NEW YORK—The financial markets are a swirling tornado of movement, rumors, advice and conjecture, and capturing their essence on-screen is akin to stuffing a hurricane into your pocket. A Category 5 hurricane.
Yet that's what CNBC faced with its graphics upgrade, and the result is a clean, attractive and informative swirling tornado that fits a channel covering the fast-moving events on Wall Street. In a project that provided a fresh look to the popular financial network, CNBC also threw out its long-standing protection of a 4:3 on-screen zone and embraced the full 16:9 aspect ratio.
With the stock market currently in a sharp and volatile drop, the network's graphics upgrade couldn't have come at a better time.
With the Ebola scare, CNBC's new graphics system shows more than just financial information.
"Our new look needs to deliver the actionable data and insights our viewers demand, faster and with greater impact than ever before," said Tom Clendenin, senior vice president for marketing at CNBC. "In an increasingly complex marketplace, we want to ensure that the most important information is delivered in a clear and powerful manner. We also want greater focus on our journalists and guests that deliver valuable insights across the 1,000-plus live interviews every business week."
The update took months of planning and design work, and involved an outside graphical and animation specialist: Adam Gault Studios, which is now known as Block & Tackle. Block & Tackle specializes in visual story telling through animation, live-action, stop-motion and graphics.
"[The design] was a highly collaborative process that involved key decision makers across the organization," Clendenin said. "We take very seriously our responsibility to our viewers and we worked closely with research, production and key partners to ensure that we were enhancing the CNBC brand and our viewers' experiences."
Tom Clendenin, senior vice president for marketing at CNBC INSANE AMOUNT OF DATA
The result is a system that deals with an insane amount of data from a wide variety of sources, displayed on the screen in a logical and interesting way. Depending on the information, it may linger for minutes on-screen, or it may pass by once and get replaced by the next item. It was a challenge from both the visual and technical standpoints.
"The most challenging aspect of this redesign is the scale of the implementation," said Steve Fastook, senior vice president for operations & engineering at CNBC. "For example, yesterday, more than 290 individual users ordered more than 4,900 HD graphics including more than 12,000 desktop preview panes. With every image highly stylized and moving, the processing, distribution and storage of this is a huge undertaking."
Despite megabytes of data flowing through the graphics, it doesn't require much oversight.
"Our real-time data is delivered on an automated basis, as it needs to be fast, accurate and actionable," Clendenin said. "However, what data is shown is an editorial decision based on what we feel is the most important information for our viewers at any given time."
Steve Fastook, senior vice president for operations & engineering at CNBC DOZENS OF TECHNICAL ISSUES
As you might imagine, no one company has the complete solution for a graphics system this complex. CNBC's engineering staff, working with Block & Tackle, hammered out the equipment details and dozens of other technical issues.
"Our implementation includes Chyron Mosaic XL, Grass Valley Summit servers and Brainstorm 3D," Fastook said. "These devices are integrated into an elegant user interface that allows editorial personnel to order, preview and stack images including real-time market data for air."
Although it might seem like CNBC's timing was perfect with the current upheaval in the financial markets, the graphics upgrade project has been in the works for months.
The new look is modern and clean. "We implemented these systems about three months before this transition, and that allowed us to stress test the technology with our old look," Fastook said. "We had extensive input from all the aforementioned providers, and project management/integration expertise was provided by Positive Flux."
Larry Thaler headed up the implementation team from Positive Flux.
"We think of ourselves as a 'bolt-on' organization to expand the capabilities of our customers," Thaler said. "We have extensive experience both in project leadership and in graphics, so we were the natural choice to help."
The months of practice and training on the system made it look effortless when it hit the air this turbulent week.
"I am especially proud of the teamwork inside CNBC," Fastook said. "Our technology team, led by Scott Boyarsky, created the user interfaces. They are responsible for linking our broadcast systems to real-time market data to the tune of one billion quotes a day!"