Food Network serves up digital production

Food Network, owned by Scripps Networks, has found its dream home, nestled literally on top of the Chelsea Market international food market

Studio A in Food Network’s new facility in Chelsea Market plays host to as many as 10 episodes of “Emeril Live” in a one-week period 10 times each year. The show employs seven to eight cameras and more than 70 mics.

When Food Network out grew its Manhattan facilities two years ago, it decided a move was in order. A new location would give it the space to gather all administrative and technical activities under one roof, as well as a new environment that would support its synergy with food and its aesthetic style.

Food Network, owned by Scripps Networks, found its dream home nestled literally on top of the Chelsea Market international food market. It has combined state-of-the-art broadcast technology with a culinary center to come up with a recipe for efficient digital content creation and future growth.

The first ingredient

Leveraging the unique location, producers often incorporate colorful, real-life elements from the market below into their programs. The network installed numerous broadcast service panels (BSPs) at strategic locations throughout various food stores in the market to accommodate cameras on triax, wireless mics, and intercom and IFB applications. For a broadcast production facility dedicated to the cooking of food, it seems a natural fit.

For the past 18 months, the project team has been busy designing and gutting three floors of a group of four old warehouse buildings in the Chelsea Market complex for the new facility. At the same time, they had to maintain an ongoing, full schedule of production and post production in the NYC facility, which could not be shut down during the transition.

The last nine weeks of the installation were decidedly the most hectic. From June 2004 to the production of the first show in the facility on Aug. 6, the team and systems integrator A.F. Associates oversaw the installation of broadcast equipment from Sony, Thomson Grass Valley and other manufacturers. This short time frame was necessary to accommodate the production of “Emeril Live.”

It was quite a challenge to make the new facility architecturally sound and hospitable for digital production. With the help of architectural firm HLW International, the team interconnected five adjacent buildings with steel beam walkways and miles of broadcast, IT, CATV and fiber-optic cabling, while raising the top floor of the main building 30 feet to construct a new 7000sq ft production studio with a steel frame and lighting grid.

Because of the layout of the buildings housing the new facility, the team had to snake broadcast cabling under, through, around and on top of old wooden beams and existing structures. In many cases, they constructed raised flooring over the old wood floors to accommodate the maze of wiring.

A Solid State Logic C100 console, a portable Yamaha mixing board, and other tape decks and audio peripherals in the audio control room provide a generous helping of digital audio for facility productions. Access to a voice-over booth in the post digital audio room is also available.

Mix up some live-to-tape production

Several of Food Network's production activities used to be located in separate facilities throughout NYC. In the new building, the network's creative services department — responsible for on-air promos created on Macs with Adobe After Effects, Photoshop and other computer programs — is literally down the hall from where the shows are taped. This saves time and improves productivity. Now projects get completed much faster.

The new facility is mostly digital, except for some legacy analog VTRs and an analog VHS dubbing system, which is interfaced to the digital router. Food Network still works with a number of Betacam SP and other analog formats. The key was to install equipment that would be flexible and allow the network to produce a variety of program types. This includes sending video to the Web, although the Food Network Web site is managed from Scripps' Tennessee operations facility.

The network shoots most of its shows live to tape and records them to switched masters and isolated VTRs. Editors make post-production changes in the new facility's five edit suites: one digital linear and four nonlinear based on Avid Technology edit systems (two Avid DS rooms, one Symphony and one Adrenaline system). GigE LAN connects the edit rooms but, currently, editors cannot access files simultaneously because they all use local storage. The facility will implement new network-attached storage (NAS) solutions combined with broadband WAN connectivity, over the next two years, enabling increased collaboration and file sharing locally and to distant locations.

The network, increasingly moving toward the IT world, chose Sony's IMX format to serve as a bridge. The format allows producers to view MPEG-1 versions of the video footage as needed, then use the actual videotape to edit the shows. They now have 18 IMX decks, five Digital Betacam and a dozen Betacam SP decks for screening and delivery purposes.

Food Network’s multi-use control room is dedicated to the 7000sq ft main production studio. As part of the design, the director and TD can see and communicate with the program audio mixer through the small window to the far left.

Scripps Networks also plans to move to HD production in the near future. That's why it chose eight Thomson Grass Valley LDK 5000 cameras for the new facility. It can upgrade the cameras easily to accommodate HD when the time comes. The network also chose a Grass Valley Kalypso 4M/E production switcher with a 2000-frame clip store. A 4M/E Kalypso control panel is dedicated to the main production studio. A 1M/E switcher control panel in the smaller “flex” production control room allows the operators to have access to the switcher's mix/effects channels from the same frame. Most of the network's shows take two to three M/Es to produce, incorporating limited transitions and wipe effects as well as minimal DVE moves.

A good helping of digital audio

A separate digital audio control room connected to the main studio is equipped with a Solid State Logic C100 digital audio console and a portable Yamaha mixing board (contracted as needed for “Emeril Live”). The room also includes the required tape decks, DATs, CDs and other audio peripherals, as well as access to a voice-over booth. Many of the voice-over elements, however, come in from a MUSICAM codec in the post digital audio room through an ISDN connection. An in-house music composer works in the same room, allowing the network to avoid using stock music libraries. The room also offers a full complement of digital audio production gear (such as Avid's Digidesign Pro Tools) and a voice-over booth.

Four Grass Valley Concerto 128×128 matrix frames route audio and video signals throughout the building. These also can handle HD signals (with the appropriate cards installed), but one is now used for SDI video, two for AES audio, and the fourth for time code and machine control. All are under the control of Grass Valley Encore monitoring and control software. A series of Leitch distribution amplifiers and conversion modules round out the redundant distribution path.

At Food Network, food is the star, so a state-of-the-art kitchen plays an integral part, not only in food preparation for the network’s shows, but also as a backdrop for production as needed.

Gigabit Ethernet connectivity over fiber and a CAT-6 cable-based local-area network (VLAN), as well as a CATV system distributed throughout the building, facilitate the monitoring of incoming tapes and feeds. The network plans to install server technology and integrate the multiple Sony IMX decks so that producers can easily browse tapes from their desktops.

Other noteworthy production equipment includes multiple Pinnacle Systems FXDeko II character generators, conversion products from Miranda Technologies and Ikegami CRT monitors in both production control rooms.

Of course, at Food Network, the food is the star. Unusual jib moves and the use of small lipstick cameras (where appropriate) distinguish the look of the network's shows. Network crews have become adept at anticipating the right camera shots with the correct focus and angles to present the food in its best light.

The food is the star

In the new facility's main studio, crews can expand and contract sets as needed. Most of shows shoot about 40 episodes in two weeks, using an average of five cameras and four wireless Sennheiser microphones. “Emeril Live,” however, tapes about 10 shows in a one-week period 10 times each year. The shows employ seven to eight cameras and more than 70 mics. The facility also uses an RTS ADAM intercom system for production. Staff can access the intercom through RF operation throughout the building.

Various network and outside producers shoot in a smaller “flex” production studio, which is also available if needed for a particular show. The facility also includes a new state-of-the-art kitchen with eight food-preparation counters, overhead production lighting, and BSPs for easy camera and microphone connectivity. Usually this kitchen area, manned by some 60 full-time culinary staff, is used to prepare dishes behind the scenes. But it can be used as a setting for production of a show if needed.

Programs produced at the facility are shown not only on Food Network, but also on Scripps' various broadcast station properties. The network produces a series of syndicated “food bytes” (short cooking vignettes) on a continual basis for Scripps stations' early-morning shows. It also creates a variety of satellite media tours and commercial programs for outside clients. Scripps has signed several video-on-demand deals with cable operators across the country and produces separate content for DVD.

The new Chelsea Market facility will serve the Food Network for many years to come. It's clear that in today's multichannel universe, a cooking show is no longer just a cooking show. With the right mix of traditional broadcast production equipment and IT systems, the new facility is serving up a full menu of digital programs more cost-effectively for increased revenue.

The sweet taste of digital

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industry.

A.F. Associates(broadcast integrator):
Ricky Bonstein, VP of op.
Dave Linick, project mgr.
John Ciulla, design eng.

Design team

HLW International, architect design:
Keith Hanadel, sr. associate
Steve Newbold, partner

Scripps Productions:
Thomas Killoy, VP of op.
Bill Jarett, VP of eng.
Gordon Johnson and Sal Mohamed, maintenance engs.

Scripps Networks:
Pete Crowley, VP, property dev.
Mark Hale, exec. VP
Jerry Nantz, CE
Tim Harty, eng. mgr.

DS, Symphony and Adrenaline NLE systems

Equipment list

Thomson Grass Valley
Concerto 128×128 routers
Kalypso SD switcher

Ikegami CRT monitors

Leitch modular A/D, D/A converters and DAs

Pinnacle Systems FXDeko II CG

RTS ADAM intercom system

Solid State Logic C100 digital audio console

Sony IMX machines

Forecast consoles