Gravity Media’s new facility is based around a 2110 IP media fabric with dedicated master control, production control rooms and more.
Production and media services company Gravity Media has just completed the first phase of technology integration at its new London Production Centre White City, located on the fifth floor of The Westworks building in London. The state-of-the-art facility, officially opened in February of 2022, is made up of production, post-production services, live studios; master control and 24/7 connectivity to a nearby uplink facility in Chiswick, London for fast digital distribution to a variety of content owners, sports federations and OTT platforms.
The company has opened two Production Centers within the last year, one in Manchester and one in London. The latest facility adds to its overall strategy to build a global distribution network for remote productions that also includes other facilities in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia as well as San Francisco, California.
Equipment installation began in earnest in September 2022, with live Production as its first phase. Phase Two will be the production studios and Phase Three is the postproduction area. The facility is now in its 18th week of installation and design, and the plan is to have everything completed by the end of 2023.
A Statement Facility
“It’s a statement piece for the business,” said Edward Tischler, Managing Director for Gravity Media’s EMEA business. “It’s really all about attracting the right talent to the building.”
The facility is an amalgamation of production and post companies recently acquired by Gravity Media. It’s now a 30-year old media services company, formed by the acquisitions of four established broadcast and production houses: Gearhouse Broadcast, HyperActive Broadcast, Input Media and Chief Entertainment. The overall plan is to create a global network consisting of all the different production locations.
“Our point of difference is that we have a very strong background and heritage in engineering technology, hardware and software,” he said.
The new London Production Centre White City is located on the fifth floor of The Westworks building in London.
An IP Sandbox
The 50,000 sq. ft. (4650 m2) production space is located in a high-rise building formerly occupied by the BBC. Much of the existing lighting, furnishings, and fixtures have been recycled and remodeled but, lots of new lighting and infrastructure was added as well. It also features very high ceilings, which accommodated its new production studios perfectly. The interior design was created working with Oktra and WeAreIncognition.
There was some existing infrastructure (power and connectivity) that they have leveraged but they also added a new generator in the parking lot and established a 25 GBps pipe to an uplink facility in Chiswick UK, complete with lots of downlink capability.
They’ve outfitted it with equipment in a very short period of time and went live with its first distribution of a Formula E race from Mexico City on January 14th. Since then, the team has worked closely as a technical broadcast partner with Formula E and Aurora Media, which are responsible for the delivery live on location of the ABB Formula E World Championship Season 9, ensuring video feeds are delivered back to theWhite City Production Centre for every race.
Gravity Media’s Specialty Camera team were also deployed with a total of 50 cameras used at the Mexico race, including 26 Sony line cameras and 24 Gravity Media Minicams used for track and team garage shots. This helped ensure the most engaging driver experience coverage for viewers at home.
Gravity Media now offers production trucks, fly packs, production centers (in Australia, the UK and the U.S.) on an ad hoc basis and now the new facility will help them push into more advanced remote production workflows. It will also be a place to develop new types of workflow and software infrastructures.
Developing Decentralized Production Workflows
Tischler said Gravity Media has been working with remote production clients like Sky Sports for several years. The pandemic sped up that migration so much that they felt they had to come with a solution that reduced the footprint on site and also allowed some people to work from home.
Formula E has become Gravity Medi’s first multi-year anchor client and its first distribution of a Formula E race was from Mexico City on January 14th.
“Remote production doesn’t offer just commercial advantages,” he said. “In our studies, the amount you save on costs you wind up spending in other places. If you want to drive the best value, you use the same supplier on site as you do for your production center. The less we have on site, the less cost exposure we have, so we can pass those savings to clients.
“We wanted to create a facility that can manage a production literally anywhere in the world,” Tischler said, “however, there is some element of producing content on site that’s not going to go away any time soon. There are big advantages in putting together the best team for your production, and working remotely allows you to do that.”
For the Mexico City race, all of the cameras and audio equipment were mounted around the track at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez venue, with the CCUs controlling the cameras located back in London. The IP video and audio sources from the venue are encoded (H.265) and sent over an IP backbone (through a TATA network). So there are 85 different feeds and services coming into the production center for this single event.
The crew created a “track cut” on site, without replays, graphics/titles or commercials. Everything else is added over the top in London. From these raw elements they produce two different cuts: the international cut, and the English Language program.
“For our team here, it’s as if they are working on site,” said Tischler.
During transmission, should something go wrong over the fiber network, they have a satellite backup ready and waiting.
An Open Floor Plan For Collaboration
The facility promotes collaboration among the team via an open plan workspace, with floors overlooking central gardens and terraces within easy access to the center of London. It features eight dedicated production control rooms with adjoining audio control rooms with Calrec mixing consoles on a Calrec Hydra network, multiple commentary booths, elaborate lighting, two CCU rooms, two replay rooms, six craft edit bays on a dedicated network, 24 online edit suites, and four grading suites. During the first phase, the building will collaborate directly—via fiber—with Gravity Media’s London Production Centre in Chiswick, enabling decentralized remote production workflows.
Two production studios help produce a wide variety of content for different clients.
“The powerful network of connected Gravity Media remote Production Centers, coupled with expertise delivering turnkey solutions will continue to offer productions a unique range of options and flexibility,” said Tischler.
Initially supporting more than 200 incoming and 40 outgoing discreet services, the new space is based around a fully native ST 2110 IP media fabric with dedicated master control, and a remote production break out MCR suite. It will feature a full range of broadcast production and distribution technology—controlled by an EVS Cerebrum software layer and QNap media asset management system - to support both on premise and distributed remote production workflows.
“Production Facility of the Future”
Tischler said that the goal was to build a production center that will see them through for 10-12 years, so it had to be format agnostic (from 1080p/50 HD to 4K UHD, HDR) and include native IP production at its core and not “edged round the building”, with reliable connectivity throughout the floor.
“As a client, if you come in here to work you know that your projects are protected from being obsolete in a few years,” he said, adding that client archives are stored on site in London with some cloud (AWS S3) storage included as well. “They just want to work without worrying about technology upgrades. And we can customize workflows for different projects because it’s native IP, and do whatever they’d like. You’re not locked into a rigid baseband SDI world, where you have limitations of switcher or router capacity or whatever. At Gravity Media it’s whatever way you like to work.”
At the moment most of their projects are 1080p/50 and 1080p HDR. When producing remote productions, clients want to avoid the high cost of sending UHD content back and forth between sites. However, the facility can produce true UHD HDR content if required.
In the end, Gravity Media is aiming to have key sports federations based in their facility, housing Formula E as their first multi-year anchor client, with all of their broadcast media needs supported in-house via the facility’s media and technology solutions.
Gravity Media teams produce most content in 1080p/50 and 1080p HDR, although it can create UHD production if a client requires it.
Limited Cloud Production
The cloud is featured in a number of areas in the facility - the team performs a bit of cloud-based editing and a bit of storage in the cloud for postproduction—however, Tischler said that as a whole, the economics of using the cloud “don’t necessarily sit where they need to make it a successful part of the business.
“We’ve been working with vendors like AWS, Grass Valley and Vizrt around live production in the cloud. But conceptually, we know what is possible and are testing technologies that do just that. As we bring more federations and other clients in here to work, we want to establish a good collaboration where everyone is working together. So, we have installed some on-premise cloud-based systems, doing some local testing, and they will migrate that off-site as well.”
He said they are taking a long-term vision for the full range of production services, from linear production to cloud based. They will also continue to invite manufacturers to test their solutions in order to find out which ones work best for their client.
“The economics will be there in the end, it’s just not there at the moment,” said Tischler.
“Some people think that remote production is partly a compromise because they are not physically at the venue,” said Tischler. “When production companies come in here we try and recreate the experience of working on site. We look at this facility as providing an enhancement to that on-premise experience.”
John Newton, CEO and Founder of Gravity Media, added that the best is yet to come.
“This expansion is a hugely exciting moment for the whole global Gravity Media team,” he said, “[as] it enables us to build a truly future focused facility. One in which we will be able to nurture our talent as well as ensure we will attract the very best in next-generation media, innovation, technology, and engineering experts who we look forward to welcoming to the new facility in White City. All with the aim of providing the most advanced solutions for all our clients across Sports, Film and TV and Live Events.”
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