say, is will we manage? We are still at the start of the road. Will we manage to keep this commitment against the pressure that are realistic pressure, and that the BBC, of course, story is very… I think it puts a lot of questions and you're concerned about the future. And the reason why is not only because it would be very disappointing to stop this innovation, but I think also that because myself and Sebastien and all the others think that, well, this is really the future. This is where we are moving. And we wouldn't like to stop there because we think that this is very important for the future of public service media and building this completely new presence and understanding in the digital sphere, which is our sphere for the future.

CW: Sebastien, what about you?

SN: I think I will always have those kinds of questions and how can we make the user experience better? How can we make it more immersive? How can we escape the box and provide something that will be different using the same kind of material and another direction also is like well, we have applied that successfully for news, to some extent? How could we use the same tools, techniques, and approaches for other kind of contents?

Because yeah, PSM is obviously focused on news first and foremost, but there are other things that we need to do like educating the people, bringing the right attainment and so on. And maybe you were also addressing the younger generations more. So probably by enlarging what we have done to new types of content, we could also do more things and that could be quite interesting challenges and new products that could come out of this. So always open to explore new things and that kind of thing keeps me thinking sometimes, as you can guess.

CW: Thanks to Sebastien and Justina for sharing their thoughts with us, and it will be interesting to see how the project progresses.

Attracting new audiences is a subject we’ve discussed a few times on the podcast. And why not check out the show notes to find out how US-based NBCLX and Irish broadcaster RTE are working to tailor their content to different platforms and audiences. It’s a great chat with Matt Goldberg and Philip Bromwell and well worth checking out.

As always, please feel free to get in touch. On social, I am @CraigAW1969 on both Twitter and Instagram, or email us, we are [email protected]. And if you like what you heard, why not give us a rating, leave a review, and of course, subscribe to get notified when the next podcast episode is out on your platform of choice.

For now, thanks to our producer Matt Diggs, thanks to you for listening, and join me next time for more of the stories from the people Making the Media.

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