Democrats Descend on Denver

When the Democratic National Convention converges on the Pepsi Center here, Aug. 25–28, greeting the 7,000 party delegates and 25,000 visitors will be more than 15,000 members of the press representing local, national and international print, Internet, radio, and TV media.
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DENVER
When the Democratic National Convention converges on the Pepsi Center here, Aug. 25–28, greeting the 7,000 party delegates and 25,000 visitors will be more than 15,000 members of the press representing local, national and international print, Internet, radio, and TV media.


(click thumbnail)The Denver Pepsi Center, (L), will host the first three nights of the Democratic National Convention while Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium will be the site of the Presidential acceptance speech on Thursday.The Denver Pepsi Center, which opened in 1999, is home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, and other teams. The 675,000-square-foot building seats 18,000 to 20,000 people, depending on configuration, and contains 95 luxury suites.

Responsibility for accommodating all the TV reporters and their support teams at the arena falls to just one man on the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC)—Walter Podrazik, senior advisor for convention media planning.

A communications and logistics consultant based in Chicago, “Wally” Podrazik has handled complex technical media logistics at the Democratic presidential nominating conventions in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco.

During each election cycle Podrazik works with the media from the U.S. House Radio-Television Correspondents Gallery in Washington to coordinate their interests with the interests of the networks and the independents along with the interests of the five network pool members. The five pool members of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox will shoot video inside the hall for all pool subscribers. The pool is all-HD.

It’s Podrazik’s job to ensure media journalists have what they need for gavel-to-gavel convention coverage, both inside the Pepsi Center and in their production truck compounds outside in the surrounding parking lots.

One of these common issues is creating anchor positions for the major networks. “We’ll have to totally refit skyboxes normally used as luxury suites at other events,” he said.

Podrazik said he anticipates several dozen anchor positions in the Pepsi Center. These will include the five pool networks along with C-SPAN, Tribune, the PBS News Hour, and perhaps some large station groups.

CHANGE OF PLANS

In addition to making sure that everything is in place and ready to go at the Pepsi Center, Podrazik is also facing an eleventh-hour change of venue for Barack Obama’s Aug. 28 presidential nomination acceptance speech. To accommodate a larger audience, the speech will take place at Invesco Field in Denver’s 75,000 seat Mile High Stadium complex.

“Invesco Field normally deals with broadcasting NFL football games, so the site already is capable of handling the broadcast of this major event,” Podrazik said.

This move to Invesco Field caught everyone by surprise, including members of the DNC video pool. “They all understood the reasons for the venue change,” he said, “and the consensus from them was that this is quite doable.”

How broadcasters approach their Invesco coverage, Podrazik said, “will be a direct reflection of our final layout” for the podium and other elements in the stadium, which will be finalized before a media walk-though of Invesco in early August. “Each organization will get the information on the new layout, analyze their options and make their best choices.”

Considerations include whether or not to use Invesco’s skyboxes, positioning of the camera platforms, hiring additional production trucks and frequency coordination details.

“Obviously, we’re going to cover the final night of the convention,” said CBS News spokesperson Sandy Genelius, “but this move presents issues that clearly we did not know about until the announcement on July 7.”

Will CBS bring in another production truck for Invesco Field or try to move a truck from the Pepsi Center overnight? “CBS Newspath is a big operation,” said Genelius, “so we’re still working out those details and deciding exactly what our game plan will be.”

Beyond hanging customized logos and banners atop each suite, all the furniture and fixtures will be removed from the skyboxes, Podrazik said, then each operation designs its own suite layout. Some will use adjacent boxes, such as NBC did in 2004. No additional skyboxes will be constructed.

About 20 camera positions will be created on the convention floor, Podrazik noted. Some will be anchor platforms for use when the hall is not too noisy from floor delegations.

“We’ll also remove sections of arena seating to build platforms for stand-up reports overlooking the arena bowl,” Podrazik said. Some of these 6-by-12-foot platforms will be branded, yet other platforms will be available for use on a rotating basis by reporters and crews from independent outlets.

“These open platforms will serve the needs of the different broadcast groups and affiliates in different time zones,” Podrazik said, “so they can do remotes from the convention during their regular newscasts. We know it’s important to give viewers a sense of actually being there.”

Most local stations will rely on the pool feed for the bulk of their coverage, he said. “We don’t have room for hundreds of organizations to set up cameras to get the same head shot of the speaker.” The HD pool feed this year is being coordinated by Fox News.

CABLE CONUNDRUM

Here’s where Podrazik faces another common challenge with different solutions for everyone. “Whether you’re talking about the pool feed or the unilateral network feeds,” he said, “the issue is getting cables from inside the arena to the production trucks in the parking lots outside.”

The Pepsi Center has existing coax cabling built-in for sports and live entertainment broadcasts, and these may be used where possible, but that system is not sufficient, Podrazik said.

A handful of the crews may decide to use the JVC coax cable junction boxes as I/O ports for video and audio signals, said Mike Tierney, senior director of operations for the Pepsi Center, “but we expect them to pretty much bypass our existing SD systems.”

Yet the DNCC will use other aspects of the arena’s infrastructure, Tierney said. A network of CRT monitors in the concourses and skyboxes, normally used for displaying SD video and game information, instead may be used for communicating logistical information to convention delegates. For HD video, the DNCC plans to install flatscreen LCD monitors at key locations in the facility.

Since the nearly decade-old building was not built for HD, the DNC also will not use the arena’s lighting system, which is set for illuminating games shot in SD.

One piece of infrastructure that will be used is the dedicated fiber connection between the downtown Pepsi Center and the Comcast Media Center (CMC) in southeast Denver. CMC delivers more than 8,000 VOD assets monthly to cable system operators.

“The Pepsi Center link typically is used for live sports events,” said Mitch Weinraub, executive director of products and services for the CMC, “but for the convention, the link will deliver pool coverage of speeches and other major convention events to the CMC, which we will edit, manage and archive for VOD distribution on the Web, on cable channels and by global satellites over our Titan uplink facility.”

To help get signals out of the building, Podrazik said, a raised floor will be installed on top of the cement floor of the Pepsi Center. Under that floor, cables will be run from one side of the arena to the other. More cables will stretch through the concourses, sometimes with a hook system along the walls to raise the cables off the floor.

“We plan on multiple knockouts around the perimeter of the building, so the cables go as directly as possible to each production truck compound,” Podrazik said. “We don’t want to wrap cabling around the outside of the building if we can help it.”

Setup began in mid-July when Secret Service and Denver Police Department teams locked down the Pepsi Center for the duration.

As the convention gets closer, Podrazik expects each of the feed members and other major news organizations will let him know their needs, and then he will communicate with Tierney.

“All we know for sure is that the DNCC is installing its own standalone infrastructure as opposed to augmenting or replacing what we already have installed here,” Tierney said. “When the DNC pulls out, we expect their gear to go with them, but if somebody wants to step up and pay for us to keep those HD screens and any of the HD cabling, that would be nice.”