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NFL Media Relies On AoIP Comms To Keep It’s Productions Running Smoothly

The team at NFL Media share invaluable insight into the truly huge AoIP comms system at their Hollywood Park production center.

This article was first published as part of Essential Guide: Comms In Hybrid SDI - IP - Cloud Systems - download the complete Essential Guide HERE.

For the production teams at NFL Media, perhaps the most useful technology is an easily scalable Audio-over-IP (AoIP) broadcast communications system that reaches into every part of the facility-wide SMPTE 2110 IP infrastructure they’ve set up.

It’s used on a daily basis by dozens of engineers, producers, talent, and system operators that oversee the production of content for the National Football League’s direct-to-consumer presence online and on mobile devices.

The NFL’s West Coast home is located on Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s $5 billion, 296-acre Hollywood Park (in Inglewood, Calif.) property. The production facility was completed in 2021 and includes the official home for NFL Network,, NFL RedZone, the NFL app, and NFL Media. (The league moved from aging facilities in Culver City and now boasts a state-of-the-art, all-IP facility with backup generators and transmission systems for redundancy.) The headquarters is connected to all 30 NFL stadiums via 10-Gbps interface and all 32 NFL practice facilities.

Comms Is Crucial

The production technical team at NFL Media, led by senior tech manager Rhett VanBuskirk, helps produce studio and remote shows from its dedicated facility in Inglewood, as well as podcasts, streaming media programming, and eight live televised games (including two in London and two in Germany) each season on the NFL Network Channel—which is seen by millions of online and mobile users worldwide. Live games played in the U.S. are produced with the help of Game Creek Video and NEP, two entities that also help televise NFL games for CBS Sports.

“Comms is crucial to everything we do here at NFL Media because we have people in multiple locations that need to reliably communicate,” said VanBuskirk. He added that any comms signal can be routed to any location desired—either within the building or elsewhere. “From starting the game on time with the local referees, to the talent in the booth and the entire production team in the studios, they all have to be on the same page and coordinate with reliable intercom systems. Everything is time based when you start doing a live broadcast, so coordination— including letting everyone know when we’re going in and out of commercials—is essential.”

The comms part of NFL Media’s workflows are supported by a system that features a Riedel Artist ST2110 IP intercom system with over 2,000 ports. The main production facility also has fiber connections to to SoFi Stadium, which is located next door to the NFL’s new building in Inglewood. They also use over 100 Riedel Bolero wireless belt packs across its six production studios and several dozen others for teams working remotely.

VanBuskirk helped design the workflows and oversaw the install of the comms and audio systems at NFL Media, which took nearly two years to complete. One and a half of those years was at the Diversified Systems Inc Burbank facility, and then the system was brought over to Inglewood for a quick 3-month install to start the 2021/22 season.

There are also 40 Bolero antennas that are utilized for the wireless belt packs to support the 6 studios and control rooms.

AoIP Networking Gets It Done

The control rooms - supporting such programs as “NFL Total Access” and “NFL GameDay” with a 5,970-square-foot soundstage that provides 360-degree camera views and a catwalk for talent - features a 12-foot wall of high-definition screens that can simultaneously display 253 different video feeds, including shots from the 30 NFL stadiums, as well as a multitude of audio resources available at the touch of a few buttons.

NFL Media is currently producing 1080p60 broadcasts with Dolby 5.1 audio, but VanBuskirk said the IP infrastructure in place is capable of 4K/60 fps with Dolby Atmos 7.2.4 audio and can scale to any format in the future, including HDR or 8K. To bring this all together, the NFL Media facility has nearly 18,000 Dante audio network connections, 16,000 MADI connections, and 2,000 Riedel intercom channels. VanBuskirk claims it’s one of the larger Dante installations in the world.

The facility is also utilizing Dante Domain Manager network management software to secure the various audio networks and allow for expansion. It enables user authentication, role-based security and audit capabilities for the in-house Dante networks.

The Dante network and Domain Manager software layer, in tandem with Riedel’s Director configuration software, makes it easy for the engineering staff to quickly and easily reorganize audio workflows to bring together the equipment and people needed for any production. Due to the flexibility that the SMPTE 2110 IP standard affords, different control rooms or audio mixing rooms can share resources, or they can be operated separately.

Finding (& Controlling) Devices On the Network

Working with an IP infrastructure also makes equipment easier to handle and devices easier to add (and identify), using the Networked Media Open Specifications (NMOS) protocol to an established network. Every belt pack is accessible on the network via the Bolero Net. Antennas are connected over a strand of one gigabit/second fiber or Cat5 cable - and it makes connecting those involved with the production so much simpler. Supporting NMOS allows a third-party system to automatically discover all of the panel’s control elements, like its lever keys or touch screens, and assign any desired functionality to anyone crew/talent member.

And because they are using an end-to-end 2110 signal flow, it’s also taking advantage of SMPTE ST 2110-30/AES67 audio networking to route the mix-minuses (clean feeds) and program audio where they need to go with an Imagine Communications 2110 router controlling Riedel intercom mainframes at production headquarters. There’s also a healthy amount of Dante and MADI connectivity to the facility’s mainframe comms panels involved as well.

Scalability Saves Time And Money

“With an IP network, expanding our comms capability is really easy.” he said. “Using an IT facility infrastructure like we have here at NFL Media also saves a lot of money in hardware and external devices. But expandability is probably the biggest thing and we take advantage of this capability within the building on a regular basis. It’s easy to add panels and configure ports. I can extend the network from NFL Media to remote crews in the field and across the globe for our international games using a comms panel to communicate with anyone at our Inglewood facility as if they were sitting right next to each other.”

While the Riedel systems in place work intuitively, VanBuskirk said that it’s important to have an IT team capable of setting up the network.

“Because that’s where the challenges are going to be,” he said. “It’s all about IT network planning and workflows that are needed to move the comms signals around to set up reliable connections between involved parties. The Riedel audio networking equipment gives us the ability to provide access to certain crew members while denying it to others that don’t need it. Having too many people on the party line can get tricky and unproductive at times.”

Give Me A Line

When a production crew member needs to be added to the audio comms network, that request is sent to the Engineering department, which acts as the administrator of the network and makes the necessary adjustments in Director, which is Riedel’s user interface for Artist. Director allows the individual panels to have key assignments, labels, and color codes.

VanBuskirk said good planning helps stay ahead of the game.

“It’s about supporting the talent with mix-minuses, which is basically a program feed where they don’t hear themselves echoing back, but they hear the other people that are talking to them,” he said. “The routing that we can do with the digital IP comms system helps speed that process up. This is huge for us because we do a lot of routing for different shows.”

Controlling Access To The Comms Network

NFL Media leverages a “Talk/Listen” workflow where crew members with the proper access can choose what to listen to from scroll lists on the panel, or Director programming. Audio mixers can also add in crew names for those in the production department they need to talk to.

Owing to the flexibility of the Riedel equipment, some crew members can be locked out of the full comms network and only listen in to what’s being said. Using Riedel’s Edit Conference feature, select operators with edit rights can add or remove members from conferences and even assign listen only or full Talk/listen rights to any member directly from the RSP-1200 series Smartpanel.

“We really like the lever key functions on the SmartPanel and the volume mute knob within the key,” said VanBuskirk. “The lever key also has very good tactile feedback for when you’re talking and listening because you’re usually looking at monitors in front of you while you’re using it. So it’s nice that it has a really good feel. We also like the bright displays on the panel, which you can change to show large fonts that are easy to see for the operators. You can also have a 16-letter subtitle under it. That’s very handy. Finally, the fact that they blink when someone’s calling you helps the operator instantly recognize who’s calling them.”

Wired vs. Wireless Beltpacks… & Cellphones

For audio production, the various studios are equipped with a mix of 11 Solid State Logic System T Dante-enabled broadcast production audio consoles.

Within the control rooms at NFL Media in Inglewood, all 200 Riedel comms panels are hard-wired throughout the building. Wireless belt packs are mainly used in the studios by the camera operators, stage managers, and other people that need to move around. Both types work the same when it comes to features and functionality. In some cases crew members use their personal cellphones to communicate, utilizing the built in blue tooth feature of Bolero. There are 96 phone lines ported directly into the comms frames. NFL reporters often do call in from their phones right into the comms system.

There are some instances when individual comms signals need to be embedded into a party line of crew members, like if a TD wants to listen to the show announcer for cues. They then use the 1232 SmartPanel to click over to that specific audio feed. They often embed mix-minus feeds in comms for NFL Media’s outbound news content as well.

The Bolero wireless beltpack itself features six intercom channels and a separate “Reply” button for communicating with the last caller. The beltpack can also be used without a headset like a walkie-talkie radio, utilizing an integrated mic and speaker.

The beltpacks support Bluetooth, allowing either a Bluetooth headset or a cellphone to be connected. When a cellphone is connected, the beltpack becomes “hands free,” so NFL Media users can receive calls on their phone and talk and listen via their beltpack headset. Users can also inject their phone calls directly into the intercom channels, providing another level of workflow flexibility.

Using The Cloud For Signal Distribution

NFL Media maintains its own private cloud for the distribution of comms and data back and forth to Inglewood, particularly to connect crews in the field.

“The cloud gives us a lot more flexibility to send and receive signals to and from literally anywhere,” said VanBuskirk. “Once we put encrypted signals in the cloud, we can receive them anywhere.”

Comms Ensure Production Success

At NFL Media, it’s clear that the use of an AoIP intercom infrastructure that is properly set up and configured helps coordinate production staff quickly and efficiently to ensure everything (and everyone) is working at their best. With hundreds of people serving different production positions across the 296-acre Hollywood Park, keeping the lines of communication open is vital to NFL Media’s frenetic content creation.

In short, the key to a cohesive crew is effective communication. It’s essential to make sure that everyone understands their roles and is aware of what is expected of them. This ensures the production workflow will go smoothly.

“Properly deployed comms minimizes errors and adds value to a production’s success,” said VanBuskirk. “We often say team collaboration is critical to productivity and comms are a very important part of any production workflow.”