Bay News 9 Stays Ahead of Hurricanes
New facility offers a glimpse at the future—and a nod to the past
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/24/2005 8:00:00 PM
When Bay News 9 opened a 23,000-square-foot facility in St. Petersburg, Fla., last month, it unveiled a host of new features, including a dedicated control room for its Spanish-language network, a larger weather station for hurricane coverage, and the so-called Big Board of Everything that its execs say spells the difference between getting a scoop and being scooped. When hurricane season came early this year, the Bright House Networks-owned 24-hour cable news channel was already in position to report on the havoc.
Bay News 9 VP/General Manager Elliot Wiser believes the multimillion-dollar facility is the ideal blueprint for the TV newsroom of the future. As stations that offer news products add distribution channels such as dedicated weather channels, VOD services and deeper broadband, it is that much more difficult to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The new facility has four studios and two control rooms, so now Bay News 9 Español can go live with breaking news—something it couldn’t do before. Redundant power generators and Pinnacle video servers help the network stay on-air if the first set of gear fails, and a greatly expanded weather center means the network’s five meteorologists have more room to work during tense storm coverage.
Not long ago, the station introduced Bay News 9 OnDemand, a free service that gives viewers access to restaurant reviews and other news programming. Wiser says it has taught him a little something about his viewers’ tastes: He has been pleasantly surprised by the popularity of a yoga program and even more so by video showing sunrises and sunsets. He says OnDemand also enhances his news operation: “We’ll put a longer interview with someone on the VOD service and the shorter one on-air.”
Making it easier to create VOD content was another goal. All incoming news content is transferred from Panasonic DVCPRO cameras into a central Pinnacle video server. An OmniBus automation system, Pinnacle nonlinear editing systems and Associated Press’ ENPS newsroom system are used by reporters and producers to build story packages on the desktop. Creators of VOD content can access that same content and create longer packages that complement the on-air telecasts.
“We used to have four different servers for our different networks, but now they all share one,” says Wiser. “Having content on the same server means that, if you can click and drag with a mouse, you can edit.”
Access to the Pinnacle server extends beyond the Bright House Networks facility that houses Bay News 9. Six bureaus are connected via fiber and, like the internal networks, can push and pull video content to and from the main video server. “We have literally hundreds of miles of fiber,” says Wiser. “Not having to schlep microwave trucks around to cover storms is huge.”
Safer and drier
The new facility, having met stricter construction codes than its predecessor, is also a lot safer—and drier—during those hurricanes. “Our old parking lot would become a pool every time we had a storm,” says Wiser. “We should have put a diving board out there.”
Bay News 9 also reintroduced an old-school concept to the TV newsroom: a big board. The brainchild of Wiser and Magid Consulting senior consultant Nick Lawler, the 20- x 20-foot rear-projector/screen combo is a high-tech version of a bygone era when newsrooms were ruled by nothing more than a white board and a marker that were used to track the day’s assignments.
But the Big Board of Everything is much more than a nostalgia trip.
“The marker board was always a focal point of what the daily product was going to be,” Lawler says. “When PCs came around, that singular mission ended. This changes that.”
In the newsrooms
The Big Board removes the guesswork of knowing what people are working on, Lawler says. It also displays the assignment-desk rundown, live Doppler radar and breaking-news headlines—which certainly comes in handy when the hurricanes come to visit. “I’ve worked at stations where the newsroom was three floors removed from the weather center,” Lawler says. “This removes the need to run around.”
The system uses two Hitachi CP-X1250 projection monitors ($7,000 each) and screens made by UK-based Reversa (about $2,000 each). Feeds and sources are pulled into a Dell PC, where custom-written programs parse the data and prepare it for display. Dual DVI outputs from the PC then feed the video into the projectors.
Wiser says the station’s four outlets have already seen on-air improvement, thanks to the board. “In a 24-hour newsroom, communication is always the biggest challenge,” he says. “Before this, you could only tell what was going on by shouting around the newsroom.”
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