WOWT: The foundation for the Gray Model

The transition to a digital and HD workflow represents a cultural shift for the broadcaster. That shift can take many forms, from basic playout automation to full-fledged centralcasting. Regardless of the chosen path, the workflow transition forever alters the way stations and network facilities operate.

Gray Television has been on record talking about the Gray Model, its unique twist on workflow integration at the station level. The concept goes far deeper than the obvious transitional points: The company characterizes it as a full heart, lung and brain transplant as opposed to a simple strategic shift.

WOWT in Omaha, NE, is the blueprint for this redesign concept, and the first reference point for all Gray stations in transition. The station's deep pool of in-house resources was ideal for the initial project. It also had a well-oiled plant infrastructure that remained efficient but was ripe for an upgrade.

Workflow accommodation

Facility staff implemented the new model as opposed to working with an outside systems integrator, learning the equipment inside-out. That up-front knowledge became valuable for future troubleshooting purposes.

The initial stages focused on clearing space to accommodate the new workflow. The station design involves removing the traditional MCR and merging production, ingest, playout and other operations into a principal area called the Media Control Center.

Master control elimination is perhaps the boldest characteristic of Gray Television's new integration concept. Automation becomes the pulse of the entire ecosystem with master control's absence. Harris ADC automation acts as the force multiplier in the station group's model, merging business and technical operations from traffic and billing through to the transmission point.

The centralized operation removes the need to babysit machines in different spaces and promotes a scalable environment in which adding an automated ingest feed or playout channel is headache-free. The redesign plan essentially supports technical expansion through an open and flexible environment.

Flexibility in blueprint

It also provides plenty of wiggle room in the blueprint to accommodate subtle differences among stations.

Automated ingest is one glaring difference. WOWT records little syndicated content, which minimizes auto-ingest needs. The majority of the content records automatically, with technical media producers manually segmenting the feeds in ADC.

The entire process ties back to the elimination of master control. The absence of a master control switcher means that ADC is switching destinations on its house router. This transitions the true master control operation to ADC and a NEXIO AMP transmission server, which removes manual switching processes.

This change forces additional QC up front, however. The role of the traffic operator evolves from basic commercial copy assignments to media ingest. This means ingesting commercials, promos and other copy into ADC and analyzing video and audio levels. The media production department subsequently verifies that the material is present, in order and playing back as intended.

ADC automation also generates all as-run files, and imports the files into OSi-Traffic media software. The as-run files become the official station logs as bills are generated and distributed. (Sayonara, paper logs.)

The Nexio AMP server also ties to the newsroom workflow. Raw video is stored on a Facilis Technology TerraBlock SAN, edited on Grass Valley EDIUS machines, and transferred via fiber to NEXIO AMP for play-to-air.

In the core

The broadcast plant infrastructure continues to shrink, its compression almost analogous to the digital signal. This is most obvious in the rack room when studying the integration model.

The station has downsized to fewer than five racks, housing KVM switches; signal-processing equipment; and electronics for the router, Vizrt graphics, and other systems. The racks are deeper to accommodate more servers, but real estate requirements diminish as routers get smaller and file-based workflows take shape.

The engineering staff cleaned up facility power and ensured adequate cooling prior to building out the new racks. Multiple HVAC loops cool the room to ensure that the servers and computer equipment remain operable. The station plans to extend the rack room cooling concept to the computer-rich newsroom and studio areas.

The facility has transitioned to an all-embedded scenario, which makes signal processing fundamentally easier. Following the station group's model, it has replaced outdated satellite receivers, removing the need to populate rack space with multiple audio embedders and de-embedders. These have been replaced with satellite receivers that spit out embedded SDI signals, even if they take analog signals in. This minimizes lip sync issues and makes the overall signal processing much cleaner.

The station has added Harris X50 frame synchronizers and format converters, along with AJA FS1 synchronizers. The X50 offers significantly better technical capability, while the FS1 offers a quick learning curve. Both have their benefits in the station group's redesign model.

At press time, the station is testing audio legalizers from Harris, Linear Acoustic and TC Electronic to please viewers as well as the FCC. Videotek VTM4100 rasterizers handle test and measurement in the infrastructure.

Production and playout

ADC automation and the NEXIO AMP server also connect to a Ross Video OverDrive automated production control system. The Media Client server can cue breaking news clips for playout, and the OverDrive operator can take content to air once quality and duration is confirmed. Other production tools include a Vision switcher — part of the OverDrive system — a Yamaha DM1000 audio mixer, Sony EX3 cameras, and Cambotics robotic camera control systems.

The move to the automated production environment was perhaps the most challenging learning curve, especially in terms of audio. OverDrive rundowns require operators to code audio with video sources at each encoding step. For example, the microphone disappears if the operator fails to code the mic audio with a piece of video.

HView SX Hybrid multiviewers are used in production and traffic. Multiviewers are of increasing significance today: The monitor walls of yesteryear are disappearing as the number of bodies in the facility decreases. It is almost impossible for one or two operators to track everything along a wall of separate monitors.

The multiviewer allows one pair of eyes to monitor a single screen — big enough to accommodate every important element but compact enough to not overwhelm the operator. The multiviewer's ergonomic workflow provides a clear sightline into what is important, with a simple means of interpreting key information. The signals being monitored remain mostly static, with a strong focus on news and other play-to-air sources including camera, server and automation feeds.

The traffic multiviewer is helpful to media specialists for monitoring ingest and record feeds, while providing a second monitoring point for other operators.

Solid backbone

The backbone is central to everything in TV facility operations today, and the station's network topology reflects this reality.

The first goal was to ensure that the station's video network co-existed with the newsroom network. The industry has transitioned to an era where the same workstations are used to access the internet, and send and receive video.

The station has implemented dual networks on each workstation to separate the two processes for maximum protection without handcuffing the staff. Newsroom personnel have access to social media and video networking applications, for example, without requiring separate computers.

The station uses a Cisco Layer III backbone, but it is planning a migration to HP ProCurve, which is easier to configure and requires fewer service plans. The station has implemented ProCurve for asset sharing, as opposed to using islands of KVM switches. The result is a single network for sharing all available assets at multiple locations around the facility. Future plans include upgrading more switches and other network elements to facilitate faster media transfer.

And onto transmission

It would appear on paper that transmission is a separate animal from the type of station redesign described here. The truth is that transmission is the result of all the hard work to this point.

The station transmits four streams: two terrestrial and two mobile. It was among the first stations to launch ATSC Mobile DTV, using the Harris MPH system with integrated encoding, network adaption and amplification via the Apex M2X exciter. The system also includes Roundbox software for electronic program guides and other data services.

The station's workflow DNA remains relevant as the transmission process publishes content to TV sets and mobile devices. Automation and playlists drive the station content that moves over the air. Fewer conversions in the plant — an increasing trend as stations move away from baseband and toward all-IP — make the last mile easier, from stat-muxing through to transmission. Eventually, the transmitter will be the only baseband imprint in the entire chain.

The project has been an ideal proof of concept for the Gray Model as it rolls out to other stations in the station group. With plenty of technical challenges met and learned from, the WOWT team has laid a roadmap that the remaining stations can follow to the next level of broadcasting.

Jim Ocon is VP-technology, Vic Richards is director of promotion and media production, and Mike Fass is media production manager at WOWT, Gray Television.

In the new station design, automation replaces the traditional function of the MCR, and multiple station processes are handled from the station's Media Control Center, which features Harris ADC automation and an HView multiviewer, as well as Ross Video OverDrive control. Pictured: Mike Fass, media production manager at WOWT.

Project team


Vic Richards, director of promotion and media production

Mike Fass, media production manager

Rick Klutts, chief engineer

Amy Adams, news director

Dennis Wilden, executive producer

Mike Plews, chief photographer

WOWT/Gray Television: Charlie Effinger

Gray Television: Jim Ocon, VP-technology, Lisa Guill

Technology at work

AJA FS1 synchronizers

Autoscript teleprompter

Cambotics camera robotics

ENPS newsroom system

Facilis Technology TerraBlock SAN

Grass Valley EDIUS editor

Harris Broadcast

  • ADC-100 automation systems
  • Apex M2X exciter
  • AutoSat automation systems
  • HView Predator multiviewers
  • MPH Mobile DTV system
  • NEXIO AMP servers
  • Videotek VTM4100 rasterizers
  • X50 frame synchronizer/converters

Ross Video

  • CrossOver switcher
  • OverDrive automated production control system
  • Vision production switcher

Roundbox mobile broadcast software

Sony EX3 HD cameras

Utah Scientific

  • SC-4 control system
  • UTAH-100/X HD/SD video distribution amplifiers
  • UTAH-400/64 router switcher

Vizrt graphics

Yamaha DM1000 audio console