News Raw: A Series of Fortunate Events

KNBC Los Angeles stakes claim to a digital niche
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KNBC Los Angeles stakes claim to a digital niche

BURBANK, CALIF.

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Sometimes a new concept for news coverage develops from a "use it or lose it" scenario. Such was the case with KNBC's "News Raw" coverage, which the station described as "transparent as it comes" when it launched in April.

"News Raw is the unprocessed, or very lightly processed, stream of news coming into this newsroom, " said KNBC News Director Bob Long. "It takes only one person-a news jockey-to do what we're doing here."

Long believed the next chapter for news was moving into the digital spectrum asap. He made his spectrum bid last September to NBC Universal's Chairman and CEO Bob Wright, NBC Television Stations Division President Jay Ireland, and Paula Madison, president and general manager of KNBC.

"If I didn't do something, GE [could] sell it off to American Express for credit card numbers," he said. "We're trying to settle a little quarter of that [digital real estate] before someone else squats there."

That "little quarter" is digital channel 4.4, a sliver of KNBC's larger spectrum.

Long got the nod by year-end, hired "news jockey" Mekahlo Medina in January, and has witnessed the program evolve ever since.

"There is no schedule-we do what's appropriate at the moment," said Long. "It's a series of events."

Medina, the one-man-band responsible for the product mix as well as anchoring, said he does a minimum of two 5-10 minute news updates (though usually four to five), as well as a 5-minute segment called "The Buzz" (what's hot online), an introduction to "News Raw Inside" (video of KNBC News' morning meeting), and teasers for the evening news. In addition, he recaps breaking news, hosts Q&A debriefings with reporters on stories they've worked on, and introduces behind-the-scenes packages they've compiled on how their stories were made.

In the future both he and Long anticipate more interactivity between News Raw and its audience, and packages provided by "citizen journalists." Long said he has already received submissions, though none have yet aired.

FLASH SET

Medina broadcasts from the "Flash Set," which was already in place for KNBC's breaking news. The set is equipped with two Sony BVP-750 cameras, lighting and monitors. A custom-built PC loaded with NewTek VT4 Integrated Production Suite lets Medina select and import feeds, edit, build and animate graphics macros, choose music, synchronize the mix, build a rundown, and play out the program.

"With one keystroke you can bring in a live camera feed, animated lower third, and music," Medina said.

Mike Bosdet, manager of on-air and studio operations engineering for NBC4 said he chose VT4 because it was flexible (especially in regard to configuring the display), cost effective, and had a broad range of built-in features, such as titling, downstream keying, a built-in audio mixer, and the ability to accept different inputs (NTSC, RGB, SDI signals).

PIZAZZ Productions, a NewTek-authorized dealer based in Beaumont, Texas, did the integration and customization, modifying some of the off-the-shelf product scripts and programming to make it easier for the non-technically trained on-air talent.

"In the VT system there are six virtual DDRs that are feeding into the software mixer, along with the four live SDI inputs," said PIZAZZ Productions owner Jef Kethley. "We adjusted some of the names and terminology so it was easier for the on-air talent to understand and operate."

Playback is also enhanced.

"One of the most powerful features of the VT system is it can record the live output to the hard drive for later playback while simultaneously mixing the six virtual DDRs, two cameras and live router inputs," he said. "We take those recorded clips and loop them for playback as soon as the live show is finished-all with the same VT system."

Grass Valley CP3000/CP3010 routers and an RTS KP-32 intercom system give Medina access to everything in the station. His kit also has an AEQ audio monitor.

Live feeds travel from the Grass Valley routers into a VT4 breakout box (SX-84), which is attached to the VT4 card. From the VT, the signal is transmitted from the VT4's SDI card.

Recorded news packages, saved in the station's Grass Valley-Thomson Profile editing system in a GXF format, are converted to NewTek's proprietary format via Telestream's Flip Factory Pro.

VT4 sends the SDI signals to Harmonic Divicom MV100 encoders, where they're converted to ASI signals and sent to Harmonic MediaNode MN20 multiplexers, then to the transmitter.

The VT system's power and security functions were duly noted.

"It's a dual core, AMD Opteron-based system, each processor has the equivalent of two processors in it, so it's running four processors at a time," said Kethley. "There are two gigs of RAM and two terabytes of RAID5 storage space. The 280 operating system drives are configured in a RAID1 [drives run parallel, insuring back up], and there's a 160-watt redundant power supply."

Backroom racks contain a tray of Evertz products (7700 multiframe, 8084 digital closed-caption encoder) and RDL FP-ALC1 leveling audio amplifiers. The custom VT4 computer-based rack-mounted PC here (mentioned above) uses Avocent remote KVM extenders to feed the monitors and keyboard/mouse back at the Flash desk, some 250 feet away.

Cost was negligible.

Looking toward the future, Bosdet is hopeful about upgrading News Raw's "station in a box"-to NewTek VT5, which he saw at NAB2006.

"VT5 is supposed to have a new SDI switcher to bypass some of the conversion and multiple downstream keys," said Bosdet. "It would allow us to have separate branding elements, a time clock and animation."

VENUE

Currently News Raws' home is KNBC's over-the-air digital channel 4.4. Viewers can watch its over the air or access it from www.nbc4.tv/newsraw, (News Raw is not yet on iTunes' registry).

Down the road, the station hopes for full clearances from the local cable and satellite providers to offer News Raw to their subscribers with one click of a remote button.

Long believes the target demographic is anyone with access to these receivers.

At press time there were no commercial sponsors.

"I'd like to see 'commercials raw,' in the spirit of keeping with the broadcast service," said Long, who favored selling airtime "by the pound" to clients who couldn't otherwise afford TV.

On the other hand, he admitted, if the sales department can't find this clientele and had "a hot prospect with a bag full of money," he'd take the bag full of money.