Tom Clendenin, Steve Fastook, Scott Boyarski, Scott Matthews
From trading desks at major financial institutions to the homes of millions of Americans, CNBC is one of the most recognizable sources of information about the state of global markets and the economy. Its viewers rely on the channel’s iconic graphic presentation where they can instantly find real-time tickers, news and analysis of financial information, accompanied by on camera anchors, reporters, analysts and figures that play pivotal roles in shaping business and economic policy. CNBC takes its commitment to being highly usable to its viewers very seriously, so, it is cautious when it considers making changes to that look. But with 16:9, high definition viewing now the norm in the United States, the channel made the decision to upgrade to a full HD presentation. This provided an opportunity to revamp its on air graphics to take full advantage of the expanded on screen real estate. Positive Flux was brought in to assist CNBC with Project oversight, timelines, designing and qualifying workflows for the complex real-time graphics production processes, planning deployment, and coordinating between vendors and multiple CNBC departments.
While CNBC has offered a 1080i channel for several years, the broadcast relied on an adaptation of its 4:3 SD graphics display, with an information-rich companion sidebar for the HD channel. The new channel design reversed that equation, calling for a fully integrated, seamless 16:9 presentation that would be converted for legacy 4:3 display. The new graphic design was more than one year in the planning, bringing together internal graphics talent and external design companies in conjunction with multiple hardware vendors whose systems would require upgrades to work together. Positive Flux worked with vendors and designers to formulate a continuously updated deployment schedule to keep CNBC executives and other staff informed of milestones and targets throughout the process.
Positive Flux faced several key challenges in coordinating the project. The nature of CNBC content demanded a reliable real-time graphics package driven by extensive live data sources. A team of designers were needed to design dynamically adaptable modular 3D animations that would accommodate a remarkable number of individual graphics modified by an ever changing financial data set. The look would need to accommodate thousands of permutations of data-driven graphic element combinations, while maintaining the integrity of the overall look. As work progressed, the Positive Flux team remained hyper-vigilant for gaps in the design process that would impact the timetable. Positive Flux implemented a flexible tool to provide early prediction of challenges and to track and predict completion dates.
The lower thirds used by CNBC are extremely complex, combining tickers, content-sensitive information associated with the main program and a new lower left branding chip. These separate elements would all be delivered via a single channel from the graphics playout device, but each element would need to change independent of the others. This presented a challenge not only for the CNBC graphics designers, but required Positive Flux to develop and implement an innovative operational plan to automate processes and simply interactions for production staff.
Positive Flux managed the efforts of more than a dozen departments at CNBC to create a ground-breaking on air graphics display. In the process, Positive Flux helped expand communication among CNBC departments that promises to have long term benefits for smooth production operations. Despite the many improvements and a radically altered on air look, the final production system remains entirely intuitive and familiar for producers. Positive Flux coordinated training for staff in all impacted departments and ensured that the team was ready to go on air. The beautiful new look of CNBC went live on October 13, 2014, bringing a fresh and impactful new look to one of the financial industry information leaders