A walk into the 3,500-square-foot WOFL-Channel 35 news studio in Lake Mary shows how technology has changed the television-news industry.
Thirty-five 55-inch monitors form a large wall that anchors use to report the day’s news.
On the far left of the studio, meteorologist Glenn Richards uses some of the most advanced weather-tracking equipment in the industry.
And just to the right of the behemoth monitor wall, anchors can track in real time what people are saying on social media about a story or topic.
“In every story, there is a piece of technology being used that didn’t exist three to five years ago,” said Mack McLaughlin of FX Design Group in Ocoee, which built the set.
FX Design Group has worked with many of the television stations in Orlando, along with Central Florida companies such as Tupperware and The Golf Channel. FX has built at least half-dozen sets for WOFL alone.
Set designer Rachel Bulgrin of FX said her “eyes were a little shiny” at the set’s debut.
“Coming from a theater background, that process as a designer keeps me going and seeing it brought to life, it’s like Christmas morning,” she said.
Earlier this month, WOFL debuted its new high-tech set, which took about one year to complete.
“They are using it well, and the idea behind it is not about the technology but about how the technology can help tell a story,” McLaughlin said.
Along with the social-media wall and monitor screen, it also includes interchangeable sets for the morning show, as well as programmable television cameras, which the studio has had for a number of years.
It all comes together to create a flexible set that gives the station the ability to adjust its storytelling on the fly.
“People don’t consume media the same way they once did,” said Allyson Meyers, general manager at WOFL, a Fox affiliate and news partner of Orlando Sentinel. “We knew we had to plan for the future. Social media is not going away, so we have to stay up with it and incorporate it.”
Producers have a lot of flexibility when it comes to newscasts, too: Different configurations can open up more than 20 different sets, along with more options to display graphics or video feeds on the monitor wall.
On a recent afternoon, producers quickly switched between a stage designed for anchors to promote an upcoming newscast to a desk setting for the same duo.
Just after that, Richards recorded an intro to his weather segment as cameras floated across the stage on preprogrammed paths.
Chris Friedrichs, the station’s creative director, said he and news director Jeff Zeller “wanted to reinvent the way he told his stories every night, and we needed something that was sleek and innovative. We wanted it to be sexy and bold and capture people’s interest.”
Meyers said the push to change the set, which hadn’t been updated for about 13 years, occurred after she visited Fox’s national news studio in New York. Upon returning, she sought “outside of the box” ideas to incorporate into a redesign.
“If we want to be able to differentiate ourselves in a very competitive marketplace, we have to have the tools to do so,” she said. “Technology has changed, forevermore, how media consumers get their content.”
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