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Entertainment Tonight gets an HD makeover

With its storied history that began in 1981, CBS Television Distribution's “Entertainment Tonight,” or “ET” for short, became the first in its genre to broadcast in HD. The show officially aired its first 1080i HD episodes on Sept. 8.

Along with “The Insider,” the show has moved to CBS Studio Center, in Studio City, CA, after 25 seasons at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. The “ET” and “The Insider” executive offices and newsroom are now in the former Todd-AO scoring stage where numerous films — including “The Blues Brothers,” “Schindler's List” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End” — have been scored.

The move was precipitated by the parent company CBS' split into two separate divisions in 2006, resulting in “ET” and “The Insider” being wholly owned by CBS Television Distribution. At that time, “ET” and “The Insider” were already discussing to improve the production capabilities, according to Dan Henry, executive in charge of production for both shows. If they were going to move, he said, now was the time to go HD.

Following discussions that began in 2006, system integrator Teklogic, in West Hills, CA, did a relocation/upgrade feasibility and workflow study, which included a detailed budget analysis. Preliminary design began after NAB2007, and a detailed design followed in October, with on-site installation starting in March 2008.

Henry and his team weren't looking to reinvent the wheel. The main issue was how best to achieve their goals of operational efficiency and a streamlined production capability to get news content on-air (and online) quickly while staying to true to the existing and highly successful workflow. Teklogic's challenge was how to incorporate the existing workflow using current HD technology. Often it found that the technology wasn't quite there yet, which resulted in many evenings of brainstorming and design reviews.

The new file-based facility shines

The show originates from an all-HD-SDI infrastructure, which includes more than 150mi of coax and fiber cable. The newsroom alone is now three times the size of its former space. The 12,000sq-ft Stage 4 houses two new HD sets, as well as lighting and camera control. Stage 5 provides another 12,000sq ft for 28 nonlinear HD edit bays, two rooms for DigidesignPro Tools, two technical operations centers, two master control rooms, two transmission control rooms, two voice-over rooms with three voice-over booths, nine graphics workstations and three promo creation rooms.

Three new buildings were built to accommodate two production control rooms, a central equipment room and engineering workshop. There are also several separate talent suites, wardrobe, make-up and a large tape vault housing the company's historic videotape library.

CBS Television also supplies “ET” content to other regions such as Canada. The new infrastructure greatly streamlines this process and avoids time-consuming and costly dubs.

LED lighting sets the mood

Construction began on the existing Stage 5 in January. The two cutting-edge sets on Stage 4 are specifically designed for the HD widescreen experience and feature four 103in plasma displays, a walkway between the two sets and lots of LED lighting to set different moods. These new sets, designed and built by Steve Bass, were installed in mid-June, and the crew began technical run-throughs in early August.

Designing a forward-looking infrastructure

The shows' editors and producers were used to working exclusively with tape, having to make duplicate copies of images and segments in order to develop each show.

The new system is based on an all-HD Avid environment with 28 Nitris suites sharing 192TB of ISIS storage and using an Avid Interplay workflow. Interplay controls a Masstech archive solution with a Spectra Logic archive library using IBM LTO-4 tape drives. The library is set to provide storage for the next two years, and its modular design allows for easy future expansion leveraging new developments in tape library formats.

Using shared storage and server technology from Avid and Thomson Grass Valley, the more than 200 staff members now work concurrently on various parts of the shows as it comes together in the production control room. This is an important step forward, as at any given time, at least seven editors are developing that day's show — in most cases working right up to the last seconds before airing. For the “ET” crew, speed and efficiency is critical. There have been more than a few instances when editors were working on segments of the show as the first half was being fed via satellite and fiber to markets across the country for airing.

Adding to this frenetic environment, edit bays are dedicated to the show's open, bumpers and promos, and several editors work exclusively for the show's online Web site. In the new facility, the team can share resources using the Interplay, allowing producers and editors to browse low-res proxy clips from any desktop in the building and retrieve the full-res versions after an EDL has been established.

Because reporting the story first often means higher ratings, it's important to get material into the system as soon as possible. To support this workflow, the company has purchased several Sony XDCAM HD cameras for use in the field. Once footage is acquired, four digitizing stations within the technical operation centers are used to ingest material onto the network immediately. This allows editors to begin working as the video is uploaded.

An all-Avid HD production workflow

In order to maintain a high quality for its video images, Avid post editing is currently based on the DNxHD 145 8-bit media compression codec with a built-in infrastructure to accommodate other compression formats. The “ET” and “The Insider” facility at CBS Studio Center is one of the largest all-Avid HD facilities in North America.

The two identical production control rooms are capable of taking control of the stage and cameras independently or on a shared basis. Each control room includes a fully loaded Sony MVS8000G switcher, a Studer Vista 8 sound mixer with embedders and de-embedders, a configurable LCD monitor wall with an Evertz MVP multiviewer, four channels each of Avid Deko and Thunder graphics, and a Thomson Grass Valley K2 networked storage server system with seven record and 21 playout channels controlled by Editware edit controllers. Two standalone K2 servers act as primary and backup program playout servers under Crispin control.

The entire facility uses embedded audio. Facility-wide distribution is handled by an Evertz EQX 576 × 576 HD/SD/ASI router capable of performing video/audio breakaways by de-embedding and re-embedding audio, an Evertz 256 × 256 time code router and an NVISION 256 port router. The Vista 8 mixing console is connected to the EQX via a MADI interface, allowing for channel swapping via the built-in router embedders and de-embedders.

An RTS ADAM system connects all edit suites, master control, TOC, voice-overs, production control, graphics workstations, lighting and camera control, wireless stage party-line system, and outside dial-up lines into a unified intercom system. An Image Video tally control system interfaces to the MVS8000G switcher and EQX router, providing an elaborate tally system with real-time mnemonic display period. More than 110 servers and computers are accessible from multiple locations through an Avocent KVM switch.

There are nine dual-quad Mac-based graphics workstations, with 20 dual-quad Apple XServe systems supporting the render farm, plus 96TB of NetApp storage. This network is accessed by more than 250 seats of Avid iNEWS in the newsroom and throughout the facility. An all-digital in-house cable system is tied to the lot's existing Motorola-based headend cable system.

A new 5m steerable satellite antenna was installed at the broadcast center satellite farm. Access to all the antennae in the satellite farm is made available via an Evertz L-Band router and Crystal Computer remote satellite control software. Fiber runs between the show and broadcast center (home to stations KCBS/KCAL) to provide bidirectional HD-SDI feeds and Ethernet connectivity. The show also has fiber connectivity to CBS NY and CBS TV City.

Mining a deep archiving

CBS Television Distribution has installed a constantly expanding deep archive where finished programs are stored long-term. Historic video clips are continually being repurposed to lend perspective to breaking news stories. They're also used for “ET's” anniversary and celebrity specials, which air periodically.

Although it is undergoing a massive digitization project, the company's current tape vault holds about 500,000 tapes, 350,000 of which are stored on-site at the new CBS Studio Center site. The archive was brought into the file-based work using a joint library system from Masstech and Spectra Logic, which is modular and can be expanded as needed. This will make repurposing easier and more cost-effective.

For 28 years, “ET” has been at the forefront of TV production by providing viewers with timely and exclusive content while staying on top of the latest technology and using it to gain a competitive advantage. Although “ET” and “The Insider” continue to enjoy high ratings, adding the improved image quality of HDTV is critical to their future success, both on TV and on the Web.

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

Design team

“ET”/”The Insider”

Dan Henry, executive in charge of production

Linda Bell Blue, executive producer


John Joannou, president

Esteban Ortega, lead project engineer

Debra Vos-Reyna, project manager, operations and procurement

Technology at work

Apple XServe server

Deko graphics
Digidesign Pro Tools DAW
DS Nitris edit software
iNEWS newsroom computer system
Interplay asset management
ISIS storage
Thunder graphics production server

Avocent DSR1022 KVM switch

KH21e×5.7 IRSE HDgc series lens
HK10e×4.5B and KJ21 HD field lenses
XJ27 × 6.5B and HJ11 × 7.3 HD studio lenses

Crispin System 2000 automation suite

Editware edit controllers

ENCO audio effects

EQX 576 × 576 core router
256 × 256 time code router
MVP and VIP multiviewers
Terminal equipment with VistaLink
XRF6 L-Band router and remote control software

FOR-A DCC-70HS HD color correctors

LV 5800 waveform monitor
LV 7700 rasterizers

Masstech archive

NetApp graphics storage

NVISION 256 port router

QTV MSP17, MSP15 and MSP12 prompters, and Qmaster software

RTS ADAM intercom

Sony HDC-1500 HD studio cameras
MVS8000G production switcher
XDCAM HD field cameras
PDW-1500 disk recorder
HDW-M2000 recorders

Spectra Logic Spectra T960 archive library

Studer Vista 8 audio mixer

Thomson Grass Valley K2 video servers with networked storage