Good Morning America goes HD

Daily A.M. program marks hi-def first for national news show
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Daily A.M. program marks hi-def first for national news show

NEW YORK

The fall launch of ABC's "Good Morning America" and its weekend edition in HD marks the first time a regularly scheduledcommercial network news program will be produced in high definition.

"Anyone who has experienced high-definition television has been captivated by the quality and clarity of the images and sound," said ABC News President David Westin when the announcement was made on May 16. "HDTV will help us showcase the best and brightest team in morning television and deliver the very best experience to our audience."

HD INAUGURATION

This won't be the first time GMA's hosts, Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, have appeared in HD; a three-hour special high-definition broadcast on Inauguration Day appeared on the show. ABC News has also provided high-definition coverage of the last two State of the Union addresses and the funeral of former president Ronald Reagan, as well as the special, "Peter Jennings Reporting: UFO-Seeing is Believing."

"When we all saw the coverage of the Inauguration, we decided it was time to make the conversion of GMA now to HDTV," said John Green, a longtime producer of the morning show who helped launch the weekend edition of GMA earlier this year. "It really was astounding for us to see our own product in this new medium, and it convinced us that we had to offer this to our viewers sooner than later."

Now joined by new co-host Robin Roberts and weatherman Tony Perkins, Green said this advance in technology will expand the scope of the show.

"High definition brings you onto a location more than most television viewers are used to," Green said. "The scope of the 16:9 image is so much broader, it makes you feel as if you were in a movie theater right in your own living room. Even though most of our audience doesn't have HD sets yet, this may convince people who see us on a friend's set or in a store display to upgrade their own system to HDTV."

All of ABC's HDTV programming is broadcast in 720p high definition with most of that accompanied by 5.1 channel surround sound. ABC was the first major network to begin broadcasting in HD on Nov. 1, 1998 with the theatrical presentation of "The Wonderful World of Disney: 101 Dalmatians." The network also initiated live regularly scheduled HD sports broadcasts in primetime with the 1999-2000 season of "Monday Night Football."

In September 2001, ABC began broadcasting the majority of its primetime schedule in HD, including all of its scripted primetime comedy and drama series, as well as all theatrical movies. During the 2003-04 season, the network broadcast more than 800 hours of HD content, and presented 441 hours of high-definition programming during the first five months of this year.

A MAJOR MILESTONE

But a regularly scheduled daily news production is a major milestone for the network.

"We see this as a natural extension of our primetime HDTV programming," said Preston Davis, president of Broadcast Operations and Engineering for ABC, "The plan is to have all of the studio elements both inside and outside our Times Square location in high definition right from the start. But because ABC News also acquires content from a broad range of suppliers, for the time being, much of their material will come to us in standard definition to be upconverted to HDTV as it is integrated into the program."

This may change as Davis predicts the new HDV recording format will play an increasingly larger role in GMA's remote productions. "We gather a fair amount of material today using small format DV cameras such as the PD-150 from Sony," he said, "so you will see a gradual replacement of those DV cameras into 720p HDV because we think it is a very suitable format for this early transition into high-definition television news."

The step up to HD will involve quite a bit of infrastructure change in ABC's primary complex at 47 W. 66th St., including the installation of a new Sony MVS-8000A high-definition switcher, a Sony HDS-X5800 router and nine Sony HDC-1500S studio cameras along with some handheld models to cover the crowds outside the Times Square studios.

During the technical changeover of its master control capabilities to HD, "Good Morning America" will bring in a 53-foot AMV Crossroads double expando mobile production truck to continue its standard-definition broadcasts.

"We have customized our remote truck to match ABC's studio requirements," said Eric Duke, president of New York-based All Mobile Video. "This includes a Sony MVS-8000 switcher so they can get familiar with the system they will ultimately use on a daily basis, and augmenting our existing Ikegami camera control units with the addition of Sony CCUs, so their camera crews can ease the transition to the equipment they will ultimately be using."

Initially the studio segments shot on the GMA set will have stereo audio, but the Friday Concert Series music segments will be produced in 5.1 surround.

"I think HDTV is a format that lends itself to stories that have a lot of visuals," producer Green said, "and while I think the editorial goals of the show will remain the same, this new technology will let our viewers get more of a feel of actually being on location. I think it is just going to make the competitive race for telling visual stories more intense and will encourage our directors to take our cameras outside more often to appreciate the depth and beauty of Times Square."

The hosts, by the way, have been some of the biggest supporters of moving into HDTV. "Our anchors are unusually hip," Green said, "and in fact it was Diane Sawyer who had a Blackberry before any of the producers did."

The exact premiere date of "Good Morning America" in HD has not yet been announced.