Touch Screen Displays and Interactivity in the Newsroom – When Does It Make Sense?
Katharina Glück, Ventuz Technology
September 6, 2013

Touch Screen Displays and Interactivity in the Newsroom – When Does It Make Sense?

As a software company that straddles both the event and the broadcast markets, at Ventuz we’ve observed an interesting trend: Broadcasters are borrowing technology from the event market for the setup of their newsroom studios.

Large projections, video walls, interactivity

The event and AV industry is a hotbed of innovative technological ideas, shaping the expectations of thousands of attendees at exhibitions, shows, galas and so forth. Large projections, video walls, interactivity - whatever is new and hot, the event industry will be the first to try and use it for visitor experiences. For example, interactive touch screen displays and video walls seem to be everywhere nowadays. But think back: where did you see your first interactive video wall? At a promotional event in a shopping mall? At a trade show exhibition booth? At some press event? One thing is for certain; you did not see it in a newsroom.

In the event market, new technologies, especially the whole focus on interactivity, were introduced with games and entertainment installations that had only one goal: to keep the visitor busy so that they hang around and are subjected to the brand for a longer period of time. Interactivity is a technology aimed at the individual - a medium of participation and engagement. To this day, games and entertainment installations remain the number one use of interactive devices in the event sector. So how can this transfer and fit into the serious, informational environment of the newsroom?

The most fought-over broadcast period in every country is the election night. Naturally this is the time in which broadcasters are especially creative when it comes to attracting audiences. CNN has always been one of the most progressive networks when it comes to using "fancy" technology (remember the infamous holograms, which they used in the 2008 US elections broadcast?). Thus it was no surprise that in 2008 (in addition to the hologram), they introduced a massive wall-sized multi-touch display to their election night broadcast. The touch application provided the opportunity to play out different scenarios of voting results. The impact and was so successful that the same application (with a slightly better design) was used again by CNN in the 2012 elections. The electoral votes map video is a great example of a smart touch screen application that transform complex information into something every viewer can quickly understand.

CNN's King electoral Map

Romney campaign plans failed to launch on election night

With CNN as the shining star to emulate, more and more channels have tried implementing interactivity and video walls into their own broadcasts. While some succeed, many more produce meaningless graphics and pointless use of the technology.

Interactivity should be more than a gimmick

This begs the question: how can a broadcast newsroom integrate interactivity so it true value-add, bringing additional information or enhancing audience engagement, as opposed to just as a trendy gimmick?

What most newsroom touch installations lack, is a clear vision of how this technology can be important for their audience. In many cases, engineers seem to have simply transitioned traditional on-air graphics onto a touch screen. Instead of some off-camera person triggering graphics on cue, the host triggers the graphics by touching points on the display.

This can be pointless or profound depending on how it is implemented. The basic idea is give the impression that the news host is the manager of their own show, with full control over the graphics. Users relate more closely to the host, because they feel part of their information discovery process. But it is the interface that can make or break this connection with the viewer. Not every host is intuitively comfortable with fancy technology. And not every designer is good at creating an intuitive touch interface.

If there is one thing we at Ventuz have learned from years of interactive presentations, it is that the key to a successful show is that the presenter knows every inch of the interface by heart, knows exactly how everything reacts and is never overwhelmed or confused by what is happening on the screen. This is almost always the result of a foolproof interface design that doesn't allow (or at least make obvious) any slips or failures.

The BBC news video below is a good example of a foolproof touch screen interface. During the first half of the video everything the host does is single taps in a next-next-fashion. (I wouldn't be surprised if it was actually a linear animation and she could tab anywhere on the screen with the same result.) In the second half, although it seems as though the news host drags and drops the object to their correct positions, you can see the objects slip into place once she lets go of them, suggesting that each object has a fixed final position and the host cannot distribute them incorrectly.

The interface in the BBC news example is tightly scripted, but it is still effective at increasing newscaster credibility and boosting audience engagement. But are there even better uses for interactive touch screen technology in the newsroom?

Remember the application that CNN provided for their election broadcast. What made this application so compelling was that it appeared to be unscripted and real-time (which in fact it was). The touch screen interactivity helped to visualize ideas as they were happening in the studio, instead of following a pre-defined script and schedule that was made before the show by someone who is not on stage. This is one of the most compelling ways to use interactivity in the broadcast news studio - to help visualize a thinking process while it is happening.