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AP's Move to Full HD 'A Seismic Shift'

LONDON—The Associated Press (AP) news agency began in 1846, using the Pony Express to cover the U.S-Mexican War. Over the years, the AP moved into telegraph, telephone, satellite and fiber-optic communications as these technologies became available. It also branched into radio, TV and the Web, and today, fields about 200 camera crews from its 80 bureaus worldwide.

As Associated Press staffer works at the control desk in the London HD MCR. The Media Wall display was supplied by Custom Consoles. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel) At IBC2011, AP announced plans to go fully hi-def by mid-2012. This will position the agency to cover the 2012 London Summer Olympics and U.S. presidential elections in HD.

But the transition is more significant than that. As it moves to full 1080i HD production, AP is transforming how it produces TV news and the range of platforms on which to make it available.

"The move to HD isn't just a change in video formats. It is a fundamental change to becoming a truly multiplatform digital video publisher which enables us to serve new B2B customers beyond just broadcasters," says Sandy MacIntyre, AP's vice president of International Video News. "From an internal perspective, this is as seismic a shift as when AP first moved into television in 1994."

THE CURRENT SETUP

At present, AP's video news crews shoot on-the-spot reports for their clients on Sony DVCAMs, according to AP senior vice president Daisy Veerasingham. The emphasis is on providing its clients with eyes on current events. "We capture what's happening as it happens," she said.

AP's video reports are produced in the field using Sony Vegas portable editing stations and are then sent to AP's London headquarters by whatever path available—satellite uplink or phone, microwave, 3G/4G wireless, or the public Internet, providing there is enough bandwidth. The agency uses a variety of tape and digital SD formats supported by Sony equipment and software and employs the OmniBus "Headline" editing system at its London production hub.

AP Senior Vice President Daisy Veerasingham "Every hour at the bottom of the clock, we broadcast our video news reports in a linear lineup to our subscribers," says MacIntyre. "They record the feeds and pull off what they want; just as if they were dubbing a network newscast." At present, all AP entertainment stories are produced in HD, with some sports stories in HD as well. The rest are in SD. (note: The majority of AP's major broadcast clients are already working in HD.)

AP plans to transition to Panasonic P2 over the next six months. David Hoad, AP's director of global video technology said the P2 solid-state system was selected as it can easily integrate with AP's strategic plans for a file-based workflow. Another significant consideration over any electro-mechanical system is because of its reliability in a hostile geographical environment—for example, the desert sand in the Middle East. At press time, the organization had not decided whether to use Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere for nonlinear editing.

Moving from SD to HD "is a game-changer, because the richness of the HD image adds so much power to the storytelling," MacIntyre said. And on a functional level, "Our reporters and producers will now enjoy all the benefits of working in a file-based environment. This will also have a massively positive impact on our subscribers. As soon as a story is ready to go, they will be able to download the file and put it into their play-out system."

AP knows that not all of its video subscribers are ready to go HD so it will continue to offer SD versions of all its HD stories. As well, the hourly linear video feeds will continue as long as any AP customer needs them. Moving into the HD future does not mean cutting off clients tied to technology from the SD past.

Associated Press Senior Field Producer Rob Celliers, left, helps set up a satellite uplink for live coverage from the frontline in Libya in 2011. (AP Photo) "We have no plans to stop providing SD," says Veerasingham. "Our goal is to serve all of our subscribers; not some of them."

AIMING AT A MULTIPLATFORM WORLD

In addition to moving to HD, AP is changing how it produces news stories. "We are getting into story-telling," Veerasingham says. "Just turning on the camera doesn't work in the 21st century. Our subscribers and their viewers want informed narrative—and we will provide it."

In telling stories, AP will emphasize visuals. "We live in a world where iPads and smartphones are shaping how people consume media," says MacIntyre. "So AP's news content will be created with this in mind. We know that our subscribers are on the Web and mobile, and that they need compelling and informative content. We will provide it."

MacIntyre adds that AP's move into HD and story-telling does not mean that the agency is diluting its journalistic standards. "Our mission continues to be first with the news, and to be accurate with the news," he said. "The workflow changes we will achieve through file-based HD production are not an end in themselves.

"Accuracy has successfully defined the AP brand as the essential and definitive news source for more than 160 years," he adds. "We're not about to change that. Instead, we are about to leverage new technology to add to the speed at which we strive to be first and right."