WMTV went live from a new 32,000-square-foot facility in Madison, Wis., with its entire operation in late October 2016. The new home of the Gray Television-owned NBC affiliate was designed “from the inside out” from a technical point of view, according to WMTV VP-GM Don Vesely, with an eye toward maximizing the efficiency of the various workflows that drive news and its other operations. Above, the 4,500-square-foot newsroom just outside the centralized rack room. (WMTV/Gray Television photo)
On any given day, the 72,000 motorists traversing the Beltline Highway on the southwest side of Madison, Wis. (DMA 80), can peer in on WMTV’s new 32,000-square-foot home through its floor-to-ceiling newsroom windows.
But what those motorists can’t see is what makes the facility so special: an entire station workflow planned from the get-go to maximize efficiency.
“Gray started the design of this building from the inside out from a technical perspective,” says Don Vesely, VP-GM of the Gray Television-owned NBC affiliate. “They focused on how systems were going to interact and built the station around that.”
From a functional point-of-view, that meant centrally locating the station’s rack room ringed by critical operational areas like the newsroom, the media control center and studios.
“We tried to make it so there was only one wall between it and each part of the building,” says Kris Swearingen, Gray director of engineering, and a member of the station group’s team that headed up the WMTV facility build.
“We laid the building out in a way that kept the workflow in mind,” he says. “There is no walking from one end to the other to get to any department.”
Gray, which declined to reveal the cost of the project, began thinking about a new building for WMTV in May 2015.
Once it committed to build, Gray set a goal of being fully operational from the new structure in time for election night in November 2016.
WMTV had resided in its original 16,000-square-foot-building since first going on air in 1953. At the time, the station was located on the outskirts of Madison along with its co-located transmitter and tower. But in the intervening years, it was swallowed up by the city as it expanded, says Tom Weeden, station chief engineer.
The new structure is on the same lot — at its closest only 20 feet away from the old building — and shares the same street address as the station’s previous home.
Many companies had a hand in the design and construction of the new building, including: architect — Partners By Design of Chicago; interior design — Hendrick of Atlanta; civil — Ayers of Madison; mechanical/electrical/plumbing/fire protection — ESD of Chicago; structural — Swift Engineering of Chicago; lighting — Schuler Shook of Chicago; acoustics — Kirkegaard of Chicago; project manager — Huffman Facility Development of Madison; and general contracting — Findorff of Madison.
At the core of the building in the rack room resides a router with a 288-by-288 video frame. About 175 inputs and outputs are populated at the moment, Swearingen says.
A 250 kW UPS supplies power for the tech infrastructure. Two feeds go to the rack room. Each has dual power to provide for a backup. Overall, the facility, including air conditioning, is powered by a 650 kW generator, he adds.
A special hot aisle containment system for equipment racks directs air conditioning between the racks to pull heat out while ensuring the ambient temperature of the overall room is comfortable and engineers don’t “freeze when they go inside,” Swearingen says.
The station routes baseband SDI video with embedded audio throughout the new facility for production. Gray’s media and technology team didn’t consider an IP backbone for core video, audio and metadata routing during the design phase, says Swearingen.
“We were waiting on an industry standard to get set,” he says. “When we were putting this together, we wanted to stay with what we knew worked.”
However, video is transported via IP for monitoring in the newsroom and offices throughout the building, Weeden says.
Gray designed its own IT network for WMTV, keeping broadcast and business IP traffic separate to the greatest degree possible, says Lisa Gull, VP of broadcast technology, who worked on the team with Swearingen.
“[T]he overall goal [was] to segregate the broadcast and business traffic, reduce the convergence time to minimize impact on latency-sensitive applications and provide redundant paths between all switches to reduce single points of failure,” she says.
The design of WMTV’s 4,500-square-foot newsroom outside the centralized rack room focused on providing an “extremely spacious and extremely open” area where journalists can collaborate on stories, says Russ Bruhn, station news director.
Multimedia journalists, news producers and others sit at workstations in the newsroom with a minimum of two monitors, a headset and a KVM [keyboard, video and mouse] system that gives them access to any video, audio or graphical content needed to build their stories for digital or broadcast, says Gull.
Historically, station engineers have relied on KVMs to access multiple systems throughout a facility, she notes. But at WMTV, a strategic decision was made to rely on the KVM technology to improve the efficiency of journalists, producers and others — not simply engineers.
“That’s a positive change we made with the new station at WMTV, and certainly we are incorporating that in our other stations,” she says.
An assignment editor, located on an elevated platform in the newsroom to oversee the work of reporters, is joined by a digital content director whose job it is to “gather and parse” all incoming information “immediately to our digital platforms,” Gull says.
MMJs and others in the newsroom rely on a Gray-developed platform to post video content they create quickly to the web, Bruhn says.
The platform allows journalists, using the KVM system, to route live sources to live streams for digital distribution from their desks, rather than having to go to the media control center as they did at the old WMTV building, he adds.
“The most important thing we could do is help them with speed of acquisition to distribution — whether that’s web, mobile, digital or our broadcasts,” adds Gull.
To boost speed to digital or air further, the new facility has two ingest points located in the photographers’ equipment room that’s just 20 paces from the entrance to the station.
Video content can be ingested there while photographers store their gear, says Bruhn.
On big news nights, three dedicated editing bays in the newsroom can be used to supplement those ingest stations, he adds.
Ingested video is immediately available to multiple people in the newsroom to begin editing and speed up news creation, Bruhn says.
Inside the main 3,600-square-foot news studio, the station relies on a hybrid set, which is “more hard than virtual,” says Vesely.
With an attractive new building, Vesely says the station anticipated a lot of visitors, and it didn’t want people coming into an environment that was all green screen. “We are showing them behind the curtain of the Wizard of Oz,” he says. “We feel like having a hard set gives us a little more to show.”
Six cameras under robotic control are used to shoot WMTV newscasts.
The set includes a six-by-six flat screen monitor wall behind the main anchor desk and a one-by-three portrait-oriented video wall to one side of the desk.
A separate news set, which next week will debut a three-by-three monitor wall, is located on the other side of the desk in the studio. It is used for a 9 p.m. newscast on WMTV’s CW-affiliated subchannel.
The new building has a second 45-by-45-foot studio, currently occupied by the WMTV creative services department. In the future, the studio could be used, for example, as the home of newscasts from a newly acquired station, Vesely says.
Like other Gray stations, WMTV combines what typically are separate production control room and master control room functions into a single media control center.
At WMTV, the console where a director sits during a newscast is shaped like the capital letter H “with the center part curved, says Swearingen.
Everything that is needed to do a newscast is within easy reach, he says. WMTV newscasts are MOS-driven and production control automation is used to make it possible for a single director to run the show and perform master control duties at the same time, he says.
On the other side of the H-shaped console sits the news producer, who can get to any content that’s needed, he adds.
Gray declined to identify the technology vendors and specific equipment models deployed at WMTV. “We can plug any vendor into our workflow. We do not build our workflow around any one vendor,” Swearingen says.
Regardless of this reticence, the technology and the workflow it powers at WMTV are critical aspects of the new station facility and likely will serve as a guide for future Gray deployments.
“Certainly, the building and the size of the building isn’t the most important part of the model,” says Gull. “What’s most important, we feel, is the workflow inside that could be a model for the rest of our Gray stations.”