Before the Parade Passes By -- in HD

Iowa public broadcasters continue tradition of HD coverage of state fair
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Iowa public broadcasters continue tradition of HD coverage of state fair

Well, it's Iowa State Fair time again and IPTV once again set up its booth to talk with viewers about what is happening at the station. As usual, visitors entering our booth saw our display of DTV technologies including true local high definition, standard definition multicasting, plasma displays, HD monitors and set-top boxes. Two engineers manned the booth from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to answer questions and provide demonstrations and give interested viewers advice on DTV. As the Director of Engineering of the network I'd love to be able to say that our display drew the crowd in and generated a lot of excitement. However, the real draw to our booth was the volunteer in the Clifford, the Big Red Dog suit who greeted children and hugged them while their parents snapped away on their cameras.

Occasionally a father wandered over to ask how much a set costs or if he needed cable to get the signal. Once we started to explain the DTV service and talked about the price of the sets (which are significantly lower now than they were when we started demo-ing DTV at the fair several years ago), the wife sensed that her husband was considering purchasing another huge toy and she'd lead him away saying something like, "Yes dear, it is very interesting but we already have a big screen TV."

We'd watch them leave and walk over to the nearby lawn tractor display. It occured to me after seeing this behavior pattern repeat itself that we broadcasters have to do something to get both halves of a couple to see the benefit of DTV if we really want to make an impact.

FAIR FIRST

At last year's State Fair we broadcast Iowa's first live HD coverage of the Fair Parade. That broadcast was accomplished with a single Sony HDCAM on a jib into a Tandberg encoder and then through a real scary collection of technologies cobbled together with the assistance of our state owned fiber optic service, the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). This year we did the live broadcast with a bit more sophistication. With the cooperation of the ICN along with fiber codecs from Terawave and an HD switcher from Heartland Video Services we were able to do a two camera remote. Before I go into the detail on what we did, I'd like to why we did it.

We have long recognized that the key element to our growth is the creation of local and compelling content for local viewers. In previous years we had taped the parade in HD and then played back segments on the HD display that attracted decent crowds. The first question would be if the material was from this year's parade.

Once we had confirmed that it was, they connected. Many of the viewers had been at the parade and were looking for something memorable that they saw or whether they could see their friends in the parade. We made that connection to the content prior to any acknowledgment that the parade was being shown in HD. We wanted them to comment on the clarity of the picture so that they were actually soliciting information from us rather than us trying to sell them on a technology. I think so many people are afraid of walking in to look at something and then being attacked by sales sharks that as soon as they are approached they go on the defensive and start looking for the door. By letting them determine the amount of interaction that occurs they are much more likely to listen with an open mind. In most cases we get to communicate the same information that we wanted to tell them but when they leave they're talking about what they have seen in a positive way. This year's live broadcast was a real opportunity to build on that success and generate more interest in our digital future.

SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT

What makes projects so enjoyable is that part of the challenge is to prove to yourself and others that it can be done. In my years working in commercial television doing MDA Telethons, sports remotes and live news the people expect that everything will work perfectly and at times we become pretty intolerant when things go wrong. I remember having a news reporter rage at me because the wireless IFB that was in the ENG van didn't work in the dungeon basement of the courthouse building from where he was reporting. He couldn't understand why the IFB didn't work in the field like the one in the studio and he was less than pleased when I suggested that we put him in the studio in front of the weather wall and key him over the camera feed from the courthouse. HD remotes harken back to a time when people were happy to see that we could just do a live remote event and weren't put out by the small problems. The beauty of DTV is that we get to spend the next 10 years just proving to ourselves and others that we can do it. If you're interested in seeing more about this project, I'll be doing a presentation on it at the Iowa DTV Symposium, Oct. 28-30. Check out our Web site at http://www.iptv.org/dtv/2003/ for more information.