Fox News' production studio

With a six-month launch target and little time to waste, the news channel needed a project team that could move quickly
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Fox News, having established itself as a leading 24-hour news channel, realized recently that it was out of space. For more than six years, its broadcast center in Midtown Manhattan, New York, was able to support the needs of the operation. However, the success and growth of the Fox News Channel since its launch in 1996 had stretched the capacity of the current broadcast operations center to its limits.

The audio control suite features a Calrec Sigma 100 and three 24-inch LCDs fed by a mix of multi-imagers for main system monitoring.

As its daily programming demands continued to swell, it became clear to the engineering department that the broadcast center facility was becoming the limiting factor to the capabilities sought by production. With all three studios full and more new shows on the way, it was clear that an expanded facility core and an additional studio cluster would be required to support the mounting needs of the channel.

As luck would have it, a precious street-level space was vacated right in its own building. The new space, previously occupied by a large restaurant, provided the best location for an advanced production facility, including a street-level studio that could support a variety of programming. The restaurant space was located in a high-traffic area that, in addition to the news channel's existing two street-level studios, is also home to studios for several other stations.

Spectacular 25-foot high ceilings and glass on two sides provided the opportunity for the live backdrop that the station's producers were looking for. Unfortunately, the space also came with enormous structural and logistical concerns that had to be tackled, including the need to bridge the long distance back to the existing technical core, effectively annexing the new space.

Project team

With a six-month launch target and little time to waste, the news channel needed a project team that could move quickly. Warren Vandeveer, vice president engineering and operations, appointed the team. Architects from HLW provided space planning, structural analysis and interior design. They quickly went to work on the unique challenge of transforming a restaurant into a teleproduction studio.

Arthur Metzler Associates (AMA) assessed the expansion of the electrical and mechanical infrastructure required to support the technical systems in this newly annexed space, and The Systems Group served as systems integrator.

Chris Bauer, Fox News director of engineering, led the design team regarding technology directives, operational needs and plant integration. The design concepts incorporated into the new production environment marked a new direction in design for operations at the news channel, as previous designs and integration had been based in traditional network news models. The new control room required an advanced degree of flexibility to support a range of production requirements.

The advanced control room design includes a spacious three-tiered environment with preferred sightlines from all viewing locations. TBC Consoles provided production consoles and cabinetry. Its consoles provided the flexibility required to meet the high- density equipment requirements. A multitude of LCD displays mounted on articulating arms were required to maintain critical sightlines to the projection monitor wall. The ability to customize specific console sections provides an ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing environment for efficient operation. This was a key benefit in designing an efficient cockpit for the technical director, targeting ease of control of the various switching, monitoring and processing required for live news production.

A Thomson Grass Valley XtenDD 4 M/E production switcher, Accom Dveous digital video effects system and Quantel Picturebox stillstore provide for powerful and flexible production tools. The console modularity also offers a high degree of ventilation and storage capacity for tapes, supplies and personal items. Each of the 15 operator positions are supplied with a standard pod of Telex Communications panels, routing control, phone systems and flat-panel PC monitors on articulated swivel mounts for access to show rundowns and networked office tools, including e-mail.

Project managers analyzed the cost benefit of using a traditional CRT-based system vs. the emerging multi-viewer technologies. They used mock-ups and demos to gather feedback from the production and engineering user groups.

To achieve the flexibility targeted early on, the production control room was designed around a multi-viewer processor driving a rear-projection display monitor wall controlled by serial tallies from the production switcher as well as router-driven dynamic tally and source IDs. This allows for changeable monitoring configurations via snapshot recall between and during shows from a unique technical director cockpit position.

The main monitor wall is comprised of four Clarity Visual Systems Lion UX 67-inch rear-projection screens fed by four 32-input Miranda Technologies Kaleido-K2 multi-image processors. A TSL USC-21 system controller coordinates and tracks the source identification, routing selections, switcher tally and audio level metering of the various sources assigned to the specific displayed images. A bank of six 24-inch LCD monitors mounted above the Clarity systems and fed via an analog monitoring router through Evertz Quattro quad-split imagers support the monitoring of 24 selectable remotes. A bank of traditional 12-inch CRTs, fed from the house MATV system, hang from the ceiling to provide an economical solution to traditional competition monitoring within the viewing angle of the second and third decks. Three additional 24-inch LCDs fed by a mix of multi-imagers were also designed into the audio control room for main system monitoring.

The adjacent audio control suite is designed around a Calrec Sigma 100. This hybrid console offers the same degree of production flexibility, using snapshot recall for rapid reconfiguration for specific productions.

An adjacent rack room located behind the main production monitor wall supports the Calrec processor frames and racks of communications equipment and provides for a central point for all PCs required in the control room cluster. By using industrial rack-mount PC chassis and KVM extenders, virtually all fan noise was eliminated in the control rooms, resulting in a comfortable low-noise production environment. This area also provides for the control room connectivity demarcation point.

A local technical support room accommodates 20 racks of broadcast and IT systems equipment processing and interconnect, as well as the required technical power distribution, filtering and monitoring. The Studio 4 cluster is fully protected with a UPS backed up by a diesel-powered generator.

Directly underneath this technical operations cluster, in the street-level studio, new studio production systems include seven Thomson Grass Valley LDK 200 digital cameras. Four cameras are equipped with Canon E20X8BIE studio lenses mounted on Vinten Quattro four-stage studio pedestals with Radamec camera robotics heads. Three cameras are set up with Canon J21ax7.8 lenses mounted on sticks, with a jib supplied for the seventh camera for audience shots. The news channel selected these systems for their flexibility and compatibility with existing systems technology.

Logistics and integration

The new studio control cluster is stories up from the existing technical and production core, and is located next to and above a breezeway that runs between two buildings. Tying the studio into the existing operation required extensive connectivity to the existing network operations center for communications, camera control, graphics, and system reference and centralized routing.

Completing this interconnect required a coordinated, parallel design/build integration effort. The new control room cluster required interface to its local equipment room, as well as to the existing core systems in the adjacent building.

Project managers analyzed the use of a fiber-optic signal path to satisfy the multitude of connectivity requirements, but it proved more costly and potentially less stable than traditional materials. As a result, on-site copper cable pulls and terminations had to commence prior to the completion of detailed documentation.

Fast-track cable placement was launched on a segmented distribution plan, based on five specific demarcation points carefully selected to simplify cable management. Twelve four-inch conduits carried more than 275 coax and 400 audio pairs between buildings that were interconnected via this demark scheme. In this way, each group of technicians could focus on their own cable runs, expecting the next group to meet them at a specific demark point for the appropriate handoff. The news channel and system integrator's project managers executed the plan flawlessly by working closely together to divide, document and supervise the deployment scheme in careful order.

Centralized core facilities

In addition to expanding the cross points on the routing and communications systems, the addition of the fourth studio and its camera systems pushed the capacity of the existing video shading area beyond its limit. To accommodate this expansion, a new and larger SVO area was required. In a Chinese puzzle-like fashion, a new graphics area was designed into the annex, freeing up valuable space in the tech core. By combining existing and expansion hardware in a new configuration, engineers were able to provide for current as well as future operational requirements. The vacated graphics area was renovated to support not only a larger centralized camera area with better robotics and intelligent server controls, but also an expansion of the existing central equipment room and a new, larger area for master control.

As the revitalized and expanded facilities were coming on-line, the Fox production staff had one more request, this time regarding radio systems. With a new programming requirement came the need to launch Fox Radio's digital studio facility. The system had to be constructed in the existing newsroom space and provide for multi-user, server-based digital audio news editing. Stories gathered from various sources are digitized, compiled and released to Fox Radio distribution via ISDN. The news channel and systems integrator worked swiftly to complete this addition in just four short weeks, and the entire project took just six months to complete.

Paul Rogalinski is the director of installation and a senior project manager for The Systems Group.

Technology at work

Accom Dveous digital video effects

Calrec Sigma 100 console

Canon:

E20X8BIE studio lenses
J21ax7.8 lenses

Clarity Visual Systems
Lion rear-projection screens

Evertz Quattro quad-split imagers

KVM extenders

Miranda Technologies Kaleido-K2 multi-image processors

Quantel Picturebox stillstore

Radamec camera robotics heads

TBC Consoles consoles and cabinetry

Telex Communications panels

Thomson Grass Valley:

LDK 200 digital cameras
XtenDD production switcher

TSL USC-21 system controller

Vinten Quattro studio pedestals

Design team

Fox News:

Warren Vandeveer, vice president of operations and engineering
Chris Bauer, director of engineering

Architect: HLW International

John Gering, partner in charge
Phillip Fishel, project manager
Steve Newbold, PA
Thornton Tomasetti, structural engineer

Broadcast Systems Integration: The Systems Group

Paul L. Rogalinski, senior project manager
John Holt, senior systems engineer
Darwin Clermont, installation supervisor
Steve Losquadro, lead technician

MEP Engineering:

AMA Associates

Conrad Chang, project manager