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Keeping Competitive

Despite its stature as a leading news organization, the Associated Press has never been able to duplicate that success in its video services. In 1994, the AP launched AP Television News (APTN) in London and now offers APTN Direct, a satellite-delivered live news service.

Though used by more than 500 broadcasters, major portals and Web sites worldwide, including RAI in Italy, Nippon in Japan and BBC in the UK, the service is a global win, not a domestic one.

But Tom Curley, AP president and CEO since June 2003, the 12th since the service’s founding in 1848, is on the case. He is acutely aware that AP needs to extend beyond its traditional print customer base. And he sees the convergence of print, video and Internet as a source of new business opportunities.

“We’re looking at a way to get into the domestic video market,” he says. “That’s the only gap in the AP portfolio.” To help, AP recently moved into new headquarters on West 33rd Street in Manhattan, part of its long-term game plan to compete with video wire services such as CNN Newssource and NBC Newschannel.

The video facilities at AP’s new digs include two editing rooms with Sony linear editing gear and a small studio. Sony DVCAM camcorders and tapes form the backbone of the video offering. But these rooms are only part of the organization’s changes. On Election Night last week, the AP sent out live coverage of vote tallying at its New York and Spokane, Wash., facilities.

Five Sony cameras, including one on a trolley that could slide across the conference room, sent signals out to a small Grass Valley Group 110 production switcher. The feed was sent out over APTN Direct.

Next month, AP will take another big step toward getting more serious about video.

Remote-controlled video cameras will be installed throughout the newsroom and in various bureaus around the world. The goal: to make it easier for AP reporters to conduct interviews for AP’s television news service, as well as for other organizations. “We’re beginning to develop a plan [for video],” Curley says.

More important, the headquarters itself is designed to improve interaction among the print, digital (or Internet), TV and radio sides of AP. All divisions share a 105,000-square-foot newsroom, the size of two football fields, stretching from 33rd Street down to 31st Street.

The vast newsroom is a mix of the usual cubicles, each outfitted with at least two flat-panel LCD monitors to help reporters keep track of the news on one screen while they report on another. More than 20 glass-enclosed meeting areas are also scattered throughout the newsroom, designed to invite reporters and editors to sit down and discuss projects.

“It’s hard to ignore someone if they are 10 or 15 feet away,” says Curley, and the proximity facilitates coordination on major events for all of AP’s outlets. “The news we have to provide has got to be deep and complete,” he explains. That means sending out a larger team to cover stories, ready to capture video and audio to complement thorough reporting.

The new, state-of-the-art facility is a far cry from AP’s previous headquarters at 50 Rockefeller Plaza. For openers, it didn’t house everyone together. The digital division was across the street, and the video division was located farther uptown. Now all AP staffers are under one roof.

Another exciting venture: The AP is turning its attention to the Internet, as media begins a transition from mass media to what Curley calls “micro media.” The news service is launching a hosted custom-news package for Web sites.

Expected to be available in 2005, it will have three tiers of service: light (all text-based), medium (some video) and sophisticated (heavy reliance on video). In addition, there will be content packages focused on such subjects as travel, sports or entertainment.

“People initially wanted choice on the Internet, but now they want control,” Curley says. “The opportunity for us is to give it to them.”