The new International Broadcast Center that NBC Sports Group is now completing in Stamford, CT, to house the division’s NBC Sports, NBC Olympics, NBC Sports Digital, NBC Sports Network and the NBC Sports Group Regional Network’s management team is a conglomeration of ingenuity, technology resourcefulness and vision.
Many of the lessons learned from NBC’s experience with past Olympics broadcasts have been brought to bear in the new place. (NBC has held the American broadcasting rights of the Summer Olympics since the 1988 games and the broadcasting rights to the Winter Olympics since the 2002 games. In 2011, Comcast paid $4.38 billion to broadcast the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Olympics, the most expensive television rights deal in Olympic history). The facility is designed to support all future ‘at-home’ Olympic efforts, which previously had been housed at NBC’s New York hub at 30 Rockefeller Plaza
“We had a lot of real-world experience to pull from to really make this a showplace for the best content creation workflows,” said David Mazza, CTO & SVP, Engineering, NBC Sports & Olympics. “The team understands how a networked system works, and we know the successes and pitfalls of file-based HD production. We also recognize the need to do things as efficiently as possible in order to sustain a successful business model for Comcast and the NBC Sports Group.”
A 100,000sq ft administration building and commissary will be completed this month, when the facility will support 500-plus employees regularly, and up to 750, combining four different offices from three different states.
The concept of a large facility that could support all of the various sports properties under one roof immediately appealed to upper management at NBCU/Comcast, and the decision was made to go ahead and co-locate every sports and digital media division except The Golf Channel (which is based in Orlando, FL) and the 11 locally-based NBC Sports Regional Networks.
Through much intense schedule and manpower coordination, system integration and sweat, NBC Sports Group went live from the facility in December 2012. Paul Koopmann, vice president of engineering, NBC Sports Group, likes to say that they went from “dust to airwaves in a mere 10 months,” including redundant signal paths throughout, finished edit suites, control rooms, audio suites, voice-over rooms and all of the necessary requirements of a file-based video production center that supports both NBC’s television and online operations.
The crew installed a completely new audio and video infrastructure inside the building, complete with new HVAC and power systems, a wireless intercom network and HD-SDI, IP and embedded audio signals running everywhere. This all-3Gb/s 1080i/50/60 HD system design includes more than 1100mi of SMPTE hybrid coax, 600mi of CAT-6 and 500mi of single-mode fiber cables linking $40 million in equipment (much of that equipment repurposes from past Olympics projects). Comcast now has one of the most advanced television facilities in the country. Indeed, the facility has gone from a previously thriving shampoo factory to a vibrant digital media creation factory and (pardon the pun) has seen silky, smooth results.
Having it all under one roof will bring new efficiencies and get content to air (or in viewers’ hands) faster. Mazza said the system will be enhanced in some areas, as it gets ready for the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Stamford facility will have full, real-time connectivity to the on-site IBC in Russia. In preparation for the at-home effort for the Olympics, the facility was designed to be switchable between 50Hz and 60Hz.
On a daily basis, once content for any of its distribution platforms is finished in Stamford, it is sent to NBC’s 30 Rock for commercial insertion, and other types of program IDs are added before being distributed to viewers of the TV networks. Content is also distributed via 10GB ASI links to the CNBC building in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, for playout and commercial insertion for Comcast/NBC Universal’s Cable Networks. There’s also seamless connectivity to Comcast’s Digital Media Center in Denver, CO, and Encompass (a teleport in Glenbrook, CT).
If Mazza tends to use the word “factory” a lot in describing the new facility and how they expect it to operate, that’s not an accident. The mentality of a finely tuned operation that efficiently produces content on a massive scale is exactly what they were after in the initial design drawings. The demand from consumers for more and more content dictated the type of workflows and workspace that NBC has now put into place.
“The irony is that if we had started from scratch, and taken three years to build a brand new building,” Mazza said, “it would probably look a lot like this one does today. But, that took an extraordinary effort by a lot of incredibly talented people who worked countless hours to get this done on time.”
Indeed, the building maintains a factory look and feel, but the overall goal to be open and somewhat informal with recycled elements throughout makes it refreshing in terms of new television production facility design. Basically, it’s a place that encourages a happy work environment and unlimited collaboration among the staff. And due to its heritage, maybe — among all of the new HD production gear and signal monitoring and distribution technology — the content will appear more clean and shiny.