Taking Action for Jackson Trial

Satellite provider sets up facility across from Santa Barbara courthouse

Journalists seeking some peace and quiet during the media circus that the Michael Jackson molestation trial promises to be will have it, if New England Satellite Systems has its way. The production- and uplink-services provider is setting up a studio facility across the street from the Santa Barbara County (Calif.) Courthouse, providing editing facilities as well as a view of the courthouse from two studios.

Vice President and General Manager Keith Valeri expects the facility to become popular with both national and international TV broadcasters. "We're going to allow our clients to have close physical proximity to the courthouse and also a safe haven from the mass hysteria that will be going on outside of the courthouse. It's something they won't be able to get elsewhere."

The company moved quickly to secure its location on the second floor of an office building at 25 Anapamu St. Once Valeri heard of the trial, he and the company's vice president of operations jumped on a flight to Los Angeles without so much as changing their clothes. The two soon signed a lease for the office space, which Valeri says is the only available space with a view of the courthouse. It's located about 100 feet from the front of the courthouse.

New England Satellite Systems has done business with networks like CNN, ABC, MTV and NBC as well as virtually every other major (and not so major) network. The company has six uplink vehicles. The move to a building is first.

"This is a bit of a new direction for us," says Valeri, "because we've taken the wheels off our mobile service and put it into a facility."

The facility, expected to be completed on Jan. 5, will have three studios (the third will have a backdrop of some sort, such as a Santa Barbara seal) outfitted with Ikegami cameras. Three editing rooms will also be available, providing clients with linear editing on Sony Betacam SP or SX tape. Panasonic DVCPRO gear will be added if demanded.

"The client can have their ENG crew outside and then edit the package here and send it from the courthouse location via our terrestrial and satellite links," Valeri explains. "They don't need to make the trek to Los Angeles."

New England Satellite Systems currently has a satellite truck located outside the courthouse, with a second to be in place in January. The facility has four terrestrial links, with four more to be added later. If demand exceeds those eight links, multiple encoders will be used with a satellite truck and 2.4-meter flyaway satellite dish that will also be on-site.

Valeri expects word of mouth outside the courthouse to push a lot of business his way. About five full-time staffers will be available to handle the demand. A booking agent will be on hand to process credit cards for clients that, unlike some of the network customers, sign on for short-term needs. Engineers will also be on hand, as will freelance camera and audio personnel.

According to Valeria, rates will be less than booking a mobile vehicle. Final rates haven't been set because the company is still calculating its costs for operating the facility.

"Some clients will make it more of a home. They'll have a quiet place to do interviews for the late-night or early-morning news shows without having to deal with interview interruptions."