VTS 2010: Control-Room Technologies Shift to Tapeless

At SVG’s third-annual Venue Technology Summit Nov. 10, professionals from leagues, teams, broadcast networks, and technology companies involved with arena builds and renovations took the stage at New Meadowlands Stadium to discuss the latest trends in control-room technology. The challenges facing the industry range from balancing the needs of multiple clients — different sports teams, concerts, special events — to training staff in new tapeless workflows.

From Left: Mike Mitchell, Ken Swanton, Carlton Myers, and Chris DeVivo

A New-Media Hub in Pittsburgh
Chris DeVivo, director of media technology for the Pittsburgh Penguins, is enjoying the challenges and opportunities that come with construction of a new arena. Moving from Mellon Arena, which was built in 1948, to Consol Energy Center, which opened this year, he has built a tapeless-media hub for the Penguins.

“We really jumped heavily on file-based workflow for this facility,” he explained. “We came from an area where we were a bunch of little silos, with production in the building and offices across the street. Bringing everybody together has been the greatest thing in the world — and a big challenge.”

At Mellon Arena, the Penguins were at the mercy of television feeds for most of the main camera positions, so, in designing Consol Energy Center, DeVivo wanted to ensure that in-house production would be self-sufficient.

“We wanted to build this so that, if the whole truck dock got washed out in a flood, we would be able to put on a broadcast-quality show,” he said. “For camera positions in the building, we went low with everything. We affected some of our premium seating to get lower, wider, bigger positions. We even cut holes in our dashboards and put little Fletcher cameras in there.”

The control-room facility includes a Ross switcher, Evertz routing and multiviewers, a mix of Ikegami and Sony cameras, and Chyron graphics, among other elements.

Focus on Workflow
Diversified Systems served as integrator on the Consol Energy Center project, and, according to Diversified founder/President/CEO Fred D’Alessandro, the biggest change in sports-venue control rooms over the past few years has been an increasingly closer look at workflow.

“Ninety percent of the time that we’ve spent during the design phase has been focused on workflow,” he said. “We ask how you want to run your facility, how many different displays and aspect ratios you want. Control rooms are a combination of production and multichannel master control for mobile, LED, LCD, the Web, etc., so it’s important to focus on how each individual team works. You can’t take the cookie-cutter route that you could in the past.”

Further, D’Alessandro’s job no longer stops at integrating hardware. Systems integrators must now integrate software as well. “That hardware-to-software movement is really where the challenge is for the integrators,” he added.

Renovation in the Making
Mike Mitchell, chief engineer at MSG Network, is battling a similar challenge, but with a twist. Madison Square Garden is in the process of being renovated, but the changes are taking place while teams are still playing in the venue.

“The first step is relocating the production and postproduction part of the network across the street,” Mitchell explained. “We have begun transformation, construction, and installation on the bowl itself during operations. We will have a hard shutdown in the summer between events, but the transformations will mostly occur while we stay in business.”

Much like New Meadowlands Stadium, Madison Square Garden is home to two teams — New York Knicks and New York Rangers — as well as multiple other events and concerts, so the design team had to keep an open mind as they designed the renovations and the new control room.

“The differences between the sports themselves — basketball and hockey — mandated that we do things differently,” Mitchell said. “We are looking at ways to integrate colors into the facility so that it’s not the Knicks’ or the Rangers’ home. Everyone wants a stake in it, so we have to have an open design. We’re integrating all of the production elements from the teams, concert, and entertainment events that use the facility, and we’re feeling good about the design process.”

Getting the Buy-In
For new facilities especially, the jump to tapeless has been challenging.

“If one little workflow is not working, you see somebody running around with a USB drive,” DeVivo said. “Going truly tapeless has been a big jump. To get the buy-in has been constant work.”

That buy-in comes at two different levels, Mitchell says.

“Those who are responsible for production, the minute they understand that all of this content can be shared across all of these platforms, having those options drives the buy-in,” he explained. “For the folks that sit at devices, the buy-in has come in the fact that you’ve given them more tools. The way to get people to join you in making these changes is to provide information about the tool sets. Then you watch as they think of things you never envisioned the systems doing. You just have to give people the keys.”

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