A commitment to customer driven developments has led our product direction over 25 years and re-enforced Autoscript’s position as worldwide leaders of the prompting industry, explains Brian Larter, Worldwide Managing Director, Autoscript.
Prompting has come along way since the early days of its development on the I Love Lucy show in the early 1950s. Director Jess Oppenheimer devised a combined camera and prompt system with the script written on paper rolls, to the side of the camera, to help his actors recall lines on this fast turnaround comedy.
Nowadays electronic and IP-based prompting is such an integral part of any studio presentation system or news production that it rarely merits attention. That's just as it should be - the best prompting technology is designed to be unobtrusive and to operate with failsafe reliability. The on air talent should be almost as unaware of the prompt as the audience they present to. It is in fact irreplaceable - which is why broadcasters need to ensure they evaluate their needs carefully, both to safeguard against failure and to get the most out of their prompting service.
The basic concept – in which flat screens and reflective glass allow scripts to be read reflected from the camera head – is long established and has needed little embellishment since the mid-eighties beyond lighter-weight materials, higher brightness monitors (particular for outdoor use) and lower power consumption.
Nonetheless broadcast needs continue to evolve, not the least of which are increasing demands for reliability, mobility and adaptability to new situations or technologies.
Autoscript has been at the forefront of this evolution for a quarter century and since the launch of Simplicity (as BDL Autoscript) in 1984 has pioneered product development in the sector.
Simplicity coincided with the introduction of newsroom computer systems in TV stations and was the first computer-based scriptwriting and running order package linked to a newsroom system (BASYS). Successive versions of Autoscript software have built on that foundation, adapting to generations of faster microprocessors and culminating in +WinPlus+ for customer applications ranging from top level corporate presentations to sitcoms and the most demanding newsrooms.
Flagship product +WinPlus+ provides the ability to control the run order and edit anywhere within the script, even when scrolling the on-air story, leaving the prompt output unaffected.
Autoscript was the first company to deliver a DOS-based newsroom prompting system and the first to develop for Windows. With Windows-machines ubiquitous among broadcast operations Autoscript was not alone among manufacturers in facing the challenge of writing write new drivers and software interfaces with each new iteration of Windows 95/NT/XP/Vista.
Autoscript quickly realised that getting broadcast quality video from a PC and distributing that signal around coax-cabled installations was a serious challenge, not least to genlock script to the video signal. Largely for this reason, but also to retain total control over its technology, Autoscript made a strategic decision early on to devise and manufacture its own video cards.
It remains the only prompting company to manufacture, develop software and hardware in house. While rival prompting firms opted to market their own newsroom automation systems, Autoscript chose to work with vendors like AP, Avid and others who market newsrooms systems including ENPS, i-News, Dalet, News Wire/Open Media, Newsmaker, Newstar. News Works, Octopus and Eidoe Media.
Indeed so integral is +WinPlus+ News that these partners can support Autoscript software and immediately deliver upgrades to the customer.
An example might be the addition of new languages, an increasingly important need among fast growing emerging markets. Being Unicode compliant, as long as Windows supports the language then so will Autoscript software. Tamil, Farsi, Chinese, Thai, Urdu, Cyrillic and Hindi languages or character sets are in particular demand just now and Autoscript can support them all with the inclusion of subtle accents and all TrueType and Adobe fonts. This feature was a notable criteria for the BBC World Service in its selection of Autoscript for its new BBC Arabic and BBC Persia services.
AP created ENPS in the mid-1990’s and as it did so it developed, in tandem with Autoscript, a custom cut-down version of +WinPlus+ becoming a standard no-extra-cost component of AP's newsroom computer systems today.
According to Keisuke Kayaba, ENPS Sales Director for Middle East and India, “Our whole strategy has been then to allow the client to choose whatever third party prompting system or character generator or automation system they want for their particular installation. We don’t get involved in their choice but we will provide answers to questions such as ‘how will it work with ENPS’ to them to make that decision.”
In practice most ENPS customers opt for Autoscript prompting. “There’s an appreciation in the industry that the prompting system that most clearly integrates with ENPS is Autoscript’s,” Kayaba says. “With Autoscript we believe ENPS can handle multiple languages better than some of our competitors.”
It is client-led demands such as this which have driven Autoscript’s product innovation of new functions for +WinPlus+ software and accessory products.
Chief among these was a demand for wireless prompting born initially out of the production experience at ITN. Autoscript devised the first wireless scroll function enabling a presenter to roam around a studio from green screen to set for example with hand control of the prompter. The RF-enabled GoPrompt series are the world's first self-contained wireless prompter that is not dependent on a PC, laptop or other input system.
From there it was a logical next step to produce a cable-free foot-controlled device, following a request from a US broadcaster. The client wanted a presenter to be able to ‘sign-off’ for commercial break or an end of programme by delivering to a different camera, yet without the judder in continuity as typically happens when presenters struggle to relocate camera and script. A companion six button deskpad provides the ability to jump page, bookmark/snapshot to previous or next pages or scroll back to the top of script. Quite simply if a customer comes up with a good idea Autoscript will develop it.
The company is set to debut a new range of presenter controls at IBC. Utilising frictionless magnetic technology the new devices will feature the next generation of foot controllers, the Magno Footcontrol. It boasts in-built intelligence to allow allocation and control from the WinPlus prompter software. Reliability, longevity and reducing servicing issues have all been addressed, with no tension springs used in the design for use in either a seated or standing position.
Eliminating the need for talent or operator manual control of text speed across the prompter monitor entirely is the multi-award winning +VoicePlus+. A recipient of the prestigious IABM Innovation Award in 2007, +VoicePlus+ is a voice activated prompting system which interfaces fluently with +WinPlus+ and work