ABC uses new tech in Philly, Los Angeles

Employs wireless monitor to move fast at conventions

While the political news may have been slow in Philadelphia for the 2000 Republican Convention, ABC managed to make a technology splash with a new wireless monitoring system, affectionately dubbed "Teletubby." This provided greater mobility to ABC correspondents on the convention floor.

"We in engineering were challenged by [ABC News Executive Director] Roger Goodman with figuring out a way to allow the correspondent to wander the convention floor while maintaining the means to see the output of the network and the teleprompter," says Preston Davis, ABC president of broadcast operations and engineering. "[This wireless monitor] was the result."

The device is actually a 15-inch Sharp LCD monitor attached to a Steadicam harness and outfitted with a wireless receiver from Global Microwave Services. Worn by a cameraman, it displayed the ABC programming output, which was transmitted to it by an RF antenna mounted in the rafters of the convention hall. Teleprompter information was displayed to correspondents on a QTV camera-mounted display of the type typically used in a studio configuration. The system makes for a completely wireless one-cameraman band.

"Spectacular" is how Goodman describes the wireless monitor's operation in Philadelphia, where it was employed by anchor Peter Jennings and other ABC News correspondents. The same system will be used this week in Los Angeles for coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

ABC's other wireless trick was a small Sony consumer-grade camcorder outfitted with a miniature wireless transmitter, dubbed the "podium cam." While ABC correspondents used cameras attached to wireless headsets for capturing podium footage at the 1996 conventions, this year's version was far more compact (convention rules don't allow a full-fledged broadcast camera crew near the podium).

Other technical gadgetry employed by ABC included a floor-level chroma key set, which allowed the network to provide a convention-hall backdrop without sacrificing quick access to the floor (ABC alerted viewers to the virtual background on a daily basis), and a flat-panel monitor in the anchor booth that displayed data.

But the most significant innovation in Philadelphia, according to Davis and Goodman, was using fiber-optic paths to New York to direct coverage from the TV-3 control room at ABC's New York headquarters. ABC will also use fiber to remotely control its 10 cameras in Los Angeles, cutting down significantly on production costs for transportation and housing.

"Twenty years ago, we would have built two control rooms as big as you'd find in any studio," says Goodman. He adds that ABC is subswitching some feeds off an ISDN line, allowing directors a choice of a number of camera feeds from a limited number of fiber paths.