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NBC Connecticut builds digital media center

NBC Connecticut, the NBC O&O in Hartford, CT, has taken the concept of a streamlined workflow and literally put it into play in all aspects — physically and technologically — in its new state-of-the-art digital media center.

Last July, the station moved into a new facility — built behind its existing station and on the site of a former parking lot — and became the first station in the state to broadcast its local newscasts in 1080i HD.

Working with Union City, NJ-based system integrator KMH Audio-Video Integration, Keith Barbaria, director of technology and engineering at NBC Connecticut, developed a blueprint for an innovative facility that provides easy access to all departments and staff. The 42,000sq-ft building looks large from the outside; however, inside there is only 25,000sq-ft of usable space, which is tight but efficiently utilized. KMH provided systems programming and commissioning for all production and broadcast systems in the building, as well as voice and data, and cable TV. Various existing systems were relocated, with a series of transitions planned and coordinated between NBC engineering and KMH in order to keep the station on the air throughout the entire construction and installation process.

Truly open workflow

The goal in the design of the digital media center was to create a workplace in which everyone can literally see one other, communicate freely and collaborate on projects in an unencumbered way.

The entire facility features an open design. The first floor newsroom is open to the second floor, and features a mezzanine that looks down to the lower level. It's also open to the studio (which includes four Sony HDC-1400 cameras), so the staff has a clear view of live newscasts in progress. The assignment desk is the focus of the newsroom, opposite the studio, which is situated on a 22in riser, making it easier to see where the staff is and support them if necessary. Even the offices throughout the facility have glass front walls and doors.

The new facility is a marked departure from the old building, where the staff felt confined by numerous walls, making it difficult to find people. During late-breaking situations, this often made it difficult to communicate. The new building alleviates that by opening up the entire space.

Fast-paced news editing at the station is accomplished with four Grass Valley EDIUS workstations, located right off the newsroom. The editing stations are open so anyone can see what's going on. NBC Connecticut's newsgathering process was completely tape-based until 2007, when the NBC Stations Group (now called NBC Local Media) standardized on the EDIUS nonlinear editing system and Grass Valley ADVC conversion units for their field editing operations. The station purchased 21 EDIUS licenses and a variety of the ADVC converters.

Photographers come in from the field with their laptops and plug into any available network connection at the station. This environment is complemented by three Apple Final Cut Pro workstations, which are used for longer form pieces and promotional elements that can be created over time.

Fast-paced editing in the field

In the field, NBC Connecticut photographers shoot with Panasonic P2 cameras. Once footage is captured, the P2 cards from the cameras are inserted into a laptop in the field and edited on the spot with EDIUS software. This saves time and enables the person closest to the story to develop what will eventually be broadcast on that evening's newscast. The workflow is fast and efficient, according to Barbaria, who said that although there are often several cards floating around the newsroom at any one time — the station has been using P2 since January and bar-coded the cards for organizational purposes — it has never lost one or had one fail.

Once the edit is complete, most pieces are delivered through the Internet and into a BitCentral Oasis server at the station. From there, that piece is folded into a Grass Valley Aurora Playout workstation in the station operations control room, or it can be sent to the news editing room, where it is worked on further on another EDIUS system. This gets content to air faster than was possible with videotape.

Editors at the station share clips stored on a Grass Valley K2 media server-based HD storage area network (SAN) with 5TB, which serves as the central point for all news content. Four channels of K2 client servers ingest and store satellite and other feeds for editing and storage on the K2 SAN. The Final Cut Pro editors also share the SAN, via K2 FCP Connect software. Finished stories are then transferred to a four-channel stand-alone K2 client, with local storage, for play-to-air under Aurora Playout and Avid iNEWS control. An additional four channels on the K2 SAN clients serve as backup to the play-to-air stand-alone K2 clients. After they have aired, finished segments are transferred to DVD for archiving.

Next to the production studio is a new HD control room, complete with a Ross Video Vision production switcher and four 50in Sony flat-screen monitors running Miranda KaleidoX multiviewer software. Avid Deko SD graphics systems brought over from the old facility are used here, with graphic elements upconverted to widescreen HD before going to air. A Wheatstone D10 digital audio console is also used for stereo audio to accompany most locally produced content, while true surround sound (5.1) is passed through during broadcasts of NBC network HD programming. Large windows in the control room look out onto the set, providing line of site for the control room staff and an additional set background for the studio.

The entire facility is a production set

The facility also includes 13 broadcast service panels (BSP) with fiber-optic, video, audio and data connections. They are fully integrated into the control room and allow reporters to plug in and go live on camera from almost anywhere in the building. It provides the staff the ability to present news in new and creative ways, as opposed to the old facility, which limited them to a single studio and a constant on-air look.

For example, the station's morning and evening cooking segments are shot in the staff kitchen. Both of the lobbies in the building are used for interview segments. There's even a BSP on the roof for weather and any type of outdoor shots. News production often takes advantage of the landscaped grounds to produce outdoor cooking and other outdoor segments for the 11 a.m. news.

The facility is brand-agnostic, meaning there are no fixed NBC logos on the set or in the facility. All logos are generated from the control room and fed to facility and set monitors, allowing NBC Connecticut to customize the look of its broadcast or provide customized content to other O&Os and outside clients.

Connecticut's digital media center

The staff and station management refers to its new building as Connecticut's digital media center because it was designed to be a content provider for not only TV but for the station's Internet site, digital channels and the mobile devices it plans to broadcast to in the near future.

The new facility was nearly two years in the making. NBC Connecticut broke ground on Oct. 29, 2007, and moved into the new space in July 2009. This multiphase process gave the station time to choose the most flexible HD technology and build a facility that reflects the changing television business. This building is not just a broadcast facility; it's a multiuse facility.

Overseeing a facility that now produces more than 40 hours of local news per week, Barbaria and his engineering team have achieved their goals of a truly integrated workflow environment.

“It was almost magical to stare at a set of drawings one day, and then walk into the facility you envisioned months later,” he said. “The TV business is changing, and we wanted to build a facility that is flexible, that can serve us now and can change with the times.”

From all appearances, the team has deployed a unified setting that the staff enjoys, and the increased productivity it is now seeing is proof that the original “future-proof” concept is working — in more ways than one.

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

Design team

NBC Connecticut

David Doebler, president and general manager

Keith Barbaria, director of technology and engineering

Joe Dimaggio, engineer

Mark Chase, engineer

Ed Rankin, engineer

Karen Bradshaw, IT manager

KMH Audio-Video Integration

Kevin M. Henneman, president

Adam Semcken, lead design engineer

Technology at work

Apple Final Cut Pro workstations

Deko CG
iNEWS newsroom computer system

BitCentral Oasis servers

Grass Valley
Aurora playout software
EDIUS editing workstations

Densité signal processing modules
KaleidoX multiviewer software

NVISION 3Gb/s HD routing switcher

Panasonic AG-170 P2 camcorders

Ross Video Vision 3M/E HD video production switcher

50in flat-screen LCD monitors
HDC-1400 studio cameras

Wheatstone D10 digital audio console