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Digital hub in Miami

In the old downtown-Miami theater that housed wtvj for the better part of 51 years, Operations and Engineering Director Paul Russell sometimes found himself walking half a city block indoors just to meet his station colleagues.

Negotiating the three-story theater will soon be old news. The NBC O & O sold the aging theater property and rolled over the proceeds into a fund earmarked for a brand-new $7.5 million, 64,000-square-foot digital operations facility in Miramar, Fla., about 22 miles north of downtown Miami and the same distance south of Fort Lauderdale.

The outlook for the Miramar facility, scheduled to be fully operational by mid-summer, goes far beyond architectural design. Wtvj has overhauled its business model, positioning itself as a "hub" for program streams-its own, as well as those sold as a service to other TV stations in the market.

The idea was to spend a "substantial" amount of money up front on equipment that can be "reused" as more streams come online, without having to add more equipment or operators, says Russell. "We looked at the new facility from day one as an opportunity not to do things the way we had been doing them in the past."

Right from the start, the new digital operations facility will be running its own NTSC broadcast, along with an NTSC broadcast for another local TV station.

Wtvj's digital signal is not up yet. An application has been filed with the FCC for a channel change to 31-the current digital assignment is ch. 30-and relocation of the transmitter.

The core of the "hub," built with the help of systems integration and engineering firm A.F. Associates Inc., rests on video servers and automation. Grass Valley Group (GVG) Profiles will hold all the program material-about 18 hours online-for each station. Louth automation will take the program log from each individual stream, bring it into the system and control the switchers, servers and archive retrieval equipment that is online, so that all the program material available is ready to go at least eight hours ahead of time.

For the wtvj stream, two GVG Profiles are set up in a mirrored configuration so that, if one fails, the other can go on-air immediately. One of them will ingest everything that's needed from the satellite. Archive material is being stored in DVCPRO using two SmartCart library systems. "If we have a major failure, we can get on the air by sticking it into any tape machine in the house," Russell explains.

It took close to two years to select the new facility's location and another two years to build it.

There are two 4,600-square-foot studios. One is open to the newsroom, so the cameras can easily be turned on the assignment desk or the Internet desk. "The newsroom itself is an extension of our primary studio," says Steve Kaplan, wtvj's operations manager.

The digital infrastructure wiring can support 1.5 Gb/s and will be operated at 360 Mb/s. The master-control area encompasses a Philips Saturn master-control switcher, satellite integration, camera shading, microwave reception, archive retrieval and remote-camera control.

Eight nonlinear editors will be used for news. In post-production, wtvj editors chose Quantel Editboxes. Three of them are configured identically and networked together with Picturebox still stores, Paintbox and Hal, along with some Macs used by the graphics department.

One room has been set up for a robotic-camera operator, who will control five Vinten systems set up in both studios. The operator's room will also handle seven external weather cameras and three more robotic cameras to be installed in wtvj's new "window on the city" live news production studio.

Some equipment is already online at the new facility, so staffers can get some hands-on experience ahead of time. "You are going to have enough trouble finding the bathrooms in the new building," Russell says. "If you throw in new computer systems and newsroom systems and everything else, people are just going to overload."