By Daisy Whitney
In late July, NBC Universal-owned WVIT-TV in Hartford, Conn., flipped the switch on its new state-of-the-art, high-definition broadcast facility, which is not only “green” and tapeless, but also largely employee-designed.
WVIT, one of eight NBCU-owned stations to have been upgraded to HD so far, represents a case study for other broadcasters looking to transition to a hi-def, environmentally friendly broadcast news operation.
Ditching tape brings both efficiency and improved quality, said Keith Barbaria, WVIT’s director of technology and engineering.
The station, which serves the 30th-ranked Hartford-New Haven DMA, now relies on Panasonic’s P2 HD solid state cameras that capture video digitally on memory cards, and they have earned rave reviews from the station’s photographers, Barbaria said.
The material is edited in the field in most cases, using Grass Valley Edius equipment, then completed stories are sent back to the newsroom from laptops using a BitCentral wireless transmission system. They land on BitCentral’s Oasis server and can then be pulled into the station’s new Grass Valley K2 Media Server storage area network for airing.
The BitCentral Oasis server also operates as a hub, letting the station feed stories to other BitCentral-outfitted NBC affiliates and owned stations, Barbaria said.
“The digital workflow from field to on-air ensures top-quality video. It is also a much more efficient workflow once you remove videotape from the plan,” he said. “When you work with videotape you have to reload into multiple platforms. In a server environment you just click and drag, so it’s much faster,” he said.
The quality is better too, said Barbaria, since digital quality remains the same no matter how many times material is transferred or dubbed.
“It’s great quality from start to finish. The facility’s state-of-the-art tools and resources allow the station to present the news in different ways, with the flexibility to change and grow with the business,” Barbaria said.
WVIT pumps out 30 hours of news each week for outlets, including the traditional newscasts on its primary HD channel 30.1 and a 24-hour weather channel on subchannel 30.2, plus content for its Web site, Nbcconnecticut.com, and mobile content.
From a business standpoint, the HD facility gives the station a marketplace advantage, said David Doebler, president and general manager of the station. Many advertisers, especially retailers, are eager to showcase their wares in hi-def.
“We wanted to transition from analog broadcast to full-service digital media and it made sense to invest in a new facility and new technology,” Doebler said, adding that employee input was vital for the change.
“We had our directors and producers design our new control room,” he said. “We had the employees tell us what would be the ultimate assignment desk. We really got the people in each area to weigh in on what would be best.”
As an example, he said, the assignment editors wanted to be able to get a quick birds’ eye view of the entire newsroom. As a result, an assignment desk raised on a two-foot-high platform was designed.
As with the new tech tools, the new design also streamlines workflow, explained Barbaria. “The assignment desk is in front of master control, so when it’s time to ingest feeds, they aren’t calling another room. They just turn and look in there. The studio is also open to the newsroom, and all the workplaces have glass doors so you can see everyone.”
That helped the news staff move faster this summer when Connecticut was hit with some unusual tornadoes, said Mike St. Peter, VP of news. “In our old situation, everyone was behind walls and everything was closed. In this open environment we got on air instantly and people could look across the room and see what’s going on. We were able to produce and get material on the Web site instantaneously. Basically, the new facility allowed a greater response to breaking news,” he said.
The design strategy also made virtually every space a possible shooting location. Cooking segments, for instance, are shot in the employee cafeteria. In total, there are 13 locations in the facility that are wired for full shows, if need be.
The new newsroom, which was built adjacent to the old facility, was constructed with a green focus. It includes a white roof to reflect sunlight, waterless urinals and compact fluorescent bulbs, which require less energy. In the studios, about half of the bulbs are fluorescent, lessening the demand on air conditioning.
“When you make green choices, it’s an investment in the environment and in the community, and it also can make smart business sense by saving on water and energy,” said Doebler.