SVGE/IMG Tour & Conference: Shield and MacGregor on Studios design, installation

Just a stone’s throw from Heathrow, IMG Studios’ new Stockley Park HQ is one of the largest and most dynamic broadcast production centres in Europe. An illuminating session at last week’s Sport Facility Tour & Conference saw IMG Media SVP Global Director of Engineering & Technology David Shield along with Bruce MacGregor, Director of Solutions with systems integrator TSL, take us in detail through design and delivery of a three-year transition project.

The story begins in 2011, when IMG decided it need to move from its then production base in Chiswick in west London and first engaged a professional team for the purpose. “This building is 170,000 square feet, said Shield, “which is roughly the area we were occupying across four buildings in Chiswick. So we’re not actually bigger, we’re about the same.

“The building is 20 years old, and was designed by Norman Foster. The ground floor ceiling height was about four metres – just about tall enough to put a studio in, but not ideal. We won’t be doing any dramas or sitcoms here for sure,” said Shield.

One attraction of the Stockley Park site to IMG was that it had three 30,000 square foot open floorplan areas, which were fitted out to office standard when first viewed. In 2012 the team started looking at a shortlist of buildings, and it was around half way through 2012 they entered serious negotiations to take a 15-year lease on the chosen building.

At the same time they engaged TSL as system integrator and Pringle Brandon as lead architect. “In January 2013 we started work on site. We achieved practical completion in June last year. There was a four-week delay on completion – which meant we did not move in en masse at the time.

“We actually delayed the move in relation to Premier League Productions (PLP) by a whole season – which we were lucky enough to be able to do. But it was felt to be quite an expensive option to run two sites for a year,” admitted Shield.

“In August of 2013 we saw the first productions moving in. The first live production was the Football League Show in February this year. And over summer 2014 we had a massive move of the whole PLP set-up along with a lot of kit,” he said.

The ground floor houses studios, the MCR and content handling. The first floor is mostly production groups, with staff placed around the open plan near the window and a data centre in the middle of the building along with audio dubbing and radio. On the top floor is a large restaurant, craft editing suites and more production spaces.

“Regarding technology, my mantra starting off was that we weren’t going to change anything from what we had been doing in Chiswick. We did have pretty much a tapeless workflow that was tried and tested with PLP – we wouldn’t change that, we were just going to pick it up and put it in a new building…

“But of course it’s never quite as simple as that! We made a few changes: dedicated live galleries for PLP was not always the case, that’s new. We centralised VTR into what we now call Media Services. We centralised all the edit CPUs into the Data Centre and we have an Amulet KVM for the high res that allows us access to the Avids [with a separate simpler Avocent KVM system].

“A new control system for us was the Atos BNCS, along with hybrid [Grass Valley] routers (these weren’t new to us but the whole building is now hybrid routers). And we have Lawo networked audio, which was also new to us,” said Shield.

“That amounts to about £10 million of new spend – and we shifted about £10 million of existing equipment from Chiswick.

“The MCR houses Miranda [Grass Valley] multiviewers and routing; Axon glue; Pebble Beach automation for the two channels (Premier League content service and another channel we make called Sport 24); and all the talkback is Riedel.

“We’re fairly well connected. Where we are has good connections and we’re on quite a lot of people’s fibre networks. Rackspace are our fibre suppliers — it’s quite an ‘IT’ part of the world around here. Regarding the satellite farm, we brought the big 5.6m from the roof of the Chiswick building, but all the other antennas are new,” he said.

“In studios of course it’s EVS throughout with Sony vision mixers, and for post production we have 22 craft suites and 26 pods with no ceilings and no doors. This was slightly controversial! And we have 20 desktops – literally two monitors on a desktop with KVM to an Avid or a Premiere. We’ve got two ISIS here (7000 and 5000) and an Avid Interplay. There are also three ProTools dubbing suites with the S5 control surfaces, with space for a fourth.

“We have quite a big graphics and FX department. The archive is based around an Ardome MAM system, and we have about 2 Petabytes of Huawei nearline and the deep archive is stored on LTO-5 Spectra Logic library,” said Shield.

Given the timeframe involved, “we didn’t actually get the chance to look at the possibility of an IP-based infrastructure — and that would have been part of my philosophy of ‘we’re not changing anything’ “ said Shield. “Now I’m sure one of Sky or BT will decide to do 4K; and not long afterwards our friends at the Premier League will say ‘we want to distribute 4K’.

“So how are we going to do a 4K gallery operation? IP might be the way to do that – because it isn’t going to work down the coax. You cannot build and be totally future-proof: I would say five years is about the most future-proof you could ever be these days,” Shield concluded.

Stockley Park systems integration: Step by step with TSL

“Thanks for the opportunity to be here this morning,” began TSL’s Bruce MacGregor. “It’s always nice to talk about a project we’re very, very proud of – and this building is certainly one of those. We’ve been building systems for 28 years, and a lot of customers come back to us. In fact IMG is one of those companies. We built their original Media House in Chiswick ten years ago.

“This is a large-scale installation, with four individual floors and four studio galleries, each of which is individually routable to the others. Nine live galleries, five transmission suites, an MCR lines area with over 200 HD lines coming in and out. Three radio studios. It takes a lot of organisation to manage such an installation.

“Of course first of all we won the tender,” MacGregor reflected. “At that point, we took all the information [we had gathered] and pushed it to one side and started again. Because it is only at the point that you are actually engaged and get to meet the stakeholders that you fully understand what the requirements are. We developed those relationships, and understood exactly what the workflows were going to be. We had to revisit the project plan and elaborate on the architecture.

“We went through a series of technology selections, generating a bill of materials and then moved on to procurement – which is a task in itself. There are over 50,000 items on the bill of materials here. It’s a significant logistical endeavour – and every single piece of equipment is pack tested, asset labelled and tracked through the process.

“We worked hand in hand with the fit-out contractors,” said MacGregor, “making sure we understood exactly what their build programme entailed. Once you’ve built it you have to fully test each item, going through a step by step iterative process – and each configuration of each individual subsystem takes as long as the build nowadays. The next stage is to hand it over, done in collaboration with the end-user.

“Key technology highlights? One thing we think worked particularly well was the facility-wide BNCS control system. This allows an easy interface for the users, integrating to IMG’s own scheduling system to allocate resources to areas. All the required facilities – monitors, audio routing, comms – will change at the push of a single button. That has worked very well.

“The other major thing was audio handling. The gallery router is a hybrid; the embedded audio is de-embedded within the frame and pushed down the TDM bus into the MADI router. That MADI router links into all the core subsystems. It’s Lawo’s largest audio network, I believe,” said MacGregor.

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