When the coming solar eclipse blots out the sun on Monday, August 21, The Weather Channel will be there — and if you have access to The Weather Channel app, weather.com, or Twitter, you can be there, too. The Weather Company is mounting an ambitious live production incorporating media from a wide variety of sources, mingled and monitored using NewTek’s NDI protocol for IP-based broadcast production, to serve viewers hungry for the latest from sky-watchers across the United States.
According to Jim Robinson, senior supervising producer/manager, digital studios, at The Weather Company, which provides content for The Weather Channel’s on the web, in apps and on social media, the program will pull in video streams from The Weather Channel’s storm trackers alongside feeds from NASA, telescope views from Slooh.com, and portable uplinks from crews around the country. “We’re calling it Chasing Eclipse 2017,” Robinson told StudioDaily. “We have live streaming feeds and reports from Oregon to South Carolina along the path of totality.”
Chasing Eclipse 2017 will be live from noon to 4 p.m. ET on The Weather Channel app, weather.com, and Twitter. Headquartered in The Weather Company’s digital studio in Atlanta, Georgia, the show will be hosted by meteorologists Domenica Davis and Ari Sarsalari and will incorporate feeds from locations including Stanley, ID; Carbondale, IL; St. Joseph, MO; Alliance, NE; Hopkinsville, KY; McMinnville, OR; Belton, SC; Nashville, TN; and Casper, WY.
“It’s a pretty monumental task to bring in this much content for a massive event,” Robinson said, “and we’re trying to do it in a way that feels very socially aware and casual — like you’re just hanging out with a couple of really smart people for a very cool event that only happens once every couple of decades.” He says he likes to think of the event as “New Year’s for nerds.”
An NDI Broadcast Network
To help keep it all manageable, the company is pioneering an IP pipeline that uses NewTek’s NDI technology to organize the different feeds, including RTMP streams and LiveU uplinks, making them easy to monitor and access in the midst of production. Thanks to VizRT’s NDI integration, two channels of graphics will be incorporated, as well. The glue holding the production together is NewTek’s VMC1 mix engine, a networked 8 M/E appliance that can switch up to 44 feeds coming in via SDI or NDI. NewTek Connect Pro software, along with physical Studio Input and Output Modules, are used to get traditional video signals into and out of the IP network.
“We need a way to convert anything that we use in our production to NDI,” Robinson said. “Once it gets onto our NDI broadcast network, we can use it anywhere we want. The IO module we use for connecting cameras is also outputting an NDI signal from our studio to our Elemental server. We are using our cloud video Ustream service to actually broadcast that to our audience, and it’s all coming through NDI, which is being converted in a couple of different ways. It’s NDI in and it’s NDI out.”
A Tidy Control Room
The network’s Connect Pro web servers allow the various feeds to be viewed via connected web browsers. That means The Weather Company will be able to monitor all of those incoming feeds — including the prompter — either on a large multi-monitor panel in the control room or on a network-connected iPad. Meanwhile, rather than the nasty tangle of SDI and XLR wiring you’d expect from such an elaborate production, all of the different feeds are coming in over CAT 6 ethernet cables, keeping the control room compact and surprisingly tidy.
“Our control room is actually inside the studio,” Robinson explained. “Our on-camera meteorologists are within feet of all the technology we use on a day-to-day basis. On top of that, the on-camera talent have iPad Pros they’re watching our web server on, and they can monitor feeds coming in. That’s something we haven’t been able to do before. They can watch 16 feeds, and one of the windows is a prompter, so they can really react in real time. And if I gave control to Ari or Domenica, they could punch into a camera and override us to actually control the VMC1 themselves.”
Monitoring Feeds on the Go
Robinson said the Connect Pro technology even makes it possible for personnel out in the field to watch any feed they like, including the prompter, in real time via a cellular data connection. “I was at the credit union the other day and there was a long line,” Robinson recalled. “There was a system starting to move off the coast of Africa and I was curious how we were covering it, so I VPN’d into our system — because I’m crazy and that’s what I do — to watch Ari tape an update to the forecast on the studio feed. Someone in line asked, ‘Where is that on the app?’ And I said, ‘Oh, it’s just my private feed.’ It’s amazing what you can beam across a 3G connection.”
The Weather Company has been a believer in NDI since it was first released, when it became an aggressive early adopter of the technology, and Robinson has visions of expanding its utility even further in the future. “One last thing that I’m really excited about, and we’re working to figure out how to do it, is sending a signal from New York to L.A. via NDI.” he said. “It’s something we’re working on and something we’re really excited about. That’s the next big step for us.”
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