New facility treats media as bits
When cable business news channel CNBC went live from its sleek new global headquarters Oct. 13, it launched a whole new tapeless workflow that realized the promise of convergence.
CNBC's Global Headquarters is a new purpose-built, 350,000-square-foot facility located on a 22 acre campus in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. on a stretch of Sylvan Avenue that's been dubbed the "Billion Dollar Mile" for its collection of businesses and international corporations' offices. Although only two or three miles north of its first home in Fort Lee, N.J., the new facility is light years ahead of its analog tape-based predecessor.
"We can import more feeds simultaneously than we ever could before," said Bob Meyers, general manager, CNBC Enterprises. "We can have producers at their desktops review those feeds in real time and send them to edit, even before the feed is complete-all digital, no videotape. The old days of broadcast news, having somebody wait for a tape to be recorded, and run through the halls-it's quaint, but there's no place for that in broadcast journalism today. Our audience will never stand for that."
Steve Fastook, vice president and project manager said that all technology that enables this workflow is "under the hood," and transparent to the user.
The nerve center of the newsroom technologies include an Avid iNews newsroom computer system, Thomson Grass Valley NewsBrowse low-resolution browser, Media Area Network (MAN) real-time shared-storage, NewsEdit nonlinear edit system with tie-ins to Grass Valley NewsQ Pro automated playback control system, the Profile XP Media Platform for ingest and playout, a huge Trinix router and networked Pinnacle FXDeko and Thunder graphics.
Feeds arrive into the plant mainly via satellite or fiber, but a few VTRs are available for material on tape. Feeds are simultaneously ingested into the NewsBrowse low-resolution storage and, via a Profile, to the MAN high-resolution RAID array.
The NewsBrowse servers currently store 3,000 hours of material, while the MAN is outfitted with 1,000 hours.
"A thousand hours equals about a week to two weeks of active material," Fastook said. "There's a group of about 250 to 300 hours of material that we keep all the time."
Older material gets ported off the MAN to IT "when convergence takes hold," Fastook said. "Who better to manage it than IT. CNBC has always been great at handling data. We move real-time data every day, so why not handle video like data."
Nearline storage for video data consists of an EMC Corp. Celerra Enterprise Network system, Adic Scalar i2000 tape drives, and Avalon archive management software running on Sun Microsystems servers.
The low-resolution material remains on the NewsBrowse servers. If more storage is needed, the plan now is to simply add more servers.
NewsBrowse is used as a pointer to the high-resolution media, no matter where it's stored. If a clip is not residing on the MAN, the system will locate it on the data server or tape drive and transfer it to the MAN where it becomes available for editing or playback, Fastook said. But the real beauty of NewsBrowse is that users don't need to understand the technology. All they need to know is they can look at material, save shots, create an edit decision list or even edit a final piece, all from a desktop or wireless laptop.
As a business network, CNBC relies heavily on charts to display real-time financial data. A data pool brings in information from all the exchanges, which is then used to create charts for edited and on-air pieces and the "video cubes," the large-screen video display units on the sets.
"If a stock is one price in one location it is the same price everywhere because all applications take data from the same data pool," Fastook said.
The technology supporting the charts and real-time data is managed by IT, but the editing application, Discreet's frost, also has video traits like key signals.
"So it all ties in," Fastook said. "Our IT folks and our engineering folks have always crossed over so we're a little bit ahead of the curve."
Each video cube is supported by a full-time SGI Onyx or O2 with a VGA output. When a particular set of data is desired, like a company's stock price history, the workstation draws on the information from the data pool and produces the graph. For as long as the graph is displayed, its data is continually being updated.
Charts created in each production control room utilize a full-scale Onyx, located in the control room rack area, because of the animation required.
The new CNBC facilities boast three studios. At 7,000 square feet, Studio A, the largest, contains the separate sets needed for all of the business day programs, like "Wake-Up Call," "Squawk Box," and "Closing Bell."
Studio B, at 4,000 square feet, houses CNBC's primetime programs and Studio C, also 4,000 square feet, is designed for "town hall" type productions and can hold up to 100 people.
Three identical 900-square-foot control rooms take in feeds from any of the studios, from anywhere in the building and from remotes. With more than 40 broadcast service connector panels positioned throughout the facility, any location in the building is within 30 feet of a video drop.
Video switching is handled by a Sony MVS switcher. Clip playouts for each control room come from four channels of Profiles driven by Grass Valley's NewsQ Pro control system, Fastook said. NewsQ Pro takes the rundown information from iNews and lines up the clips for playback for either the technical director or another operator to "roll."
Networking is evident in just about every system installed at CNBC.
"There's dozens of networks on top of the big one, the IT corporate network," Fastook said. "Some of them interconnect, some of them don't. Most of them are on CAT 5, with some on fiber."
"The whole thing is to create virtual resources, so that you're not running a lot of cable," Fastook added. "There's a lot of cable in here, but it's nothing compared to what a facility of this size would be if it was wired traditionally."
In audio, the Calrec Sigma audio consoles are connected to sources via the new Hydra Audio Network system.
"It takes all the sources and puts them onto a data network," Fastook said. "Once they are on the network, you can acquire them in any console. Calrec designed this for us, and we were the first to buy this particular product."
Instead of audio carts, CNBC installed the server-based Enco digital cart replacement system that allows operators to create custom touchscreen button control surfaces to play back the various audio clips.
Even the robotic cameras are networked with a new Vinten control system. "The control system has matured to the point to where it is now on a PC LAN," Fastook said. "There's a server, and the cameras are resources."
The Telex/RTS Adam intercom is connected via IP to other NBC locations and bureaus.
The transition to tapeless went seamlessly and "actually exceeded our expectations," Fastook said.
Sandy Cannold, CNBCdirector of program development commented, "All of the technology that every outsider said [wouldn't] work has worked since day one... from 5 a.m. on. It's no stretch to say this is a place that's been built to unleash the creativity of the production staff."