ESPN Nears Launch of New Lower Manhattan Studios - TvTechnology
Seaport District Studios employ the network's remote integration production model

NEW YORK—ESPN will launch production from its new Seaport District Studio in the Howard Hughes Corp. development at Pier 17 in Lower Manhattan April 1 with the debut of "NBA Countdown.”

The following day, it will begin producing its new morning program “Get Up” from the facility, and this summer the sports network plans to launch a show revolving around Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre from the new digs—all with the help of NEP, which is providing technical services and staffing for shows.

ESPN ‘CONTENT ENGINE’

While ambitious, that’s simply the initial lineup for Studio 1 at the Seaport District facility. There’s still Studio 2, which hasn’t yet been completed and a hybrid radio/social media/digital content studio that’s still in the works.

“We designed this space to be a content engine for ESPN in New York City,” says Chris Calcinari, vice president, ESPN and ABC Sports Remote Production Operations. “It’s a really unique location that provides a lot of iconic perspectives for our viewers.”

In October, ESPN announced the facility at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. The sports network is relying upon its REMI, or remote integration, model at the 21,000-square-foot space facility, which ties the new studios into control rooms at its Bristol, Conn., headquarters as well as those in Los Angeles, Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C.

[Read: ESPN Sets Up Studio In Manhattan]

ESPN has deployed two redundant 40Gbps fiber optic links from AT&T for its nationwide hookup and RCN for the first-mile that accommodate 24 outbound and 32 inbound 1080p HD signals.

“In a traditional studio and control room environment, the studio and control room are 100 feet away from each other,” says Calcinari. “This is just a much longer cable run from the studio to the control room—2,300 miles to L.A. T.C. [technical control] and 100 miles to Bristol.”

  Studio 1 is set up with seven cameras: four hard, a Steadicam, a jib and a robotically operated PTZ camera   

  Studio 1 is set up with seven cameras: four hard, a Steadicam, a jib and a robotically operated PTZ camera   

Despite the distance, the functionality is identical to a traditional setup with the same communications and tally infrastructure that make it seem as if directors and camera operators are essentially right next to each other.

For a new facility in Manhattan where commercial real estate space is particularly costly, REMI (remote integration model) was a logical approach. “It’s a really innovative way of making TV that allows us to have a unique studio in Manhattan and a really small footprint in a really cost-effective manner,” he says.

[Read: Take Me Out To The Ballpark…NOT]

PRIME LOCATION

Locating in New York City was attractive because Manhattan offers the chance to have easy access to guests, says Calcinari. ESPN has already put that access to work from its new BureauCam area at the Seaport District Studios, when earlier this week Ronda Rousey began using the space to do TV hits in the morning.

The Lower Manhattan location also provides a unique visual motif for ESPN to play to the hilt. “The design [of Studio 1] is very authentically New York, and that was intentional,” says Mike Foss, supervising director, remote production operations at ESPN. ”There’s a lot of brick, a lot of steel-industrial in a Brooklyn-Manhattan loft style.”

Studio 1, a 3,900-square-foot space with several set and standup locations, offers a spectacular view from large windows overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and East River. To mitigate intense sunlight or reflections from the river, ESPN has installed a mechanized neutral density system, according to Foss.

If the outdoor light still proves to be too bright or if the weather outside is overcast, the windows can be covered with five large LED panels arranged side-by-side. The system is mechanized and can be rolled out and ready to use in three minutes, adds Foss.

“The Studio 1 space is very flexible so it can have very unique looks,” says Calcinari. “When ‘NBA Countdown’ is in that space, it will have its own desk as will ‘Get Up!’ when it’s in that space.”

The design [of Studio 1] is very authentically New York.

           "The design [of Studio 1] is very authentically New York," says ESPN REMI supervising director.   

Studio 1 also has an interview area designed to look like a living room and a “bullpen area” where talent can stand in front of large LED screens to make presentations using touchscreen technology, says Calcinari.

At the moment, Studio 1 is set up with seven cameras: four hard, a Steadicam, a jib and a robotically operated PTZ camera mounted to the wall in the living room area. However, the studio is capable of up to 10 cameras, says Calcinari.

To light the studio, ESPN is using a plan developed by Ferri Lighting Design that relies on 512 LED fixtures.

FUTURE PROOF FOR IP AND 4K

As with the rest of the Seaport District facility, Studio 1 is 1080p-based; however, the facility is prepared for a future 4K conversion if the network goes in that direction, he says.

Baseband video is routed with an Evertz core routing switcher, which can be upgraded to IP when the ESPN facilities around the country that control productions from New York make their transition to IP, says Chris Strong, senior remote operations specialist. “Needless to say, we are totally IP-based in the audio realm.”

The audio and communications infrastructure at the Seaport District Studios benefits from the four years of experience ESPN has gained since first deploying its REMI model, says Henry Rousseau, senior operations manager at the sports network.

For example, one lesson learned is the need to embed the microphone chain into the video source before sending the signal to an ESPN remote control location, says Rousseau.

Another is the use of an Alteros wireless mic system operating in the unlicensed 6.5GHz band. The system supports 24 channels of wireless RF mics and can have up to 32 individual antennas. At the moment, 12 antennas are “strategically placed” throughout Studio 1, and 10 of the mics will be used there, he says.

Intercom communications are handled with a wireless Clear-Com Freespeak system working in 1.9GHz range, and antennas have been positioned to allow production staff to walk between the studios with their beltpacks. IFB is done with a Shure system operation in the 400MHz range.

“But you never put all of your eggs in one basket with RF, so we have to have some hard backups,” Rousseau said. “We are utilizing Studio Technologies IFBs and beltpacks using Dante.”

Communications is a key to the success of the REMI model, adds Calcinari. “When you are that far away from the control room, you need to make sure the production guys feel as comfortable as they would in any other facility.”

The Seaport District production space isn’t limited to the confines on the indoor studios. ESPN plans to use the 100,000-square-foot roof of the building to take shows outside on warm days and bring in a studio audience, says Calcinari.

The roof, which offers views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Freedom Tower (1WTC) and the Empire State Building, is equipped with multiple fiber-optic camera drops with power as are multiple locations around the Seaport Building and throughout the historic cobblestone Fulton Market area, Calcinari adds.

“We feel really good about the way this is set up here from an innovative workflow perspective,” he said. “Our goal has been to make this ESPN’s content machine in Manhattan.”