Not only is today's transmitted TV signal in digital format (goodbye, analog RS-170, NTSC, PAL, and SECAM) but all the behind-the-scenes production is digital as well. That obvious fact became extremely clear as I was fortunate to get a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the CBS Broadcast Center at 524 West 57th Street in New York City, Figure 1.
This aerial view of the CBS Broadcast Center, taken in 2011, does not even hint at what's inside and so allows a multifaceted worldwide broadcast operation to function efficiently and reliably. (Source: James Lin/Flickr)
CBS purchased the site in 1952 and began using it for radio TV in 1963, and moved most of its studios, production suites, and infrastructure to the building in the following years (despite citing their Rockefeller Center (NY) office building as the official corporate headquarters) and took over more adjacent space over time. The former milk-distribution building now provides over 500,000 square feet (about 45,000 square meters) of space for studios, editing, content management, storage, and servers used for internal video handling as well as external feeds.
There were studios for the various shows, of course, editing suites for post-production work, and production centers where ten, twenty, or more people sit at control consoles and choreograph the production of live shows and events. Since several such events may be going on at the same time, there were quite a few of these set-ups.
Each had a wall of dozens of large screens, complex switching matrices handling up to 100 × 100 input/output pairings, and live links to remote events in the field. Since the actual broadcast of the many shows going out simultaneously via cable, the Internet, or over-the air broadcast TV channels is so critical, many of the set-ups are multiple redundant, and their computer-based controls, sequencers, and links can be switched over within seconds.
The procedure now used for production of remote events is to capture the images in the field, but manage all event details from this building where everyone has a place and all needed resources are ready. For example, at a major event such as a football game, the cameraperson in the field is linked by audio and video back to the production team in this building, and is directed what to do and when by them. If an instant replay is needed, that is implemented by the studio personnel, not the field. This remote management is possible only because of the extensive, multiple, links (spanning thousands of miles, if needed), using fiber and backup satellite between field and studio.
While we did swing through the various studios where shows are either broadcast live or recorded for later use, the highlight for me was going into the guts of this enormous building floor by floor, from the third-level sub-basement almost to the roof (sorry, no photos permitted). While this is a legacy facility, the equipment has been repeatedly upgraded, and nearly all the massive coaxial-cable runs have been replaced by fiber-optic cables.