“Pivoting Broadcast News Quickly in a New World”
While Mike Strein, Director of Engineering and Technology for ABC TV Network/ABC News, admits that while he has had multiple disaster preparedness plans in place, “We’ve never planned for any scenario where everyone had to run out of every building we had.” (“That was completely unique,” he recalls, “and quite frightening.”)
Strein notes that shifting production for the talent posed less of a challenge, as remote broadcasting is common — everyone was set up with cameras, lighting, an IFB, a prompter, and a connection, either via internet or bonded cellular — although he clarifies it was certainly unusual to have “30 to 40 of them remotely connected permanently at the same time.”
With all of the essential infrastructure located in the buildings, however, Strein says, editing and graphics “were another story.” Because his team had to connect in to access the infrastructure, they relied on high bandwidth, remote connectivity via AWS and multiple displays. “You’re trying edit and operate as if the equipment was right there,” he explains.
He found although the team was able to reasonably replicate their set ups (frequently using tablets and phones alongside their displays), the biggest challenge they faced was communication: “With real-time communication as an editor or operator, you need to talk to many, many people — that’s why we have an intercom system. We had a lot of difficulty replicating that.”
The pandemic has prompted a lot of thought and discussion about “dematerializing” facilities, Strein says, pondering, “How do we operate completely differently… how do we operate without a facility?”