Rainbow Network Communications’ NY command center

Rainbow Network Communications (RNC), a subsidiary of Rainbow Media Holdings and Cablevision, provides technical services to networks including AMC, MuchMusic USA, FOX SportsNet, as well as other sports, news and entertainment channels. The development of the company’s new television facility in Bethpage, NY, was guided by many hours of planning and needs analysis.

The technical operations center (TOC) monitors all incoming, in-house and outgoing feeds. The station’s network operations center (NOC) can be seen through the window in the background.

The old origination operations were housed in confined and overextended spaces in a former telco central office building in Floral Park, NY. The chance to relocate the technical operation to Bethpage, near the Rainbow Media/Cablevision headquarters, presented an opportunity to create a new blueprint for the technical broadcast operation.

Communications Engineering (CEI) of Newington, VA, was selected to assist in the design, engineering and integration of the 46,000 square feet of technical space and 11,00 square feet of office space. The design team faced significant challenges regarding the base building considerations, as well as in the technical development of the facility. The Bethpage building received wholesale upgrades and environmental treatments to prepare for its central role as RNC’s broadcast command center.

CEI performed a comprehensive 24-hour acoustic analysis of the existing structure, which was used to develop appropriate design fixtures and techniques to greatly dampen sound and quiet the television operation spaces. The acoustic design utilizes a building shell within the outer building structure to isolate and absorb exterior noises from the internal technical operation areas, including the acoustic isolation of new utility systems for power and HVAC.

The majority of the programming the station takes in is ready to air, but customization and preparation is often needed. Pictured is one of the two main linear online editing rooms, utilizing a GVG Kalypso two-M/E production switcher and an Accom Axial 3000 online editing system.

The next challenge was to develop a technical blueprint that would take advantage of the latest technology and techniques to cover existing needs and anticipated future growth. More than 20 years of origination expansion had gradually progressed via a series of individual channel investments. In the new facility scenario, a shared infrastructure made great sense, but how were the individual channel technical requirements to be best served? Finding the right combination of shared vs. dedicated technical components emerged as the key design consideration. The design team aimed to configure and size the underlying infrastructure to achieve economies of scale, while also tailoring the rooms and spaces to meet the differing needs of each channel. Moving away from a “one room, one channel” orientation became necessary to produce efficiencies, even though the layout had worked successfully for past incremental channel expansion efforts.

Goals for the project included meeting each channel’s needs, improving the signal quality with the latest digital technology, establishing greater operational flexibility and providing redundant capability for plant systems and signal paths.

A unifying infrastructure

The new facility provides broadcast capabilities for RNC’s entire broadcast “assembly line,” which covers the gamut from signal ingestion, program editing, promos and interstitial creation, quality control, and live and recorded playback through automated multichannel master control and satellite uplink.

Pre-production areas are used for ingest of programming materials and the preparation of content for air. The pre-production area above is used to create individualized channel content, such as sports programming for FOX SportsNet.

The design team catalogued each channel’s unique requirements and categorized the key similarities and differences in order to design an overall facility approach. The infrastructure was developed to provide ample capability to each channel in the form of router matrices, audio and video I/O, physical space for operations, pre-production activities, and other parameters.

The RNC facility originates 16 individual program channels presently, with three types of programming: automated delivery of previously recorded programming, which includes long-play server-based programs; live television events such as sports programming; and interstitials and promos. These different operational processes led to alternative master control room designs.

The complexity of sports channel programming necessitated the flexible shifting of resources between live and recorded playback methods. Complicating the sports programming further are the geography-driven, program-specific split feed requirements and other important viewing rights issues that dictate specific origination instructions on a program-by-program basis.

Another consideration was HD capability. RNC originates HD programming on a nightly basis for FOX SportsNet New York. Among the integrated HD solutions in the facility is a Dolby AC-3 ready audio and HD-ready cable plant, along with patching systems that can distribute 1.5Gb high-definition video and Dolby E audio signals. The wideband routing systems are also capable of supporting 1.5Gb signals facilitywide.

Facility layout

It was determined that equipment and system solutions would be integrated within similar room layouts to the greatest extent possible to support the free movement of operations staff throughout the facility. A key facility design concept was the creation of flexible groupings of multichannel control rooms, called clusters.

The facility utilizes three clusters of four rooms each to meet the needs of the various sports, news and live programming channels. Whether the facility is originating live programming or static playback channels changes unpredictably, so each cluster is designed for quick shifting between four individual live channels, each with its own dedicated room and operator, and multichannel operation controlled by a reduced combination of rooms and operating staff. A different master control solution is used for the long-play programming channels.

Operators in the central pre-pro area review centrally developed interstitials, promotions and commercials for technical quality. These materials are used to supplement the individualized program content created by each channel.

Pre-production areas are used for the ingestion of programming materials and the preparation of content files for air. Each master control room in each of the clusters shares these large areas to prepare its individualized programming for eventual automated server playout. Centrally developed interstitials, promotions and commercials are reviewed for technical quality and ingested in the central pre-pro area for use by each of the master control rooms.

The telecommunications hub provides all of the fiber cabling interconnections in and out of the facility. The integrated communications lines include fiber and copper cable, microwave, and connections. The facility manages more than 16 uplinks and downlinks, as well as distribution services to the metro area cable systems. The technical operations center (TOC) manages all the telecommunications and satellite signals for the Bethpage operation. The TOC’s monitor wall and control solution includes 250 monitors and is equipped with automated, color-coded, under-monitor display systems. The TOC feeds represent all incoming, in-house and outgoing feeds. The video wall and area were designed to incorporate a wide array of audio/video and control alarms to automate the presentation of problem issues.

Operators manage the incoming sources, network feeds and confidence monitors for the facility. The network operations center (NOC) manages the distribution of prepared signals to the affiliate cable systems based upon viewing rights, program schedules and other specific programming details. The NOC also schedules and manages all transmission routing (fiber and satellite) for live backhaul acquisition.

While the majority of the programming arrives in Bethpage ready to air, there is still much customization and preparation to be accomplished on a tight schedule. Promotions, interstitials and longer programs are created and customized for various channels. A centralized editing server was designed around a GVG Profile with six I/O channels that provides digital disk recorder services to the other editing and graphics systems. The facility includes two linear online rooms utilizing a GVG Kalypso two-M/E production switcher, Zaxcom AES audio mixer, Accom Axial 3000 online editing system, Abekas DVE system and a Chyron iNFiNiT! CG system. Two Avid 9000 nonlinear editors are also used, as well as PC graphics tools like PhotoShop and After Effects. Future HD application tools will be provided for emerging HD content. The facility also provides a full complement of closed-captioning capability for live and recorded programming. A screening room is used to create dubs for distribution and five quality control/encoding rooms are used to evaluate, review and prepare program content.

The origination hub is sized for over 200 racks and is currently filled at 70 percent capacity. The facility uses six 256x256 GVG routing systems passing SDI signals and two AES audio channels (the equivalent to two stereo pairs) with uncomplicated upgrade to HD signals. Paired with the routing systems are audio/video test stations and HD-capable patching systems. Some analog video and audio routers are also integrated into the operation, as well as a compilation of VTRs and tape formats.

Looking forward

The facility is continually upgrading its capabilities and services. The flexible design of the facility provides control solutions, system resources and shared infrastructure that can deliver the traditional broadcast television channels, as well as newer interactive entertainment choices.

Steve Lewis is director of sales and marketing at CEI.

Design teamEquipment list Grass Valley Group routing systems Rainbow Network Communications Steve Pontillo, senior vice president and general manager Grass Valley Group M2100 master control switchers John Barbieri, vice president of engineering Grass Valley Group Profile XP servers Mike Malozzi, manager of video engineering system design Grass Valley Group Kalypso production switchers John McMahon, director of broadcast engineering Louth automation systems Communications Engineering (CEI) RTS Intercom communications systems John Wesley Nash, executive vice president and COO Tektronix test systems Jim Conley, vice president of engineering Chyron graphics and CG systems Jeff Steele, senior project engineer Sony monitors and VTRs Raef Alkhayat, project manager Panasonic VTRs Jeff Harland, vice president of integration services Genelec 1029 APM and 1030 APM speakers John Tarsia, systems integration manager Miranda Symphonie-PS redundant power supply Don Brassell, senior systems support manager Bittree patch cords Ruber Huertas, senior systems support engineer

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