Inside Newsday’s Live Production Facility
Newsday, the longtime newspaper of record on Long Island, has been producing multimedia coverage to supplement its print product for over two decades. But the Melville, N.Y.-based company has dramatically ramped up its video efforts with a new live production facility that comprises two studios and companion control rooms outfitted with the latest broadcast technology.
The new studios were part of a multimillion-dollar investment made by Newsday Media Group to move the newspaper into a new headquarters in the summer of 2020, right in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. They made their debut for Election Night coverage in November 2020 and have since been used to produce extensive live and on-demand news content for Newsday’s website as well as its Apple TV channel.
Live event coverage has included President Joe Biden’s inauguration and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s “State of the State” address, as well as breaking news like the sentencing of former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota after his conviction on corruption charges and the verdict in the murder trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Newsday is looking to expand its live video offerings by launching a daily mini-newscast later this year, with the potential of a fulltime OTT channel in the future. The newspaper also has a landing page on Roku and other smart TV platforms, where it offers a wealth of archive and documentary programming.
“We’re hoping to increase our presence on all of those streaming services,” says Bobby Cassidy, Newsday executive director of multimedia.
Newsday is distributing its content in the 720p format through the Brightcove streaming platform but is already well prepared for a UHD future. It has four Sony HDC-3000 4K cameras in Studio 1, a 2,160 square-foot broadcast studio supported by a 600 square-foot control room and a 369 square-foot server room.
KMH Integration led the facility’s design and A/V system installation. The Brooklyn, NY-based system integrator worked with Newsday’s management and production teams from initial design through project completion.
The spacious Studio 1 was designed by FX Design and features a traditional anchor central desk and several large LED displays, including Samsung, Sharp and Neoti monitors. The Sony 4K cameras are mounted on Telemetrics robotic camera systems equipped with Autoscript prompters, and the set is illuminated by Ikan LED units.
Studio 1 also has a large green screen backdrop for virtual and augmented reality production, using a virtual set system from Polygon Labs. The Polygon system relies on a “virtual engine” tracking device mounted on a fixed Sony camera.
Newsday used the green screen set during election coverage to help present results, and plans to use it regularly for sports coverage, says Newsday executive producer Arthur Mochi, a veteran of cable network News 12 who was hired to expand Newsday’s live video efforts.
“It worked out very nicely,” Mochi says.
As part of its editorial workflow, Newsday uses AP’s ENPS newsroom computer system and Adobe Premiere editing systems, which link to a Vizrt One media asset management system. Studio 1 also uses Vizrt’s Mosart production automation system along with Viz Engine graphics.
“The core of the technical side for this studio is the Vizrt system, and everything talks to Viz or is coordinated through that system,” says Newsday Director of Studio Operations Mike Drazka, another News 12 veteran.
Drazka has long experience with production automation systems, since News 12 was an early adopter of the Parkervision system that was later bought by Grass Valley and transformed into the Ignite product used by many call-letter stations. He says the list-based Mosart system is similar to Ignite and is “fairly intuitive” and easy to use, allowing camera moves to be pre-programmed and triggered through Vizrt automation.
“One thing that I do like with the Mosart system is that creating templates and configuring it, it’s very user-friendly to do that,” he says. “It’s a very quick setup, and it’s very easy to change.”
For traditional manual production, the control room for Studio 1 also has a Sony XVS-8000 switcher and a Yamaha QL5 audio console.
Newsday plans to transition to the Sony Ci cloud-based system for asset management and deep archiving within the next few months, which will provide remote access to the entire production chain for contributors working in the field.
“We have two MMJs in the field every day now doing regular TV-style packages,” Cassidy says. “We need for them, for the reporters and photographers in the field, to be able to have a cloud-based system where they can upload, download and look at a quick [reference] file. We’re moving in that direction with the Sony cloud.
“The Viz One server, we have a lot of content on that server, and it’s really accessible for these guys in here,” he adds. “But the cloud is going to be for everybody.”
Newsday has about 10 shooters in the field on a given day, between multimedia staff, photographers and print reporters using their iPhones. They use a variety of cameras including Sony Z280 and Sony FS7 4K handheld camcorders, as well as Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR cameras that allow photographers to both shoot video and capture high-quality stills.
For investigative projects or the Feed Me TV food and dining series, Newsday employs RED digital cinema cameras. And for live contribution from the field, Newsday has two TVU Networks bonded cellular backpack systems.
Unlike the hard news and event coverage delivered from Studio 1, Studio 2 is aimed at live-streaming events with an audience. The 2,630-square-foot theater-like space has a stage that can hold 80 people, audience seating for 186 and a 120-square-foot control room in the rear of the room.
Studio 2 is not automated, though it does have Sony cameras equipped with Telemetrics robotic systems that can be controlled remotely through Telemetrics touchscreen automation. Traditional manual productions are done using a Sony XVS-8000 switcher and Yahama QL5 audio console (mirroring the manual systems in Control Room 1).
While audience-driven events have obviously been hampered by the pandemic, Studio 2 has been able to host a few live-stream productions in the last few months, such as a Newsday Live event with the celebrity chef and author Lidia Bastianich in conversation with Newsday food reporter Erica Marcus.
Another branch of Newsday’s multimedia wing is Newsday Productions, which is looking to service outside corporate clients and events using Studio 2. Cassidy is looking to find the right mix of full-time staff and freelancers that would allow Newsday to handle an event in Studio 2 at the same its news team is producing live coverage in Studio 1.
“Part of our strategy is to make these facilities available to corporate customers for things like commercials,” he says.
One of Newsday’s first hires for the budding live video operation was anchor Faith Jessie. Jessie came from KSNV, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Las Vegas NBC affiliate, where she worked as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Jessie doesn’t have a cable TV subscription and watches all of her news via OTT and digital platforms such as ABC News Live. She was understandably intrigued by the digital potential at Newsday.
“I love the freedom to be able to do both long-form and short-form, to be able to do breaking [news], and being with a team that is all kind of experimental right now, seeing what works, what doesn’t work,” she says. “I’ve had the opportunity here to do things that I would have never been able to do in Vegas, because you have a 5, 6, 7, 11 [p.m. newscast] and you’ve got to stick with what works. Here you have a little more freedom to test what works and doesn’t work.”
This is the latest in a series of TVN Tech stories highlighting new television facilities. Read the other installments here.