ABC Times Square Studios: Good Morning in Times Square
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ABC Times Square Studios: Good Morning in Times Square

It may be home to ABC's Good Morning America, but to Times Square passersby it is the building with the curvy front wall that is a gigantic television screen displaying current news and ABC TV previews all day long.

By Louis M. Brill


As far as building LED displays goes, the ABC Times Square Studios building facade is a sight to behold. In a distinct melding of architecture and sculpture, the LED video screen is presented as nine curvilinear horizontal video strips that undulate around the front of the ABC Times Square building facade. It may be home to ABC's Good Morning America, but to Times Square passersby it is the building with the curvy front wall that is a gigantic television screen displaying current news and ABC TV previews all day long.

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  • ABC Times Square Studios Creates Media Façade
    The ABC Times Square Studios LED spectacular originally created by its corporate parent, The Walt Disney Company, is one of the oldest LED video displays in Times Square which went live in 1999. After eight years of beaming over seventy-thousand hours of outdoor television news and entertainment, it has recently had a 21st century make over, courtesy of D3 (Rancho Cordova, CA), a full service LED video display firm that designs and fabricates high definition LED video displays. D3 LED screens have also appeared recently in several other Times Square sites including a display replacement for the Armed Forces Recruiting station, exterior displays on M & M Retail World and Ripley's believe It Or Not Odditarium.

    The LED facade was initially built by Multimedia LED (Rancho Cordova, CA) as an integrated display featuring several disparate screen formats that merged into a single viewing system. First, the total LED display was divided into nine separate horizontal LED ribbons, with each ribbon approximately 133-feet long, extending from one side of the front of the building to the other side. Seven of the nine ribbons were full color, each with a pitch of 50 mm.

    The LED facade was initially built by Multimedia LED (Rancho Cordova, CA) as an integrated display where the total LED display was divided into nine separate 50 mm, 133-feet long, horizontal LED ribbons, with each ribbon extending from one side of the front of the building to the other side. To make the ABC display more visually interesting, a second LED video screen (at that time, it was a SONY JumboTron) was embedded within the bigger Multimedia LED screen.

    To make the ABC display more visually interesting, a second LED video screen (at that time, it was a SONY JumboTron) was embedded within the bigger Multimedia LED screen. Below the LED six ribbon screen was a "feature band" that gave a brief text summary of its above video image. At the bottom of the display were two text message ribbons, with the lower ribbon a sports 'zipper.' and the upper one a news headline zipper.

    Nothing about the ABC TV Studio LED sign was conventional; a curved steel interconnecting frame was built and connected to the entire front of the ABC TV Studio building. Unique with one of the tightest radius ever built, (a 3.5 foot curved sign face), its curvilinear sign face was exceptionally challenging in getting matching LED modules to seamlessly fit on the steel frame. The original LED frame was built in New Jersey by Landmark Signs, disassembled and reassembled in Times Square. Finally, getting the visual content to properly stream across the ribbons in an easy-to-view format turned out to be quite a challenge as well.

    During the replacement of the ABC LED modules, the Landmark crew started at the bottom of the sign and worked upwards. By the third ribbon tier, they were now above the studio windows, which initiated a policy of protecting each studio window segment with a fireproof impact resistant tarp (which protected the window from welding sparks, dropped debris, etc). The tarp was draped and rigged directly across the windows below where each ribbon of modules was being replaced. This was a daily occurrence as the tarp was set up under the workspace where the windows were and taken down at the end of that workday.
    photo credit: Landmark Signs

    Architecturally it was advanced enough that it was a precursor to what are now known as media facades where a building cladding is completely covered with an LED video display. Now the ABC TV Studio's LED display look has become timeless as many more contemporary media facades have tried to incorporate some aspect of its design into their display.

    As soon as the ABC Times Square LED display was up, it became the 'shot heard 'round the advertising world. From a viewing point its impact was enormous as it was easily seen by just about everyone passing through the north end of Times Square. "Once the full marketing value of the ABC LED display was understood by the Times Square advertising community," said George Pappas, a founding partner of D3 (currently in charge of operations and manufacturing), and a former project manager of the original Multimedia ABC LED project, "it became a springboard for many other LED video spectaculars (HSBC, Pontiac, Wrigley's, LG, Samsung, etc) that began to populate Times Square."

    To prepare the ABC building for its new LED display (Version II) during the summer of 2007, the original LED sign, ribbon-by-ribbon was completely stripped to its bare steel frame. Then from the bottom up, once each original LED segment was removed, the new D3 LED modules were retro-fitted and placed onto the existing steel frame, using the same LED module connection points that held the first LED display in place.

    Currently the 1999 ABC SuperSign (as it is also known) has become one of the senior Times Square LED video displays. After eight years of evolving LED technology, LED lighting and sign technology has made significant improvements with tighter pitches, brighter LEDs and a richer, more dimensional spectral range of full color imagery. With many other original LED displays having been converted into their modern counterparts, such as Coca-Cola (2005) and Budweiser (2007) and new ones (Chevrolet, Pontiac, Prudential), all beginning to appear with a full color, high resolution look, the Disney Company decided that it was time to evolve the original ABC Times Square LED display (Version I).

    To prepare the ABC building for its new LED display (Version II) during the summer of 2007, the original LED sign, ribbon-by-ribbon was completely stripped to its bare steel frame. Then from the bottom up, once each original LED segment was removed, the new D3 LED modules (WS-10 units) were retro-fitted and placed onto the existing steel frame, using the same LED module connection points that held the first LED display in place. Each D3 LED module is 3 1/2 inches wide (8 pixels wide) and 3 1/4 feet tall (100 pixels tall), with at least 3,551 LED modules used to completely replace the original (VERSION I) Led screen.


    Clarke Systems- Slatz Capture was designed to meet the challenge of change.

    Landmark signs reinstalls icon
    An interesting aspect of the ABC LED display is that the display is separated by huge glass windows on the front of the television studio that looks out onto Times Square. This is where ABC tapes and/or broadcasts many of their television news programs. Their LED display as explained by Tony Calvano, Principle of Landmark Signs (NY, NY) who installed both the original LED display and its successor display, has seven ribbons above the studio windows and two ribbons below them. "During our swap out and replacement of the ABC LED modules, we started at the bottom and worked our way upwards. By the third ribbon tier, we were now above the studio windows, which initiated a policy of us having to protect each studio window segment as we worked above it."

    "To create the proper window protection, we used a fireproof impact resistant tarp (which protected the window from welding sparks, dropped debris, etc) that we draped and rigged directly across the windows below where we were replacing each ribbon of the modules. This was a daily occurrence as we set up the tarp under the workspace where the windows were and took it down at the end of that workday"

    ABC Times Square's SuperSign is the only LED sign in the world that is integrally involved with a major network television program, as on occasion it has become the backdrop for Good Morning America, where news and sometimes the weather is presented in front of the building.

    One of the more unusual factoids about the ABC LED display was the Version I LED display was replaced in an unusual way. Because of the significance of ABC's LED display iconic presence to its television programming, the original ABC sign was left in operation during its retrofitting phase. As the new modules were put in place, one-by-one the old LED ribbons were turned off and replaced with their more modern Version II counterpart.

    As for the actual LED module insertions, Calvano remarked how he began with the most difficult part of the project which was installing the LED modules by starting with the inside radius. "We needed to have the LED modules on the inside radius curve fit in a seamless configuration. Then by working from the radius outwards, we installed the rest of the ribbon, going north to the ribbon's edge and then south to the other edge of the display. And of course, as we moved from section to section, the below tarp followed us covering that section of studio glass. Once we perfected the radius curve insertion technique, we did this with the other eight ribbons. All together we replaced the entire display in about two and half months."

    New ABC TV building facade
    The new (Version II) ABC LED display is much more advanced and high-tech than its predecessor display. Its most important feature is its display visibility as the new screen offers 25 times greater resolution than the original display. Other aspects of D3's replacement display include:

    • 10mm pitch LED screen resolution
    • Brighter color and better color uniformity throughout the entire screen.
    • Data lines using a redundant gigabyte Ethernet network with a simultaneous dual processor running the same data signal twice in a parallel mode, as a back-up feature.
    • Back up power supplies also running in parallel and configured to be hot swappable. This allows the back up power supply to immediately replace a failed primary power supply.

    As the new high resolution LED display was being put in place, so was the new software implemented as described by Meric Adriansen (a D3 Managing Partner) who has been associated with the ABC LED display since its inception at the tail-end of the 20th century. "I initially acted as a software project manager and was responsible for developing the front-end system of managing the content for the LED screen. This included all the software that controlled the graphics, video, animation and morphing of all the imagery that was essential in getting it to 'look right' on the ABC LED screen. The original software for the first ABC LED screen ultimately became a patchwork of fixes to adopt the screen as new software processes and imagery techniques became available. This in turn, all became integrated into the new features of how the ABC LED video display would operate."

    Show & Tell ABC LED playbook
    As to day-to-day operation of the ABC LED screen, that has always been a shared responsibility between ABC TV staff and Show & Tell Productions, (NY, NY), the company that developed the new integrated show control system for the ABC LED screens. This operational collaboration began with Version I and continued onwards with Version II. That work was described by Phil Lenger, President of Show & Tell. "We always provided a day-to-day 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 new capabilities of the screen including its high resolution format, live broadcasting and most important, a stream-lined operation of the overall playbook system."

    With the new LED sign in place, Adriansen noted some of the display's more stunning capabilities, "for starters with its new 10mm, high resolution large format counterpart, the new LED screen has a richer and more dynamic presence in Times square. Furthermore, the ribbon screen isn't just limited to the upper six ribbon tiers to show a complete image. A t the discretion of the display operator, it can now provide all nine ribbons (including the bottom feature band and text ribbons) to show an even larger screen image on the front of the building. The display operation is now more compatible with more current graphic software such as Flash applications. Finally, the display's operation is now more flexible to where it can easily present live interviews from a Man-In-The-Street format which could come from special events such as New Year's Eve, parades and historic moments from personal reactions to world class sport telecasts."

    As Andriansen pointed out, in many respects in the original set up with Version I, the building's main outdoor visual presence was its SONY JumboTron (now a Mitsubishi Diamond Vision screen). Here the older ribbon screen acted as a 'sideshow' to the smaller, but easier to view insert screen. Now with its new LED screen in place, these positions have flipped-flopped and the bigger LED screen has the place of pride as the main visual impact of that part of Times Square.

    Speculation about future spectaculars
    ABC TVs Times Square building has created a turning point in how LED spectaculars have moved away from conventional design to a truly out-of-the box design. Now weird shapes and mixed sign formats are being more boldly created to properly represent forward thinking companies. Such examples include the latest Coca-Cola LED spectacular, Walgreens (on 1 Times Square) and the FUSE display, all which have been created as one-of-a-kind LED spectaculars. This along with conventional make-overs (Prudential, Budweiser, etc) have brought about a second generation of LED spectaculars to spring up along the urban byways.

    The presence of the ABC TV Studio LED display is historic on many levels, it is one of the first media facades ever built in Times Square, its unique sign architecture is a one-of-a-kind curvilinear screen that has redefined the form and function of how a sign "works" for its client sponsor. It's the only LED sign in the world that is integrally involved with a major network television program. And finally in no small measure, it's setting a standard for the future of media facade-based "performance-signage" as an integration of a new medium, i.e. 'sign casting' (verses broadcasting) that is integrated between urban space and outdoor public visual communications. It's a definite integration of the message, the medium, and the public who gets it. What will happen? Stay tuned.

    Readers who wish to follow the entire story of Times Square can follow with these other pieces related to its history:

    One Times Square: A Global Icon Marks Time - 2003-2010, Part III
    In this third and final part of One Times Square, we examine even more of the fascinating, ever-evolving changes to this iconic landmark and how technology plays a very interesting and important role.

    One Times Square: A Global Icon Marks Time - 2003-2010, Part II
    Slowly, but surely between 2003 to 2010, one spectacular display after another on One Times Square has been upgraded with a more modern version of itself or outright replaced with a new client and a new spectacular.

    One Times Square Revisions: Signage in the crossroads of the world through the years
    If any building was to be dedicated as homage to sign displays, honors could easily point to One Times Square. It stands tall not only in height, but also throughout its 100 plus year history with its influence on iconic advertising, on sign displays, with its vinyl and electronic billboards and its timeless metaphors, all wedded to the building from top (the annual New Year's Eve ball drop) to the bottom (the news zipper wrapped around the building's base).

    Toy's R Us Interior EDS Signage
    The Center of the Toy Universe can be found in Times Square and it's operated by Toys 'R Us. With 110,000 square feet of various toy shopping zones, all aligned within three floors of merchandising space, the toy universe is a vast space.

    LED Electronic Message Reader Boards: Watching the world go by in streaming headlines
    The electronic message reader board is the town crier of the modern age. It is a simplistic, horizontal column of light bulbs or LEDs whose intermediate flashes of world watching headlines, slide effortlessly across reader board signs attached to banks and financial institutions and to the front walls of major corporate headquarters.

    King Kong Embraces Times Square with Electronic Signage Debut
    The latest remake of the King Kong epic, directed by Peter Jackson, sought out its east coast premiere in the place where the big ape met his demise, in New York City. Nothing is too good for the premiere of his latest film and only in New York City could a film of such epic proportion have an opening of similar grandeur.

    Hershey’s ­ How Sweet It Is: The Eye-Candy of Times Square
    In the middle of all its surrounding Times Square spectaculars, billboards and sign edifices, stands the flagship Hershey Times Square, a retail gift store which is a chocolate confectionary paradise that is the center of the chocolate universe.

    Minskof Theater
    The Minskoff Theatre (1,597 seats), one of the many major live performing venues along Broadway has recently undergone a signage transformation of its old blade / marquee and window display into a very modern and elegant sign package that was fit for a king: The Lion King that was.

    ABC Times Square
    It may be home to ABC's Good Morning America, but to Times Square passersby it is the building with the curvy front wall that is a gigantic television screen displaying current news and ABC TV previews all day long.

    Signs of Love: A spectacular marriage proposal on the white lights of Broadway
    This is a story of unrequited love converged with New York City's first electronic billboard, where a marriage proposal was displayed in all its glory directly above the Crossroads of the World.


    Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications.
    He can be reached at (415) 664-0694 or louisbrill@sbcglobal.net

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