From Convention Center to Broadcast Center in Three Months or Less

For more than a month surrounding the Winter Olympic Games, 1,500 NBC professionals set up shop inside NBC’s Broadcast Operations Center (BOC) on the ground level of the International Broadcast Center in Vancouver. Terry Adams, VP of IBC Engineering for NBC Olympics, has the tough task of turning what a few months ago was an empty convention center into a functioning broadcast facility. Although the scale of the Winter Games is half that of the summer editions, that does not mean that Adams’s job this winter has been half as hard.

“We’re right over the border, we kind of speak the same language, and you think it’s going to be like doing it in the States. But it’s not,” Adams points out. “There are different laws, governments, customs, organizing-committee issues — it’s always different. And while we have lots of institutional knowledge, a lot of times they have none, so there are always challenges, and more than I thought this time around.”

Starting From Scratch
To transform an empty convention hall into a broadcast facility, Adams starts with the blueprints and lays in NBC’s plans for locations of studios, edit rooms, and offices. The host broadcaster, Olympic Broadcast Services, handled construction of internal walls beginning in September, and, by mid October, Adams’s team began moving in the technical infrastructure for the BOC.

“We put all of our transportable infrastructure in by mid October,” Adams says, “and on Nov. 1, the integration team came and started hooking it all up.”

This time around, there was less to hook up, as NBC decided to build out just one big control room, instead of multiple controls. The scheduling of events at the Vancouver Games gives NBC enough downtime between the afternoon and primetime shows that only one control room was necessary inside the BOC.

“Although we don’t have a separate control room, we have a linear-edit room that we’ve built up enough to be a control one-and-a-half,” Adams explains. “It’s not a real control room, but if, for some reason, the afternoon show is going to run really long and run into the primetime guys, we could offload that to the edit-room system, take it off the air, and free up the other control room.”

The main control room is centered on a Sony MVS8000G switcher, while the linear-edit room and the venues have an MVS6000, “the baby version of the big one,” Adams says. There are no CRT monitor walls anywhere in the facility but Miranda Kaleido-X multiviewers instead.

“Besides freeing up all the space that glass monitors take up, multiviewers give you another layer of control,” Adams points out, since producers and directors can place things where they want to find them on the wall.

A World Based on EVS
On the studio side, EVS is the basis for the entire ingest and replay system.

“We rely on EVS for something called IP Edit, which is very effective for cutting segments,” Adams says. “It’s a little harder to do for art-and-craft purposes — that gets done by the artists — but, for just getting segments to come to prime, it’s very effective.”

All the EVS servers are networked together, and the same codec is run on both the EVS and Avid systems, so files can be exchanged between the two.

“When the craft guys finish an Avid piece, they can push it to the playout server and hit play,” Adams says. “Likewise, we can ingest XDCAM directly into an Avid, so the ENG shooters can go out and shoot on XDCAM, it comes back and gets ingested into the Avid, and we’re off to the races.”

In total, 30 EVS servers and 60 IP Director systems are housed in NBC’s BOC operation. Some of the equipment comes directly from partnerships with manufacturers like EVS and Sony, but NBC also has a rental agreement with Bexel.

On a Different Scale
With so many components working on such a large scale, Adams’s team has to expect the unexpected every day.

“With every manufacturer from routing systems to EVS to Avid, it’s impossible to totally model the system before you get here,” Adams explains. “You can put together three or four servers and move files between them or have the routing switcher with 20 routing panels on it, and that’s all fine. But scale that up to 300 routing panels and 50 IP directors, and there’s no way to model it. You’re constantly fighting scaling problems.”

Another problem, which is a constant in the production business, is that the creative side is always looking to stretch its budget and equipment allotment past their limits.

“No matter what you had, they always ask for one more,” Adams says. “That’s good because it keeps it fresh and makes it not boring, but it causes sleeplessness sometimes, also.”

Building on the Past
Adams has five Games under his belt, so plenty of experience went into planning this year’s setup. The NBC Olympics team is also more seasoned than ever, bringing more institutional knowledge to the Vancouver fray than in past Games.

“Rather than start over every time, the installers and engineers and everybody learn something over five Games,” Adams says. “Being able to utilize all of this file-based XDCAM workflow is really huge for us, and the fact that we got it done on time is a big accomplishment. We really did manage to have most of the setup finished and integrated a lot faster than I would have thought.”