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Going Digital: Inside CBS News

DMN interviews the VP of News Technology & Broadcast Operations at CBS By Charlie White

Frank Governale,  Vice President, News Technology & Broadcast Operations at CBSFrank Governale, Vice President, News Technology & Broadcast Operations at CBS since 1997, has a big job ahead of him. His far-flung news operation, covering news stories around the clock and all over the planet, is in the midst of the largest technology upgrade in the company's history. Governale tells Digital Media Net's Charlie White about the transition to an all-digital newsroom from acquisition to playout, the challenges of bringing back footage from raging battlefields in the world's hot spots, the promise of HDTV and the equipment choices he's made to conquer this daunting task of going digital.

DMN: CBS News has decided to migrate to Sony's new XDCam optical disc technology for electronic news-gathering, and we wanted to talk with you about that. Can you tell us about what ENG equipment CBS is using now and how you came about that decision to go with Sony's XDCam?

Governale: We've been working with Sony for a number of years. We are a [Sony Betacam] SX house right now, so all of my crews worldwide are running around with the SX camcorders. We knew going in that there was a future format coming out, still a digital system based on MPEG. We've embraced MPEG for network news, from ingest to playout, so we'd like to keep everything on that platform if possible. So over the last couple of years, Sony has been very forthcoming with us in terms of their XDCam product. We've had crews looking at their equipment, feedback in both directions -- by no means am I saying that we co-developed this or designed this with Sony, but definitely we had some input and definitely have been enlightened early in the process. We've taken some product for demonstration and evaluations; we've put it in labs, we've heated it, we've cooled it, we've put it in humid areas, we've put it in helicopters, we've shot overseas as well as domestically here at a few of the bureaus. We feel like we've put it through its paces. We all went in with the obvious skeptical concerns of, how's it going to handle motion? -- some of those things. But we've found no real issues with the product. My workflow requires that we have crews in the field for prolonged periods of time. Whether it be Baghdad or Afghanistan or just shooting, as an example, a IIIIII60 Minutes piece with Ed Bradley that may very well take a few hours to record. The relatively inexpensive removable media is essential for us because today's workflow requires it. Ed Bradley will be in a conversation and the cameramen say, "OK, we're going to have to pause here while we change tapes," and they change tapes, and they continue on. Well, we wanted to do the same thing with the optical disk as well. From all of the conversations we've had with one of the other vendors, we would have to offload that to a hard drive or some other media, and that could take 10-15 minutes at a time. With a pause that long, the correspondent could lose a train of thought, the whole emotion of the moment could be gone. So we see that as very important to us, to be able to maintain the continuity of the actual shoot or interview.

DMN: You're talking about the Panasonic P2 system with the removable flash drives.

Governale: Yes. 

DMN: You probably had a tough choice between the Panasonic P2 and the Sony XDCam. How did you go about making that decision?

Governale: I think the Panasonic technology is a great technology. I just don't think it works for our workflow.

DMN: It has to do with cost as well, right?

Governale: Exactly. If I could afford 20 or 30 PCMCIA memory cards for the Panasonic camera, where a crew could take out five cards, and put another five cards in, yeah, that would be great. But the problem is that it's $10,000 for the five cards, and that gets real costly. Yes, you could re-use them, but now you're into taking that media and off-loading it to a server or a hard drive. We use a fair amount of freelancers in network news and my image was, we send the producer in the field to where the cameramen that has P2, and what does my correspondent or my producer come home with?

DMN: A hard disk?

Governale: The cameraman is not going to give me his PCMCIA card. So now all my producers will have to run around with hard drives?

DMN: With FireWire drives.

Governale: Exactly, so all of that, to me, seemed difficult logistically to deal with and the idea of being able to have something analogous to videotape appealed to us, and then, the optical drive had come out.

DMN: Sony has talked to us about the archiving advantages of XDCam, and it sounds like you're taking that and running with it. Is that how you're going to archive -- are you going to leave everything on those disks?

Governale: Not necessarily. We're also in the process of migrating what we call our Hard News Center, where we do all of our editing -- most of it on videotape, some of it on Avid. But the project is to replace the entire infrastructure with a video server-based nonlinear editing solution.

DMN: That's going to be a great day when you get that done, isn't it?

Governale: It's going to be wonderful, and I hope to see it.  

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Related Keywords:Frank Governale, Vice President, News Technology & Broadcast Operations, CBS, news operation, technology upgrade, Digital Media Net, Charlie White, transition, all-digital newsroom, acquisition, playout, battlefields, HDTV, equipment choices, going digital, Sony XDCam, Panasonic P2, HDCam, ENG equipment

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