Hollywood hot for digital

In a major move intended to increase its presence in Los Angeles and the Hollywood creative community, Tribune Co. will thoroughly renovate and modernize the 10-acre KTLA(TV) studio lot, turning the historic 1920s Warner Bros. property into an all-digital facility. The renovation is timed to begin May 1, when Tribune, which has owned the KTLA lot since 1985, takes over its management from Hollywood Center Studios.

Fueling these actions, says Tribune Entertainment President and CEO Dick Askin, is a robust demand for state-of-the-art digital facilities from the Hollywood creative community. Tribune took its first stab at digital renovation in 1995 when it upgraded Stages 4 and 5 to digital and took over their management. The demand for Stages 4 and 5, which currently are the production sites of Judge Judy, Candid Camera
and Guinness Book of World Records, persuaded Tribune to take over management of the rest of the lot and upgrade it to digital.

"What we're talking about is an under-utilized asset," notes Askin. "This allows us to control our own facility, so we have more flexibility in scheduling our own shows and expanding our production slate, and it also allows us to expand production rental, which has been a very lucrative business with Stages 4 and 5. It's taking the concept of vertical integration and following it through to its natural expansion."

Modernizing and renovating KTLA is no small task. The project will convert six sound stages, totaling more than 70,000 square feet, to full digital capabilities and construct three master control rooms (adding to an existing MC room), built around a central core. The central core will house the "guts" for all four switchers as well as tape machines and routing. The configuration of four master control rooms built around a central core will enable all the equipment to be interchangeable.

Says Tribune Vice President of Production and Operations George NeJame, "The project is currently at the drawing-board phase, based on a proposal put forth initially in early 2000." The renovation will rely heavily on Sony technology, including a total of 14 Digital Betacam cameras (including seven existing Sony 500s and 550s), Sony 7350 switchers and Sony DME graphics.

NeJame reports that Tribune is currently in discussion with vendors for routing, audio, ancillary equipment and systems integration. Though a systems integrator will be used for the project, NeJame notes that Tribune will be able to rely heavily on its own experience, having converted eight of its 22 broadcast stations to digital. The entire plant will also be HDTV-ready, including routing.

Says NeJam, "We're creating the infrastructure for HD."

Tribune Entertainment currently produces one of its shows, Earth: Final Conflict, in HDTV, in Toronto. "We're hoping to lure HD productions to the stages," adds NeJame.

Regardless of whether Tribune snags any of next season's planned HD productions, Askin emphasizes that the renovation underlines the industry's move from analog to digital. Although Askin sees the KTLA lot's HDTV capability as part of a long-term strategy, he points out that, for now at least, "consumer desire for HDTV is lagging."