Good Morning Times Square, Part 2

More in-depth coverage of ABC's new LED ribbon screen.
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If you missed part one, click here.

The new facade
The new ABC LED display offers 25 times greater resolution than the original display. D3’s replacement display also includes:

• 10mm-pitch, LED-screen resolution;
• Brighter color and better color uniformity throughout the entire screen;
• Data lines with a redundant gigabyte Ethernet network, which allows a simultaneous dual processor to run the same data signal twice in a parallel mode, as a backup feature; and
• Hot-swappable backup power supplies also run in parallel, which allows the backup power supply to immediately replace a failed, primary, power supply.

The new, high-resolution LED display required new software, noted Meric Adriansen, a D3 managing partner who helped develop the original sign’s operation procedures (see Reporting Live from Times Square sidebar). He initially served as a software project manager for Multimedia, which installed the ABC LED display. He oversaw the development of the front-end content-management system, which included the software that controlled the graphics, video, animation and image morphing.

The original software for the first ABC LED screen ultimately became a patchwork of fixes that adapted the screen to new software upgrades and imagery techniques.

In the new D3 version of the ABC LED display, additional control of the video image allows the ribbon screen to display a complete image on all nine ribbons, not just the upper six ribbon tiers, at the operator’s discretion; the bottom feature band and text ribbons can be added to show an even larger screen image on the building façade.

A single TV program or event can be promoted on the smaller Mitsubishi insert screen, which accompanies the primary LED video ribbon. Below that, the feature band identifies the video content on the LED videoscreens, and two “zipper” ribbons show ABC News and ESPN sports headlines.

Content design and placement must also consider font selection and logo placement, plus the coordination of six or seven separate LED ribbons. Also, the ribbon bands and the Mitsubishi screen can be used simultaneously to create a cohesive marketing, promotion or branding message that combines graphics, copy and video. Finally, existing, pre-recorded television content (usually formatted in either 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratios) could be reformatted for the unusual aspect ratios of horizontal LED ribbons.

ABC's Window on the World
Jan Chaloner, the vice president, ABC Network Print, and Richard Paris, director of operations, ABC Television Network, explained how ABC’s Times Square Studios’ LED display serves as a backdrop for live entertainment, on-air news broadcasts and entertainment programs.

Paris said, “ABC Times Square Studios upgraded the ABC ‘SuperSign’ LED display not only to create a state-of-the-art, high-resolution LED display, but also because outdoor, electronic advertising has become more important in connecting media with the public.

With our new LED display, we can provide our sponsors with an opportunity to engage the 1.5 million people who pass through Times Square daily. We can also tie in the display directly with our live events and with on-air broadcasting. Also, because interactive is

getting more popular with outdoor advertising and the public, our new display addresses that feature as well.”

Chaloner added, “The new sign has better technical capabilities to present live events, and it complements that with on-the-fly scrolling text, during a live presentation. As another new enhancement, we can transform the image from its normal size [the top seven horizontal ribbons] to display it over the full, nine, horizontal ribbons on the front of the ABC building facade. When our clients understand this new feature, we expect to have some truly spectacular video displays for Times Square.”

Show and tell
The ABC TV staff and NYC-based Show & Tell Productions share the screen’s daily operation. Show & Tell developed the integrated, show-control system for the original and new, ABC LED building facade.

Phil Lenger, Show & Tell’s president, said, “We always provided a daily video and graphic playbook to help operate the ABC LED screen. With the new display in place, Show & Tell rewrote and upgraded the show-control system to handle all of the screen’s new capabilities, including its high-resolution format, live broadcasting and, most importantly, a streamlined operation of the overall playbook system.”

The display operation is now more compatible with such graphic software as Flash applications. Finally, the display can easily present live interviews from the street, which comes in handy for such special events as New Year’s Eve, parades and historic moments, and personal reactions to sportscasts.

As Adriansen pointed out, the original SONY JumboTron served as a “sideshow” to a smaller, but easier-to-view, insert screen. Now, these 83positions have flipped-flopped; the bigger LED screen now creates the most visual impact.

“Our ABC ‘SuperSign’ is so big,” Chaloner said, “it engulfs your viewing experience as you look around Times Square.

“Because the ABC SuperSign is closer to the ground level, it’s thereby ‘closer’ to the pedestrians who view it. Other Times Square signs are hung off the sides of the surrounding skyscrapers, far above the pedestrians, giving the signs a more distant and less personal presence.”

Future spectaculars
ABC TV’s Times Square building is one of the pioneers of out-of-the box, LED-screen design, which many other companies now use to represent themselves. Such examples include the latest Coca-Cola LED spectacular (see ST, January 2005, page 82), the FUSE display (see ST, May 2007, page 82), and the Enoshima Island Dragon Tower (see ST, May 2005, page 90).These unique designs, along with conventional make-overs (such as Coca-Cola, Budweiser, etc.), have engendered a second generation of LED spectaculars along urban byways.

The curvilinear, ABC TV Studio LED display has redefined a sign’s function for its client sponsor. Now, content providers are “sign casting,” or broadcasting visual communications via displays in urban spaces.

Richard Paris, director of operations, ABC Television Network, said, “It’s our way of using the sign to distribute specific news and entertainment content on a daily basis to the public passing by the studio building. As a result of this powerful emphasis, our LED sign has a significant life of its own. We’ve been on the Super Bowl and Hollywood’s Academy Awards. The ABC SuperSign display has been shown in more movies with a reference to Times Square (Spider-Man, Vanilla Sky, Enchanted, Death to Smoochie, etc.) than we can even count.”

The ABC SuperSign, which integrates LED signage and TV programming, is a destination for Times Square tourists, who first see the sign on television. Now that’s the ultimate in signage, a display with its own television show. What will happen next? Stay tuned.

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