News Teams Prep Denver Invasion

Jul 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The TV news organizations in the pool that will cover the Democratic National Convention are in hurry-up-and-wait mode.
That is not unusual for this quadrennial ritual, despite Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s decision last week to shake up plans by accepting his party’s nomination at Invesco Field at Mile High, rather than the Pepsi Center, which is host for the first three nights of the proceeding.
The five equal members of the TV news pool—ABC, CBS, Fox News, CNN and NBC—are drawing up lists of questions for which they need answers from convention planners in Denver before they can finalize their group and unilateral plans.
No contracts have been signed with construction or services vendors in Denver as network news teams haggle over rates and other details.
The laying of communications cable inside the stadium, which must begin soon to be ready for the Aug. 25 convention, is being held up because of proposed prices that would be considerably higher than the networks could do themselves. The proposed rates also would be considerably higher than those that will be charged at the Republican convention Sept. 1-4 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., one news executive said.
The news organizations must find every possible savings to keep down the multimillion-dollar cost of covering the convention, which got significantly more expensive with the need to set up to cover the Obama acceptance speech Thursday about 1½ miles from the convention center.
Things will get particularly challenging and labor intensive in between the end of coverage the night of Wednesday, Aug. 27, from Pepsi Center and the beginning of morning coverage Thursday, when ABC News, for one, plans for “Good Morning America” to originate from Invesco Field.
“We’ll get off air with ‘Nightline’ at about, depending on what time the convention ends, somewhere around 12 or 12:30 and have to be ready to go the next morning at 7 a.m. [Eastern],” ABC News administrative VP Bob Murphy said. “There is not time to move the infrastructure from the Pepsi Center to Invesco at Mile High Stadium, so we actually have to set up a separate truck, separate cameras, separate personnel to operate and set up those cameras. So there’ll be that cost. We’ll be setting up Wednesday for Thursday while we’re broadcasting Wednesday.”
Technology can help hold down the costs of the actual broadcasts.
NBC, like ABC, will be feeding all of its video back to New York for editing and integration and graphics and direction. CNN also will direct coverage from its control room in New York.
NBC and ABC each will be able to confine their operations in Denver to one big 22-foot-high tent instead of turning parking lots into trailer cities consisting of 10 or more trucks per TV news organization.
NBC, which used to deploy hard-wired cameras that required trucks with microwave dishes nearby, will be taking cameras equipped with their own antennas. That gives news teams the ability to roam freely, which will eliminate the cables that once tethered cameras to microwave trucks.
“I was able to give up hard-line cameras that in the past we would have to spend money cabling,” said Phil Alongi, executive producer of specials for NBC News.
One of the big costs associated with covering a convention has been the climate-controlled skyboxes that news organizations once routinely constructed as a perch for their anchors at a cost of at least $500,000.
CNN announced Friday at the Television Critics Association tour that its front line of Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer and Campbell Brown will anchor from sets on the delegation floors.
NBC News will not have a fully enclosed, soundproofed skybox for “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams’ first convention as lead anchor for the network.
“It’s going to be more open air,” Mr. Alongi said. MSNBC plans an outdoor anchor base that probably will work for covering proceedings at both Pepsi and Invesco.
It’s also Charles Gibson’s first convention as lead anchor for ABC’s “World News.” Late last week, the news team at ABC was still weighing options for covering the event at Invesco field. A skybox and a platform on the level where the action is are both on the table.
A scaled-back skybox has been planned for the first three nights from Pepsi Center, but ABC News is “re-evaluating” that idea, Mr. Murphy said.
For the pool coverage, a handful of stationary cameras will focus on the events taking place at the podium and some crowd reaction.
Almost any organization can subscribe to the pool coverage. Comedy Central and PBS are among the subscribers, who are charged according to the number of viewers that can receive their signal.
The Republicans are subscribing to the pool coverage in St. Paul instead of producing their own podium feed, as both parties traditionally have done. The Democrats declined to subscribe to the pool in Denver. Although there has been some thought given to the pool augmenting its coverage with video from the Democrats’ feed, there is neither a decision nor a likelihood of that happening, according to people familiar with the prospect.
Although news executives are anxious to get the information they need to finalize pool and unilateral plans, both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Alongi are confident they still have time.
“The way to take this is that we have challenges all the time. We’re in the breaking news business,” Mr. Alongi said. “You have to figure things out.”
It’s the nature of the political beast, Mr. Murphy said.
“They’re just very big things to put on and the parties never really get their acts together until very late,” he said. “It’s just the nature of how they organize things.”


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