Station Design Embraces 21st Century Efficiency, Flexibility

Keith Hanadel’s job has become a lot more interesting—and challenging— over the past half-decade. As broadcast design director for HLW International, an architecture, engineering and design firm that has created studios for CBS, Fox, CNBC and other networks, Hanadel has seen increased flexibility in broadcast facility design. At the same time, media companies are under increasing pressure to maximize efficiency of their physical space.

The biggest adjustment, he says, “has come from the changes in the economics, reducing staff and at the same time the technology has changed to allow that staff to be more interrelated and more creative relative to each other.”

Design plays a crucial role in shaping the functionality of today’s broadcast facilities, as detailed in HLW’s 2016 broadcast report and cost index. Construction costs are growing, with a 10%-15% overall increase from 2014 to 2015, and HLW says there could be another 4%-8% increase for 2016. Global demand for commodities, steel and cement are causing spikes in prices. The biggest cost change for 2016, according to the report, will be decreased competitiveness because of market pressures in local markets, with 4%-8% increases on the coasts and 3%-5% jumps most everywhere else.

Flexibility in design offers more effective technology, more efficient space and a more collaborative environment. “The broadcasters are much more willing to accept change now,” he says. “Now people want their facility to be a good place for people to work.”

Advanced Course

A lot of design changes stem from technological advancements. Fewer wires and less equipment are required as companies move to IP technology and streamline office-wide systems.

In preparation for its upcoming move to a new facility, KING Seattle over the last year has moved every department onto the same new systems. “The ability to interchange and collaborate improves not only because we’re around each other but also because we’re all on the same system, talking the same language, working with the same components,” says Ray Heacox, president and GM of the Tegna-owned NBC affiliate.

Certain rooms used to be dark and cold, Hanadel says, because screen outputs were lower and equipment took up space. Now, “it’s so much less restricted.”

As construction costs grow and companies make cuts, broadcasters need to utilize real estate effectively. That means taking advantage of more non-traditional spaces, like office buildings, going for location and cost over the actual building. “Because if there’s a cost-effective reason to use that location, we have to help them work at making that happen,” Hanadel says.

Take KETV Omaha. The Hearst Television-owned ABC affiliate had its first broadcast in its new facility Oct. 28. Ariel Roblin, president/GM, says they spent 29 months renovating the historic Burlington train station and turning it into a modern broadcast facility with the architects at Leo A Daly. The space was old, deteriorated and vacant for 40 years, but it told a story and fit the TV station’s culture of caring about its community.

New features at the set include an interview area and color-changing lights. The building also offers options for live shots. “It’s fun when you see the historic hallway of the train station or great views from the roof and balconies of downtown Omaha,” Roblin says.

KING is expecting to move into its new facility, designed by HLW, by mid-February. Its current building was originally built as the corporate headquarters for King Broadcasting years ago, with over 200,000 square feet (compared to 48,000 at the new facility). “There’s no need for that in modern broadcasting,” Heacox says. “It was appropriately built in its time, but it’s no longer what you really need.”

All Aboard for Open Space

There is also the conundrum of needing more media and content to be produced by decreasing staffs. Companies such as HLW have to design facilities that arrange everyone and everything— from the people to the technology to the interior architecture—in the most efficient ways.

“If they need to do with 30 people what they used to do with 50, everything is surrounded in such a way to get the jobs done,” Hanadel says. “We make facilities that support multitasking.”

As important as the technology is, creative interaction is just as crucial. Hanadel says they plan facilities in more distributed ways with more collaborative spaces, content hubs and open areas.

At KING currently, departments are all separated in the huge building. The news department is on fourth floor and Tegna’s Northwest Cable News on the fifth floor while the local programming group is in the basement.

“Those three groups which produce content have every reason to collaborate,” Heacox says, but it only happens because they make a concerted effort. It will be more convenient in the new facility, where content producers will work on Floor 2 and sales, HR and accounting on Floor 3 with a staircase in between. There will be open collaborative spaces, huddle rooms and conference rooms.

“There’s not a chance that anybody who works on the production of content won’t see everyone who does the same thing,” Heacox says, adding it looks more like a tech company than a traditional TV environment.

Over in Omaha, between furniture, space and technology, the environment is much more collaborative. Before, producers were in the newsroom and directors were in the creative services area. “People really weren’t witness to each other’s work,” Roblin says. Now they are sitting at the same pod and able to talk to each other while working on videos and projects.

At the train station, there is a hole above the assignment desk so anyone on the floor above can look down and see what’s happening in the news. The creative services department, previously in different offices, are now spread out in the same area seated at one table.

They can hit a button on the keyboard and whatever they were working on goes to a big screen. “When they get stuck they put it on the big monitor and collaborate quickly and easily on the fly,” Roblin says. They turned the station’s grand hall into a lunchroom, erasing the staff’s habit of eating lunch at their desks. Now everyone eats together and interacts, good for not only morale but security as well. “We discovered that people from lots of departments never spoke to each other,” Roblin says. “The new building is wonderful for the culture of our station.”