08.02.2004 12:00 PM
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
New technologies alter TV convention coverage

The Democratic and Republican conventions not only measure the political pulse of the nation every four years, but also serve as a grueling logistical nightmare that tests the capabilities of current broadcast technology. Solving multiple signal interference and a myriad of audio problems simultaneously usually goes with the territory.

CNN used less technology, but new equipment to cover the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston last week. The network said the plunging cost and easy availability of ultra-high-speed fiber optic links now allows CNN to transmit the raw feed from 20 different cameras simultaneously to its Atlanta headquarters.

This year, technological advances in television impacted the on-air, online and behind-the-scenes operations of all broadcast and cable TV news networks. Companies have gotten smarter in how they cover the convention, with the sharing of facilities (ABC provided technical facilities for the Al Jazeera Network).

For one thing, high-definition coverage wasn’t such a novelty as in years past. The High Definition National Consortium was offering an HD pool feed in the 1080i format (in conjunction with Japan’s NHK network) to about 30 broadcasters, both domestic and international from the Democratic convention in Boston. ABC, NBC, HDNet and PBS carried at least some parts of the convention live in HD. CBS and FOX did not.

Intelsat provided satellite uplinks and fiber-optic connectivity for traditional electronic newsgathering and broadcast while Globix supplied its Windows Media encoding services for streaming audio and video on the Web.

ABC also provided 24-hour gavel-to-gavel convention coverage as part of its ABC News Now initiative, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. In addition to its traditional convention coverage from Boston, consumers could watch ABC News Now’s news programming on their computer, cell phone, and for the first time on digital TV as well.

One major change for cable news network CNN at last week’s Democratic convention was the shift of control room facilities from the convention site to CNN headquarters in Atlanta. There were no production trucks at the FleetCenter.

In an interview with the New York Times, Jane Maxwell, leader of CNN’s special events team, said the plunging cost and easy availability of ultra-high-speed fiber optic links now allows CNN to transmit the raw feed from 20 different cameras simultaneously to Atlanta.

By using fiber a network, CNN can send less equipment and fewer people to a convention site, and use its more extensive production systems at home. “So the [new] technology does, in a sense, allow us to use less technology,” Maxwell said.

An on-air first at last week’s convention was CNN’s floor-level anchor platform. Traditionally, networks have used skyboxes for their anchors due to extreme crowd noise at floor level. That’s changed due to a new generation of noise reducing headsets and microphones.

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