Pittsburgh Steelers Media Studio Emphasizes Comms With KMH-Integrated System
With crew members working remotely, hybrid IP/analog intercom keeps everyone connected
In recent years, sports teams and leagues have been building up their media departments in response to steadily rising demand for sports-related content. More recently, they’ve accelerated these efforts as the pandemic has kept locked-down consumers glued to television and smartphone screens.
And increased complexity of media operations combined with how the pandemic has forced staffers to work remotely has put increased emphasis on one critical aspect of media work: communications among everyone involved in the workflow.
Leagues like the NFL and NBA have fielded advanced media operations to help them connect with a younger demographic and allow them to establish their own narratives. Teams and even individual athletes create their own media channels to build brands and all that comes with that, including retail sales and endorsements.
These media efforts also help these entities stay engaged with fans between seasons. Documentary Hard Knocks, created by NFL Films and HBO, is an example of media storytelling to build up fan enthusiasm in the offseason. On the player side, efforts range from the multiyear development pact between Golden State Warriors Steph Curry’s production company and Sony Pictures Entertainment to high school football players turned TikTok stars.
In the Studios
Not surprisingly, the studios and other infrastructure behind these media initiatives are themselves increasingly sophisticated. NFL Films is legendary for its facilities in Mt. Laurel, NJ, where the sprawling 4,500-sq.-ft. Stage 1 underwent a major renovation two years ago. Others, like the Minnesota Vikings Entertainment Network (VEN) TCO Studios at the team’s practice facility, are brand new. The NFL Pittsburgh Steelers radically revamped their own media facilities, a conversion that took them from an open-floor layout to an even more sophisticated studio-based facility.
Comms was a major focus of the renovation, with an intercom designed and installed by KMH Integration.
“All of the teams we work with have more requirements for traditional remotes,” explains Kevin Henneman, owner, KMH, a Brooklyn- and Hauppauge, LI-based integrator that has also done media facilities for the New York Giants, the New York Red Bulls, Nassau Coliseum, and Barclays Center. “But they’re also looking to be able to pull in more and more content with the people generating it from a wider range of places and distances, and they need to do it in an easy and reliable way. That’s what’s driving the need for more ways to do comms. Comms have become the main challenge for audio.”
Henneman says that, although the pandemic has accelerated the need for a broader reach for intercom systems, development of IP-based technology for audio has serendipitously advanced to meet the challenge.
IP Helps Meet the Challenge
“The proliferation of support in intercom systems for Dante and AES67 came along at the right time,” he says. “But not every facility is ready to just go all-AoIP at once.”
For that reason, he said, for the Steelers’ facility, he chose RTS’s ODIN comms system, a hybrid that can manage analog 2- and 4-wire connections as well as IP-based connections that extend to allowing the use of personal smartphones loaded with an appropriate app as intercom endpoints.
“Everyone in multiple locations is able to connect to the intercom matrix in the studio,” he explains. “It can turn what would have been a teleconference into a remote production.”
Henneman adds that, although the pandemic has put a new emphasis on intercoms for team and league media operations, the shift to digital-hybrid capability was under way before the pandemic hit. “Previously, the team used a two-channel partyline intercom, which is all they thought they needed,” he explains. “But, once they learned how powerful a digital matrix can be, how it could do things that they knew were possible but hadn’t considered for their operation, they were sold.”
To maximize flexibility of its ODIN system, Steelers Digital Studio deploys two KP-5032 keypanels and three BP-325 beltpacks. Mix-minus out of the console via ODIN allows talent to hear the program feed, which is ducked automatically when the director wants to talk to the talent. Two TIF-2000A digital hybrid interfaces enable addition of outside phone calls to the workflow, allowing seamless coordination with the stadium; the training facility in Latrobe, PA; and anywhere else.
The intercom upgrade was part of a larger strategic plan for the team’s media operations, which will also include extending IP-based communications infrastructure out to other current and future production locations in the complex. The need for it arose from what Henneman says was a typical case of an end user’s broader requirements outgrowing their current systems and workflows.
“Like many organizations, the Steelers started their digital efforts in social media, connecting with their fans,” he explains. “But they realized that the time had come to expand their digital-content capabilities. They had a large studio space but no control room, so they literally could not do radio and TV at the same time. It was a pretty major redesign.”
Working with strategic partner Acoustic Distinctions, KMH Integration created a production complex with a control room and three acoustically treated studio spaces, with actual systems integration done by local integration firm Texolve Digital.
“Intercoms were a big part of this project because, during COVID, the need for reliable communications has never been greater,” says Henneman. “More remote production will take place even after the pandemic is over, and so will the need for flexible intercom solutions.”