AP Triples Its Video Efforts In Beijing

By Carolyn Braff
For the Associated Press, getting breaking
news from China to Chicago is just another day on the job, but adding
video into the mix requires some choreographed cooperation. The AP’s
coverage of the Beijing Olympics will provide more content on more media
platforms than ever before as 300 staff members, including 25 from three separate
TV portals, work around the clock to share podcasts, blogs, news stories,
photos, radio, interactive graphics and original video with clients
around the world, all from a single server.
“There are three television operations
in the same newsroom that are all part of the AP, but really serve different
audiences and operate and shoot differently,” explains Micah Gelman,
assistant executive producer of AP Online Video.
The first of those three operations
is the U.S.’s AP Online video service, which services 2,000 member
websites, including Yahoo!, AOL, Comcast and USA Today. London-based
Associated Press Television News (APTN), the world’s largest international
news video agency, is also working out of the AP newsroom in Beijing
to send video to networks all over the globe in various languages. Sports
News Television (SNTV), a joint venture of which the AP is a part-owner,
covers sporting news around the world and rounds out the three-part
operation.
“We’re all operating
here with one server, sharing video,” Gelman explains. “We normally
shoot in the U.S. in NTSC, but we’re shooting in PAL here so we can
all share video without too much trouble. Then we all process it differently
for different audiences.”
Original video content that the AP
is producing from Beijing includes on-camera analysis from five former
Olympians and video diaries from Olympic basketball team members Dwayne
Wade and Lisa Leslie. The AP shoots all of its video in high definition
for library and archival purposes, but all Internet video is delivered
in 4×3 standard definition.
Because the AP has an existing Beijing
bureau that pumps news out to the world daily, APTN and SNTV follow
the same file delivery protocol for the Games as they do every non-Olympic
day. APTN and SNTV video is fed via fiber to the AP’s Beijing bureau,
where it is sent by satellite to London. From APTN headquarters in London,
the content is sent by satellite to AP affiliates across the globe.
For the U.S. recipients of AP Online
Video, however, the process is slightly different.
“Because we’re doing web content
and full broadcast quality is not necessary, we’re delivering directly
via FTP to our members from here,” Gelman explains. “It’s really
the first time we’ve been able to file directly from the field for
online video.”
Instead of creating a .mov file in
Final Cut, the way editors in the AP’s Washington and New York hubs
normally do to file video, staff in Beijing create an MP4 file that
is sent directly to the network operations center in Cranberry, N.J.
“Because of the distance and the
transfer time, a full-size file would take too long to transfer, so
we’re creating that intermediate file here and sending it directly
to Cranberry – we’re skipping a step,” Gelman explains. “In
Cranberry, the file is accepted, encoded and transcoded into 20-plus
different video formats – different bit rates of Quicktime, Windows
Media, Flash, Real Media, MPEG – and then goes out to our members
through our FTP push and pull systems.”
Gelman says that transfer times thus
far have been rather efficient, as he has been able to send 20MB, what
he terms a regular package, in less than 10 minutes.
Whereas the APTN and SNTV photographers
and producers use full size DV Cams, Gelman’s video journalists rely
on smaller Sony Z1 cameras.
“Our VJs need to be a little bit
more mobile and operate by themselves, so they carry smaller cameras,
but they’re still HD cameras,” Gelman explains.
The VJs edit on Sony Vegas and all
graphics, rendering and filing are done through Apple Final Cut.
Although the AP has a private office
to accommodate its 300 employees, that office is located within the
main Olympic press center, and is subject to the access restrictions
that all journalists in Beijing are currently facing, mostly in the
form of websites that the government has blocked.
“We distribute video through Youtube
but I can’t get to Youtube to see that video because it’s blocked,”
Gelman explains. “You can watch it back in the States, but I’d like
to be able to do an end-of-the-line system check to make sure that things
are going well.”
Restrictions on where the journalists
can shoot have been more prevalent, but so far the AP has not run into
any major obstacles, in part thanks to help from the worldly APTN staff.
“There was a rumor that we would
have to file a request 24 hours in advance to shoot in Tiananmen Square,
but the APTN folks who are based here in Beijing are really taking a
lead as far as dealing with those issues,” Gelman explains. “We’re
a group of folks who are usually based in the U.S. and they’re usually
based everywhere in the world, so we’re working closely with them.”