The Next Level for Live Television: Multiplatform Production for 'Katie'

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Disney-ABC’s new daytime talk show Katie, hosted by former CBS Evening News and Today anchor Katie Couric, debuted on Sept. 10 from a completely transformed studio at ABC Television Center in New York. Disney-ABC Domestic Television syndicates the show, which airs daily in local television markets nationwide.

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ABC Television Center’s TV-7 control room. Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC

While the show began as a same-day “live to tape” production, the plan is to eventually take the show live. The show is shot Monday through Friday in ABC TV Center’s TV-1 Soundstage before a 140-member studio audience. Daily production makes it possible for Katie to feature timely, topical social issues, trends and news stories.

“In designing this facility, our goal was to give the production staff the utmost flexibility to handle whatever type of content or format they needed to produce a very entertaining, informative and appealing show,” says Bill Rego, general manager, live production and special projects for ABC Broadcast Operations & Engineering (BO&E). “In the year leading up to the show’s debut, we carefully evaluated our equipment options and selected the best available technology that met that goal,” Rego adds. “The result is a state-of-the-art studio facility with innovative features and capabilities that give the production a distinctive look and a technically versatile, powerful infrastructure.”

Major Undertaking
Katie is a key priority for the entire Disney ABC Television Group, and a large team from across the network worked with BO&E to launch the show, according to Todd Donovan, senior vice president of ABC BO&E. Rego is a member of a large engineering team in charge of the Katie project, including David Linick, manager of broadcast engineering, and Robin Thomas, group director of engineering for ABC BO&E.

The BO&E team was tasked with the design and construction of the facility; systems integration was handled by The Systems Group of Hoboken, N.J. The process began with an “extreme makeover” of the 7,000-square-foot studio space formerly used by Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, which has since moved to a new location. The Katie facility also includes a production control room (called the TV-7 Control Room Complex), media center, and a preproduction facility located in an adjacent building at 147 Columbus Ave. These areas are interconnected by a private, dedicated high-performance network.

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“This facility’s infrastructure enables a file-based workflow rivaling that of network news operations,” says Linick. “From the show’s sophisticated, contemporary set, Katie can interview people in remote locations, display select content from Twitter, Facebook or Skype calls, and integrate video clips, graphics, animations and other media-rich content.”

Elaborate On-Set Video Displays
This content is displayed by on-set video walls, including a 16x60-inch plasma matrix, 5x60-inch plasma matrix and 2x60-inch plasma matrix, all driven by an Evertz video wall processor, which allows Katie director Joe Terry to arrange video any way he wants on the screens. There’s also an 80-inch touchscreen monitor on set driven by custom software from Controlled Entropy. A 12-channel Abekas Mira server feeds content to the on-set monitors.

“The two smaller video walls can be raised and lowered as needed on a segment-by-segment basis,” Linick says. “The 80-inch touchscreen can be turned around to function as a set piece. And the innovative, automated set features a ‘home base’ platform that can relocate to other areas [via a cable track under motorized control] whenever additional space is needed—for example, for a musical performance.”

The camera complement includes three Ikegami HDK-725 (native 720p HD) studio cameras on pedestals, one Ikegami HDK-725P a Telescopic Techno-Jib, and two Ikegami HDK-725Ps that can be operated handheld or on Steadicam to capture shots of the audience and their interactions with the host. Studio cameras sport Canon or Fujinon lenses, including 60x and 27x. The handhelds have Canon 17x7.6 and 11x4.7 lenses.

Capable Control Room
The control room is outfitted with a Sony MVS-7000X 4-M/E (80x48) multiformat production switcher with integrated DME boards, as well as an external Sony MVE-8000 used mainly for video effects transitions to enhance video wall displays. A dual-channel Chyron HyperX provides live graphics, and a four-channel Ross Video SoftMetal Video Server plays out broadcast design elements like bumpers and the show open.

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The infrastructure includes an Evertz EQX 288x288 router with integrated multiviewer monitoring and EMR audio routing.

The audio control room is fitted with a 60-fader Harman Studer Vista 9 console, tied to the Evertz EMR audio router via redundant MADI interfaces. Studio audio is managed with a redundant Riedel RockNet system, which allows the main program audio mixer and front of house PA mixer to share all the audio resources independently.

“We converted an adjacent control room into a media center, which now houses a 22-channel EVS XS server that records incoming feeds, commercials and new content for playout during the show,” says Linick. He adds that an EVS IPAirEdit allows edits and fixes to be made to the show prior to broadcast distribution.

“One of the biggest technical challenges we faced was defining and implementing a file-based workflow that allows files to move seamlessly between the EVS XS and Avids in the Columbus Avenue building,” Rego says.

File-Based Workflow
Situated in the Columbus Avenue preproduction facility is a wide array of Avid gear, including an Avid Symphony 6 with tools for craft editing, color correction, effects and mastering. “Video clips needed for the show—such as a featurette giving the bio of a celebrity guest—are created here and transferred to the EVS XS server in the media center,” Linick explains.

The Symphony and several Avid Media Composers share access to 64 TB of ISIS online storage and 144 TB of nearline storage, as well as Avid Interplay for media asset management, transcoding and file-based browsing and transfer. The facility has Mac-based graphics tools, including Adobe Creative Suite, primarily for creating broadcast design elements.

“It’s been a challenge to combine new technology and a new production staff in a brand new, advanced facility and have it all come together in the right way at the right time,” Linick says. “The infrastructure for success is certainly in place.”