A $3.1 million, 14,000-square-foot media center allows students at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., to get hands-on experience producing content for television, FM radio, the Web, social media, newspaper and magazine. This state-of-the-art operation could serve as a model for broadcasters looking to integrate media. Shown above is Control Room A. (Photo: Erik Utter Associates)
Memorial Day weekend is usually an exciting time for students wrapping up their spring semesters and heading out for summer vacation, but this year’s holiday weekend was particularly stirring for media-savvy students at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.
That’s because Friday, May 22, marked the inauguration of TV production at a new 14,000-square-foot media center located on the fourth floor of the also new Student Experience Center near the university’s student union.
The modern, multifaceted media center is a largely open, collaborative environment where students will get hands-on experience producing content for television, FM radio, the Web, social media, newspaper and magazines that could serve as a model for broadcasters looking to integrate media in a collegial environment.
The inaugural production, a 25-minute live preview of one of the musical groups scheduled to perform at this weekend’s Oregon State Battle of the Bands, was a test-drive before the $3.1 million facility shifts into high gear for the fall semester.
“It was an opportunity to pull the Ferrari out of the garage and take it for a spin around the block,” says Bill Gross, assistant director of the Orange Media Network, which operates all the university’s media.
“We wanted our seniors to put their signature touch on the facility so they could claim they did the first live show out of the new facility.”
The new facility replaces a surplus dormitory purchased from student housing in the 1970s for media operations. “Essentially, it was a rabbit’s warren of small rooms,” says Michael Henthorne, executive director of Memorial Union and Educational Activities at the university.
“We are shifting from what traditionally has been an individualized organizational structure for each product to now being more of a single news organization with multiple means of reaching its clientele,” he says.
The facility consists of two studios and two control rooms as well as a common newsroom where student journalists working on stories for their newscast can collaborate with their colleagues working on content for KBVR-FM, the student newspaper, quarterly magazine, website and social media.
The retooled KBVR-TV, which has been on a bit of a hiatus from its regular program schedule while relocating to the new digs, will begin producing a live newscast five nights a week as part of its 24/7 program lineup on a community Public, Educational and Government Access Channel provided by Comcast, says Gross.
Besides news, KBVR-TV airs public affairs, variety and music shows, educational programming and sports. The station also simulcasts online as a live Internet stream.
The facility was designed to make it easy to reconfigure and share production equipment, says Erik Utter, director of engineering and president of Erik Utter Associates, the Seattle-based video engineering and consulting firm responsible for its planning.
For instance, the six Grass Valley LDX HD studio cameras — one of which is on a crane — can be moved between studios or broken down and transported for live productions from around the campus, he says.
Similarly, the three M/E busses of the Ross Video Acuity production switcher can be shared between the new facility’s two production control rooms, each of which is equipped with an Acuity control surface. Grass Valley Kaleido multiviewers also can be shared and reconfigured on the fly to display every video source in the facility as needed, Utter says.
Another example of the facility’s flexibility is the Wheatstone WheatNet audio-over-IP network. “They are completely reconfiguring their resources depending upon whether the production is a newscast, a music production or a production in concert with the FM station,” Utter says.
“They are reconfiguring that on a production-by-production basis, so the audio-over-IP was absolutely critical to having that ability.”
Rounding out the lineup of news production technology in the control rooms are a Wheatstone Dimension Three audio console and Ross Video Xpression graphics and titling.
HD-SDI video is routed to the control rooms and throughout the facility via an 80-by-80 Grass Valley NVision routing switcher. Eight PTZ remote-controlled cameras provide live shots from the newsroom, rooftop, radio studios and elsewhere around the facility. Master control playout is handled by a Tightrope Media Systems server and a Ross Video MC1 master control system. Live video streams are encoded on Elemental servers.
A large, open area on the fourth floor takes the place of separate newsrooms for each medium. The common work area, dubbed “the bullpen” by students, offers a large media lab for video editing on Apple Final Cut Pro; lounge seating for spontaneous editorial meetings; and 30 Ross Video Inception newsroom computer system seats for assignment editors, reporters and producers.
Newscasts are to be run out of the control rooms under MOS control from Inception, and reporters in the field have access to the newsroom system on their laptops and mobile devices via a virtual private network, Utter says.
Inception was a good fit for the facility because it was conceived as a single software application supporting social media, online, TV, radio and print, not simply as a TV news system with Web and print modules bolted on, he says.
“It has very simplified publishing tools to publish to TV, print, Facebook, the Web or whatever.”
Inception is tied into a new Oregon State EditShare media asset management system, which is used not only by the Orange Media Network but also the athletic department and campus media services, says Gross. For KBVR-TV, the MAM provides eight channels of studio playout and recording.
For ENG, students will shoot stories with eight new Sony NX-5 HD camcorders as well as with eight existing Canon EOS Rebel DSLR cameras, Gross says.
Ross Video’s Inception Social Media Management will tie social media into newscasts and other programs by enabling live Facebook and Twitter polling to generate Xpression graphics.
Support for social media was a must-have requirement for the paid student managers of Orange Media Network who had a major hand in designing the new facility, Utter says.
Unlike many other university media operations, funding for the Oregon State media facility as well as the $42 million Student Experience Center comes from student activity fees. In 2010, a student referendum to fund the project passed by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, according to Henthorne.
While the annual turnover of student managers during the three-year design phase was a bit of a challenge, Utter says any drawbacks were more than offset by the fresh perspective and effort students brought to the process.
That’s not surprising because not only do they have skin in the game, but many also are motivated to produce media with tools that will make them more marketable after graduation.
“Students want a place to hone their skills, to collaborate and leave the institution with state-of-the-art experience,” Henthorne says.