Newsmax builds next-generation Web TV studio

The small studio relies on flexible equipment.
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Multimedia company Newsmax Media, based in West Palm Beach, FL, started out as a general news website and a monthly newsletter about 11 years ago. Since 2008, the company has been distributing a 100-page magazine (250,000 subscribers), 15 online newsletters and producing a twice-daily Internet newscast called “Newsmax.TV.”

Britain's Financial Times recently published a business profile of Newsmax Media, stating that the company's website (www.newsmax.com) has become “one of the strongest conservative voices online.” The article also noted that while U.S. media brands including CNN and The New York Times have suffered through a difficult period, Newsmax's business is booming in terms of revenue and traffic.

John Trapp, a veteran video engineer, was originally hired as a graphic designer for the company's main magazine. He later made the transition to running its online video editing and production activities. The company's full-time video staff now consists of Trapp and another editor, Matt Vigil, in addition to two anchors and a producer.

From a new 400sq-ft studio, the small, high-energy video production team produces “Newsmax.TV” and hundreds of hours of Web-based and DVD-distributed programming each year that is seen by close to 1 million viewers per month.

Everything in the department's studio is designed to be as flexible as possible to accommodate a variety of subjects. From here, “Newsmax.TV” presents two 90-second wrap-ups of the daily news that are distributed over the Internet, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. The HD (1080i) shows are produced live to a hard drive or solid-state media card, edited and post produced with graphics added. Segments are then sent on to Brightcove, a content delivery network for outside distribution. Finished files are sent as QuickTime videos. The turnaround happens in a matter of an hour. Often, people are interviewed outside the studio (sometimes in another state), and the footage is sent via FTP to the headquarters for inclusion in the daily newscasts. Newsmax also has relationships with sites such as NewsBusters.com, a comedy site, and The Washington Times.

The highly versatile main production studio includes three Sony PMW-EX3 solid-state HD camcorders on Manfrotto tripods and dollies with teleprompters. There's a three-sided back wall that includes light panels that can change colors as needed, as well as a curved wall of wood with an LCD screen and a 10ft × 8ft green screen on the opposite wall. The studio is usually busy, with two to four interviews shot there each day. There's even room for a 12-seat live audience.

At “Newsmax.TV,” there is no traditional control room. All of the switching of cameras is done in post production using Apple Final Cut Pro (FCP). Effects are created in Adobe After Effects and AppleMotion. Each camera feed is recorded live to SxS cards, as well as to a hard drive, and then stitched together in FCP. The hard drives are part of a capture station, which feeds camera signals via FireWire connections. This computer station on wheels features a MacBook Pro laptop and a 15in LCD HD monitor to preview camera sources. Two Mac Pro computers are used for editing and redundancy during the recording of a show. Several BlackmagicDesign cards enable the company to ingest and stream content live and capture Apple's ProRes 422 Codec, but the cards are not used that often — generally for content destined for DVD.

Storage is a continuing necessity at the studio. Originally, the department started out storing images to a 750GB hard drive connected directly to a single ENG camera. As things progressed — there are now three cameras utilized — the staff has used up about 8TB of storage over the past two years, which is regularly backed up off-site. There's also a 5TB NAS system that stores content for editing and video archiving. Locally, the capture station holds that day's content on the MacBook Pro's 250GB internal hard drive. All content is eventually archived on 400GB data tape cassettes, copies of which are stored off-site.

The two edit stations each have 4TB of RAID-protected storage directly attached, which are used to ingest footage from Blackmagic Design PCI cards. Images for longer programs, such as infomercials, which are shot between newscasts for extra revenue, are captured in Apple ProRes 422 video to maintain image quality.

Audio is captured with Sony lavalier mics in the studio and Sennheiser wireless transmitters and mics in the field and mixed on an Alesis Multimix 8 audio console.

Trapp said the productions his staff creates stand up to anything on traditional TV. In fact, he said some of the “Newsmax.TV” segments are used on commercial television stations in Florida and on national news.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.

Design team

John Trapp, senior video engineer

Matt Vigil, editor

Technology at work

Adobe After Effects CS4 Creative Suite CS4 Alesis Multimix 8 audio console Ambrosia Software Snapz Pro X Apple Final Cut Pro Suite Mac Pro workstations MacBook Pro laptop QuickTime Pro Blackmagic Design PCI cards Bose Companion 2 series speakers FileZilla FTP Manfrotto tripods NCH Software Switch Sennheiser wireless transmitters and mics Sony DSR-400 ENG camcorder HVR-A1U camcorder Lavalier microphones PMW-EX3 cameras Squared 5 MPEG Streamclip video converter Tasty Apps Videobox Flash video download tool Telestream Flip4Mac QuickTime plug-in