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Bay News 9 Stays Ahead of Hurricanes

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.

OnDemand Service

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

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

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.”