SVG IP Production Forum: An Inside Look at NBC Sports’ Stamford Broadcast Center
The facility continues to evolve from baseband to IP routing
At SVG’s second-annual IP Production Forum on Wednesday, more than 250 attendees visited NBC Sports Group’s Stamford, CT, state-of-the-art broadcast center. In addition to a full overview and tour of the facility, the standing-room-only crowd was privy to a preview of the upcoming launch of The Olympic Channel and NBC Olympics’ plans for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in a full day of sessions focused on rapidly evolving IP production technology and workflows.
The IP Production Forum festivities were hosted by NBC Sports Group/NBC Olympics SVP/CTO Dave Mazza and his team. The event was made possible by Title Sponsor Snell Advanced Media (SAM); Diamond Sponsors Sony and TVU Networks; Gold Sponsors ChyronHego, Clear-Com, Evertz, EVS, Grass Valley, Ross Video, and Teradek; and Event Sponsors Dale Pro Audio, TechniCom, and Vizrt.
A Packed Program: The Olympic Channel, Stamford, the State of IP Production, and a PyeongChang Preview
After an opening keynote by Gary Zenkel, president, NBC Olympics and Business, Mazza and NBC Sports Group VP, Engineering, Tim Canary provided an overview of the broadcast center’s launch in 2013 and an update on how the state-of-the-art facility has evolved since then.
Following the facility tour, the afternoon featured sessions that provided an update on the current state of IP standards — “AIMS, ASPEN, NDI, NMI and the Move to IP: An Update” — as well as a pair of companion sessions focused on changes to at-home and remote production, respectively.
The day concluded with an in-depth preview — led by Mazza, VP of Venue Engineering Chip Adams, and VP of IBC Engineering Terry Adams — of NBC Olympics’ plans for the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which begin on Feb. 9.
An Overview of the Peacock’s Sports Broadcast Center
The effort that produced the NBC Sports Group broadcast center began in summer 2011, when NBC Broadcasting & Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus — who had been appointed to head NBC Sports following Comcast’s acquisition of NBCU earlier that year — gave the go-ahead to Mazza and his team to conduct a feasibility study on the potential of building a broadcast center in Stamford. The conceptual design was laid out soon after, and the project was approved in September 2011. Just 15 months later, NBC Sports opened the first control room, and the official ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in July 2013.
“It was a very fast-tracked project,” Mazza recounted. “With real estate being so much cheaper [in Stamford vs. in New York City], which is obviously one of the primary factors why we came up here. When Lazarus and [NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke] saw the plans they thought it would be important to get everybody under one roof. This took us from the original concept of about 300 people to now almost 800. When this started, it was not intended to be an [all-inclusive] move. The Olympic office and the Versus channel, which were both already up here, were just going to combine forces — with maybe 300 people. But now that we are all together it has really helped all the various groups collaborate.”
The RFP was awarded in January, and, in March, the integration was awarded to DSI in New Jersey under the Sony banner. Although most of the NBC Sports team headed off to London in April for the 2012 Summer Olympics, work on the facility continued in Stamford. Most of the big-ticket equipment — switchers, audio consoles, routers, cameras — went first to London, was used there, and then was rushed back and put in place in Stamford.
Previously a Clairol shampoo-manufacturing factory, the building provides NBC with 160,000 sq. ft. on the main level and 40,000 sq. ft. on the mezzanine level. In addition, NBC has 80,000 sq. feet of undeveloped space currently being evaluated.
Among the highlights of the massive facility are six studios (plus an empty studio and room for another yet-to-be-built studio), seven control rooms, 50 Avid edit rooms, three Avid Pro Tools audio-editing rooms, 50 graphics workstations, a sprawling transmission area, one of the most sophisticated MAM and storage infrastructures in the industry (with technology from Avid, EVS, Harmonic, Spectra Logic, and others), and thousands of feet of office space for the NBC Sports, NBC Olympics, and NBC Sports Digital teams.
CLICK HERE for a more in-depth look at the NBC Sports Group Broadcast Center as part of SVG’s in-depth “Stamford Spotlight” focused on the Peacock’s at-home–production effort for Rio 2016.
NBC’s Move to IP Begins With the Router
Although the facility is something to behold on its own, the draw for this year’s IP Production Forum was the NBC Sports’ decision to install an IP router last year and its continuing transition from baseband to IP.
“Through that process of IP routing, it was a large effort to get to the point that we wanted to, and it wasn’t without the cooperation of vendors,” said Canary. “Also, seeing some of the things that ESPN had done pushing the industry forward helped us in our position, so we thank them for that.”
The facility’s original core router was an 1,152×1,152 baseband router (along with several ancillary routers in the system), and, as Rio 2016 approached, it became apparent that the router would need more capacity.
“We had to expand, primarily for the Rio Games, because we were out of space,” said Canary. “We looked at options, and we could have expanded to 1,152×2,304, but going beyond that — 2,304×2,304 — would require more frames. We started to say, is this smart? Is this the right thing to do? It would have been easier to do and would have worked, but we didn’t know if that was the right decision for the future.
“So,” he continued, “we looked at the legacy routing technology to get to 2,304 and then to double that to get to 2,304 squared, and it would have been eight frames [of expansion]. We said … let’s look at IP routing, and the more we looked at it, it just made more and more sense. With IP, in a single frame, you can get uncompressed HD 13,824 squared. Our needs for routing were skyrocketing as we grew at a very rapid pace, especially around Olympics and other major projects. So, with that, we went to IP routing.”