ABC News Now, the 24/7 news service delivered via broadband, broadcast and cellular phones, has a permanent home at ABC's Manhattan headquarters. "Our previous facility was adequate, but if ABC News Now was going to be enhanced, we needed to upgrade," says Jeff Morris, ABC News Now director of production, operations and distribution.
That's why Morris and company designed and built a control room. When it's jammed with four technical people, the room's tight quarters resemble the inside of a production vehicle. So does the energy.
"We have talented people multitasking in there because the space is so limited," says Morris. For example, the technical director doubles as the director, the audio operator as the assistant director and the graphics operator as the associate producer.
The end result? The service is thriving.
A Ross video synergy production switcher with two mix effects and a Yamaha O2 audio console with 56 channels are tied together to help unify the production process. At the press of a button, the audio-console faders can be automatically reconfigured for changing needs. Jim Moyer, ABC News Now technical operations producer, says it can handle complex audio needs, like voiceover scenarios or having music playing underneath the main audio track.
Plus, Louth automation allows the production switcher to control downstream equipment, such as a four-channel Grass Valley Profile video server used to handle backgrounds, lower-third elements and interstitials. "It has 24 hours of storage," says Morris, "and some of the elements are kept around to be replayed. Most, however, are purged every night."
Also located in the control room are a two-channel Chyron Duet LEX character generator for bugs and graphics and two Avid AirSpace servers. The servers, used for playback of long-form content, are tied in with the Avid Unity storage system that sits at the heart of the ABC News operation. The Unity acts as a central ingest point; Avid NewsCutter editing systems are attached to create story packages. Once the stories are complete, they are sent to the AirSpace servers via file-transfer protocol (FTP).
The process is a far cry from its earlier incarnation.
Previously, the nighttime operator who recorded elements and content would build in five minutes of black time. That's how long it took him to walk from the deck he played out of to the Profile he recorded into. Now content is automatically recorded and sent via FTP.
When ABC News Now debuted, ABC News President Dave Westin said making its content available over broadband, cellphones and broadcast TV was a look at the future of news. The same could be said for its control room, a prime example of smartly stretching limited space and budgets.
Says Morris, "It allows people to focus on doing what they do best: finding stories and getting them to air."