Fox Sports Net New England

For any broadcaster, downtime means lost revenue, which is why Fox Sports Net New England needed to ensure that it stayed on the air during its recent facility design.

FSNNE’s control room features a Kalypso video production center and GVEous digital video effects systems from Thomson Grass Valley, as well as a Chryon Duet and Aprisa. The audio room, seen through the window at the right, features a Yamaha console.

The network was moving into an entirely new facility and needed to relocate all of its operations and equipment, while simultaneously remaining on the air. This was no small redesign project, but rather a complete turnkey design and build of the network’s new facility. Adding to the challenge was a short, 9-day window imposed by the network in which the facility could be dark.

The station has been using National Mobile Television (NMT) as its mobile facilities provider for more than 10 years, primarily on sports programming to broadcast all Boston Celtics games. NMT provides facilities for more than 100 of the 130 annual remote sporting events with which the broadcaster is involved. The mobile facilities provider also offers crewing services on request to handle additional remote productions.

When the network announced its plans and issued requests for proposals, Venue Services Group (VSG) had just been formed as a wholly owned subsidiary of NMT. This relationship affords VSG the use of the mobile facility provider’s considerable resources and talent, but also gives the company the independence to work with NMT customers and competitors alike. The integrator’s proposal, coupled with the station’s relationship with NMT, allowed VSG to win the contract for the project over several national systems integration firms.

The scope of the project was enormous. The integrator would be responsible for demolishing the existing facility, saving the old equipment, safely transporting the equipment and then powering up the new facility. The systems integrator designed the new facility and installed the infrastructure. The existing equipment was then successfully transported to the new facility without any breakage or loss of functionality. Both the new and existing equipment was installed and tested, the new and old facilities were cleaned up, and the project was completed. Services provided by the integrator also included project management in terms of additional equipment procurement and interfacing with contractors, architects and the station’s technical teams.

Camera work at the FSNNE studio is handled by two Sony handheld cameras, one of which is on a jib, as well as two Sony studio cameras.

Effectively, the broadcaster was expanding its space, moving from one small studio to two larger studios, and in the process expanding its control room capability and increasing its number of edit bays. Also, in terms of being “future-proof,” the station knew that eventually it would have to make the transition to high definition. Although it doesn’t currently have any HD equipment in the new facility, the cables, connectors and patchfields used are all HD-compatible. Although this represented a larger front-end investment, it will greatly ease the network’s eventual transition to HD. In fact, the network is beginning to work with the systems integrator to accomplish this.

To overcome the 9-day “dark” limit, several measures were used. To minimize the dark time during the initial demolition of the existing studio, the solution was to stagger the move to keep the existing facility running on backup analog equipment while the digital equipment was carefully transported to the new facility. When that was no longer possible, the network was able to temporarily broadcast from its master control center in New York. Viewers didn’t notice any change or interruption in programming.

The integrator was able to capitalize on its status as a subsidiary of NMT to guarantee zero network downtime in its proposal. Because the mobile service provider’s entire fleet is at the integrator’s disposal, the proposal offered the network the opportunity to run its regional sports network out of an NMT truck in the event of a delay.

However, this ultimately was not necessary because the work was completed on schedule. Although the network maintains a New York-based master control room that keeps the station on the air, “dark time” is still a critical consideration for any local network. While dark, the broadcaster would be unable to produce any of the local productions or studio shows which, along with local sports programming, make up the station’s bread and butter. Although it would be unable to produce these higher-rated programs, it would still be incurring its fixed costs, licensing fees, salaries and other expenses. So being dark for even a short amount of time can be a killer for this type of facility.

Project timeline

The nine days of allotted dark time was atypical for a project of this scale, as was the station’s budget-related desire to retain much of its old equipment. Another interesting component was the fact that the broadcaster was moving its administrative offices too, adding complexity and additional vendors to the overall project. However, the one parallel between this and other projects was the need for careful planning from the very outset. The numerous logistical and technical requirements of the project required the team to spend approximately two months planning the job before it could be executed. Once the network had committed to moving forward, the integrator’s team, which also included the senior project manager and chief engineer, met weekly with Fox Sports Net’s vice president of programming and operations and with the director of production and engineering manager.

FSNNE’s videotape location contains six Sony SX decks, three Sony Beta decks and a single ¾-inch deck with some dubbing capacity.

The teams, along with the contractors and architects, met in the newly chosen, but then still empty, building to start the room design and layout process.

As the building renovation got under way, the chief engineer and engineering manager were tasked with designing a facility that would provide the same level of functionality, but with a new floor plan that would make workflow more efficient. This was an opportunity to structure the design toward a completely digital facility.

To comply with the stipulation that all of the original equipment was to be reused for the new facility and no new equipment purchased, cables, connectors and patchfields were all chosen carefully. The integrator’s senior project manager set about finding an equipment and office mover, as well as making all necessary acquisitions of personnel and materials. There needed to be tight coordination between the station and system integrator’s project teams.

To help expedite the process, it was decided early on to move the newly installed digital infrastructure before moving the entire station. A Utah Scientific router frame was purchased to start wiring at the new facility, and ultimately the new facility’s routing capabilities were handled by three Utah Scientific routers: one 100 (64x64 analog, 64x64 digital) and two 300s. Production switchers include a Thomson Grass Valley Kalypso and a 200 system.

In the interest of time, this process and much of the basic wiring was handled off-site at the integrator’s facility in New Hampshire. The router and jackfields were wired during the second and third month of the project, concurrent with the physical construction of the facility. Once the technical area of the building was finished, then the router frame and patchfield were moved into the new equipment room. From there, cabling was run to the new technical operations area to empty racks to start receiving the equipment.

Improved layout and workflow is probably the biggest benefit of the new facility. For example, the new location now has six dedicated edit suites and one graphics composition room. Previously, tape storage was spread out over people’s desks, among other areas. Now the new facility has three storage rooms with proper shelving that is location-specific.

The original facility had only one compact studio with low ceilings. The new location was built with two good-size studios. These two studios were able to be built with the pillars within the walls, allowing for a common area between them and a loading dock, which Fox Sports had never had the luxury of having before.

The satellite dishes at the original facility were abandoned due to age and the cost of relocation, allowing Fox Sports Net to acquire new dishes and new digital receivers for acquiring programs. The dishes would be located closer for better service and control than was possible at the old facility. Satellite technology installed in the new facility includes one Wegner UNITY5000 broadcast receiver, one Wegner UNITY4000 broadcast network receiver, two Motorola DSR 4500 digital satellite receivers, a DX satellite DSA-656 receiver and six RCA DSS systems.

Cameras installed in the new facility include two Sony BVP 370s and two Sony BVP 350s, while an array of Chyron systems — iNFiNiT! graphics system, Duet CG system and Aprisa clip/still store — handle the character generation and graphics duties.

Communications capabilities are handled by a Telex/RTS ADAM digital matrix intercom system, and the facility’s audio infrastructure is based on a Yamaha 4000 audio console.

Essentially, the VSG team became part of the Fox Sports Net staff, working closely with all areas of the network’s operations. The end result was an efficient, effectively designed facility that can handle all of the network’s present and future broadcast requirements.

David Raynes is chief engineer of Venue Services Group.

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