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Vol. LXI, No. 24
November 27, 2009

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Lights, Camera, Action!
ReadyCam Facility Delivers on Convenience

NIH’s new ReadyCam studio makes doing interviews—even several in a row—a snap. Just ask frequent user NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s foremost flu experts, who can appear on numerous news outlets Dr. Anthony Fauci
NIH’s new ReadyCam studio makes doing interviews—even several in a row—a snap. Just ask frequent user NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s foremost flu experts, who can appear on numerous news outlets—as shown on left —without leaving campus.

At the height of H1N1 media hunger and on the days following the release of data from the Thai HIV vaccine trial, you probably saw NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci on the news a lot.

However, Fauci didn’t have to travel all over town to meet with reporters. They came to him. Or, more accurately, they linked to him.

“You could have six or so interviews on any day and to go to that many places all over town would be physically impossible,” Fauci said. “Particularly when you get a situation in which you have intense media interest in a subject.”

What makes this connection to local, national and even international news media possible is NIH’s new ReadyCam studio located on the first floor of Bldg. 31A. It might not look like Hollywood—just some metal cabinets filled with high-tech equipment and wires, a video camera, a set of three studio lights, a wide-screen TV backdrop and an office chair—but what it does is extraordinary.

The Office of Communications and Public Liaison, which made the ReadyCam concept ready for primetime at NIH, has one major goal for the new setup: Make NIH research information, investigators and expertise available to the public as quickly and easily as possible.

“The impetus for the facility was our need to push information out to the news media from a central location on campus, rather than have news outlets come to us,” said Calvin Jackson, chief of OCPL’s News Media Branch. “Also, with staff reductions, it was becoming increasingly difficult and expensive for news outlets to hire crews. This facility was also one of the last major pieces in the NIH Continuity of Operations Plan. If a major crisis were to occur, the facility could easily be used to supply media outlets with continuous information.”

The News Media Branch had the facility built and runs the show.

Here’s how it works: when it’s time to go on the air, the interviewee arrives at the small, windowless room and an appropriate backdrop to be used for the segment is selected. Then a contractor, located off-site in Newton, Mass., turns everything on as the guest sits in the chair, puts in an earpiece, attaches a microphone, looks into the camera and begins the interview. The contractor remotely focuses the camera, operates the studio lights and does the legwork of connecting the studio guest to the news media outlet that wants access. This makes doing interviews—even many of them in a row—a snap.

“It’s been absolutely invaluable to do the media that we’ve needed to do,” Fauci said. “At the same time, it hasn’t disrupted my workday. It’s been in many respects a lifesaver.”

Fauci recounted a time before the studio was up and running that he had to go downtown to do an interview with CNN. After leaving his office, getting on the Metro, taking the train to Union Station and then finally arriving at CNN, the time he actually spent in the interview chair was 4 minutes. He then turned around and came back to NIH.

“I had blown 2½ hours for a 4-minute interview,” he said. Now it takes all of 3 minutes to get from his office to the studio and most of that time is waiting for the elevator. “So this little room we have is amazingly convenient.”

The ReadyCam studio opened for business in June and has steadily gained use. “As soon as this was ready, the news about H1N1 started coming out, along with the HIV study,” recalls Jackson. “We jumped in and said ‘Let’s see if this thing works.’ We needed to have a facility that could handle the demand.”

Most of the traffic, unsurprisingly, has involved Fauci. For access to him, outlets pay a fee to the contractor, which locks in broadcasting time, connects with the news station and turns on all the equipment. And while the convenience would seem to benefit the interviewed guests, it’s also a win for TV news outlets. With the studio delivering the same quality video as a team of in-person pros, news agencies don’t have to spend the time and manpower needed to capture the film themselves.

NIH joins other organizations such as Harvard University and the Washington Times, as well as pollster Scott Rasmussen, as users of the remote video technology. Most groups use their studios once a week, but NIH has been known to use its facility daily, sometimes several times a day.

With all this action, Jackson has received the green light to upgrade the studio’s camera to a high-definition model. Sound dampening panels have also been installed to insulate the room from neighboring offices.

“We have only begun to scratch the surface of what this facility can do,” Jackson said. “In addition to live or taped remote interviews, the facility can also be used for satellite media tours, remote meeting presentations and webcasting.”

For more information about the studio, contact the News Media Branch at (301) 496-5787. NIHRecord Icon

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