West Works Studios Still Sounds Good
Comcast Media Center’s Denver video- and audio-production facility, rebranded earlier this year as West Works Studios, has relocated its Los Angeles-based anchor client Universal Sports Network and other sports clients in an increasingly complex audio-postproduction environment.
The 20,000-sq.-ft. facility, which houses 12 postproduction suites networked around an enterprise-level Avid Interplay system, provides studio production facilities and linear master-control origination and distribution services for national and regional sports networks, including NHL Network, iN DEMAND, and Pac-12 Networks, as well as Universal Sports Network, which focuses on Olympic- and endurance-sports programming and is a partnership between NBC Sports and InterMedia Partners.
“The diversity of the multiformat channel lineups — bringing feeds in regionally, nationally and from overseas — is challenging, both for post and live sports origination,” explains Paul Catterson, senior director of broadcast engineering and production operations, West Works Studios. “Some of the audio is discrete 5.1 [surround]; some of it is [matrixed], with a secondary audio program. It can be a struggle getting it all ingested and converted to house formats and then redistributed.”
Some of that is being alleviated with a pair of Lawo mc²66 audio consoles, one of which, a 32-fader console, was installed late last year with an extra MADI card in the HD core as well as a V_pro8 video processor, enabling the network to capture and mix eight-channel feeds via the console’s MADI interface. This, says Catterson, saved the expense of an AES-router expansion for the facility.
He notes that the facility is complex to match new wrinkles in audio post and live-audio integration, citing the CALM Act in particular as having added new levels of responsibility. “CALM compliance has become a bigger issue over the last 12 months,” he says. “We’re responsible for redistribution for our network clients after ingest and post and after local advertisements are inserted, so we have learned to be cautious.”
West Works uses Dolby LM100 loudness metering and Evertz Intelligain processing to manage it; it can extract program-configuration information from a Dolby E or AC-3 stream and configure itself accordingly to account for a multichannel arrangement, critical for an environment like West Works’.
“There’s also a function on the audio consoles that addresses loudness,” Catterson adds, noting that West Works conforms to the generally accepted -24 lkfs level standard. “You need a lot of processing and management to stay on top of that issue.”
Another issue he says requires watching is the quality of automated fold-downs of live sports mixes done natively in 5.1 surround. Ideally, what he’d like to see is less of a technology-based approach and more upstream monitoring of relative levels.
“You can tell by listening to the broadcast audio that the A1 is monitoring the surround mix, not the downmix, especially in the differences between the program audio and the bumpers and other breaks,” Catterson says, although he acknowledges that A1s on live network sports broadcasts have plenty on their plate. “Generally, the dialog is getting lost in the fold-down as the music and effects are turned up.”
All of this becomes more critical as West Works’ project mix leans even more heavily towards sports. He estimates that as much as 80% of its workflow is now focused on sports, the exact opposite of Comcast Media Center’s workload as little as three years ago. That’s coming from new sports-based clients as well as from an existing client base that has become more sports-oriented. He cites evolution of the former Outdoor Life Network (OLN) into Versus and now known as the NBC Sports Network.
“Once we picked up Pac-12 [Networks], the complexity has gone through the roof,” Catterson says. “It’s forced us to constantly rethink how we handle live-sports integration. We’ve moved towards a sports-production grade of operations at the master-control level. Today, we’re handling more complex discrete multichannel audio, and, at the same time, we’re also adding data and graphics integration and doing it at the national-network level and at the regional-network level. It’s not the way post used to be.”