Media savvy

AUTHOR: Inavate

IPC Media, part of the Time Warner Group recently moved into its new, London home – the Blue Fin Building in Southwark. This purpose built site was designed to accommodate 60 of IPC’s leading consumer titles and outfitted with AV technologies installed by IVC.

As one of, if not the leading publisher of consumer magazines in the UK, it has long been an ambition of the IPC Media Group to have a new HQ to reflect its standing. The motivation was finally matched by a location in the early part of 2004when the site was identified and work begun.

Aside from wanting an innovative piece of architecture to house and showcase its leading publications, IPC also needed technology solutions that would enhance the day-to-day business of producing magazines and other media. One of the early architects of these technology solutions was Patrick Stewart-Blacker from Wireless Consulting. Patrick was initially involved as a consultant on the AV side in the very early days, before preparing the job for tender and finally overseeing the AV installation.

“We were first involved in the Summer of 2005, and as far as IPC were concerned they came looking for ideas. Their existing site had limited AV facilities, so we had a fairly free hand to make suggestions.

“They had a number of problems, which they threw at us – I think the most important thing to realise is that we were almost working as a consultant for 60 different clients in the shape of the different magazines. Each has its own requirements. For example, the music titles (NME and Uncut) had a specific way in which they wanted to deal with music - that’s their business. A lot of our brief was getting under the skin of the different business units and understanding how they worked.”

Despite the peculiarities of each group there are essentially three core systems that IPC has ended up with. Arguably the most important of these is the building-wide TV distribution system. As a consumer publishing company, it is vital that IPC’s staff are able to keep an eye on the world as it affects their readers. After considering the various distribution options, IPC chose a Cabletime MediaStar solution.

Tony Floyde, Facilities Manager for IPC Media was the contact point throughout the project for the consultant and integrator and he explained the system and the reason for the choice.

“What we have is a 60 channel distribution system. 56 of those channels are used for TV distribution, with the channels selected by the users based on on-the-job need. We audit the system now and again to see what everyone uses because of the limited numbers of channels available. We would have preferred to go for an 80 channel solution, but budgetary restraints meant we have to be more disciplined about which channels we distribute. The remaining four channels are reserved for the publishers who use Sky+ with their TV titles.”

The system is set-up as a top down distribution. A Satellite dish on the roof receives the signals, which are then decoded by 56 Sky TV receivers and 4 Sky+ boxes in the main server room. Signals from these are then fed into the MediaStar system and out over analogue CT cable into cabling closets on each floor of the building. From these local nodes the signals are distributed over IPC’s internal Cat 6 data network, and broken out at the displays or in meeting rooms using MediaStar endpoints.

Although a relatively few in number, the Sky+ boxes were one of the deciding factors in the selection of Cabletime over its rivals. Cabletime gives the option of extending the IR remote control signals from the office, back up the distribution network to the receiver units in the top of the building.

The primary endpoints for the TV signals are in the working offices of each magazine group. Throughout the building, numerous 42” NEC plasmas can be tuned to whichever of the 56 distributed channels the teams require. In the case of most of the magazines that means one or two displays in an office space. However in the offices TV listings publications, things become a bit more extreme, leaving them looking more like a branch of a consumer electronics retailer.

Whilst the TV distribution solution is key for IPC, it’s far from the end of the story. Like any modern office the Blue Fin Building is furnished with numerous meeting spaces for both internal and external or customer facing sessions. In addition there is a divisible videoconference suite and a 100-seat auditorium.

“Each group within the company has its own boardroom,” continued Tony Floyde. “These can seat 16-20 people and are equipped with either an 84” Smart interactive whiteboard and projector combination, or a 52” NEC plasma screen with a Smart overlay. That’s really down to the choice of the publisher of what suited their teams best. Two of the six went for boards and the others have the overlay option.” NEC NP2000 projectors are the choice for these meeting spaces.

The interactive displays turned out to be a real revelation for IPC, as Patrick Stewart-Blacker recalled: “Initially the client was quite sceptical about the Smart technology. We had to work quite hard to convince them of the benefits, but they really appreciate now how powerful it can be, even going as far as exploring the possibility of fully interactive flat-planning (the process by which magazine content is assigned to pages for planning purposes before production). Whilst IPC didn’t eventually end up doing that, it demonstrates just how well they grasped the potential of the technology.”

Apart from each team’s dedicated boardroom, there are number of meeting rooms. Two are located on each working floor, and are equipped with 42” plasma displays, again from NEC, Cabletime TV inputs, laptop connectivity and DVD/VHS sources. These rooms are slightly smaller in size, seating 8-12 people typically. On the tenth floor there are also some customer facing meeting rooms. These are plusher in feel than the others, with electronic window blinds, some acoustic panelling and fully integrated room and lighting control.

Media control and source selection in every case is supplied by a Crestron solution. The boardrooms have a simplified control solution in the shape of the ML-600 remote control, whereas the meeting rooms and VC suites have more advanced touch panel control from a TPS-3000 unit. All of the rooms equipped with Crestron control are connected to a central RoomView network, which operates over IPC’s internal intranet. This allows Tony Floyde and his team to monitor the system either from the network operating centre, or more commonly from their own desks.

The auditorium space is a fully featured 7.1 surround sound theatre equipped with front and rear projection systems as well as presentation tools. The primary display solution is a Paradigm 100” rear-projection rig with a Christie LS 650+ projector.

An Extron CrossPoint Plus 16x16 matrix switcher handles the various video sources, which range from DVD/VHS/Beta Max players to PC and Mac inputs. There’s also a Smart Sympodium tablet in each of the two podium positions, allowing the projection system to be used interactively by a presenter. Remote control of the two dedicated PCs and one Mac is via an Adderview KVM switch, which can be simply switched between the different computers.

The sound system itself consists of Jamo 6.5CS two-way ceiling speakers driven by Cloud CX-A6 amplification, in tandem with a Denon surround sound decoder. The podium microphones are Audio-Technica U859QL goosenecks and in addition, supplementary wireless microphones from Sennheiser were installed.

As was previously alluded to, the music titles necessitated a different approach their audio installations. They had a requirement to listen to a number of music choices within the group at higher fidelity than the rest, and so a different system was installed. The NME and Uncut teams are both equipped with Cloud pumpstations distributing to Cloud slave headphone jacks at each desk, allowing staff to select which channel they like. They have the option of using Bose Companion 2 desktop monitor speakers if they like, or headphones. The magazine group was also supplied with B&W HiFi speakers in four zones for high quality audio.

As with many projects, an initially highly ambitious specification and design went through a process of value engineering to arrive at the final solution. Whilst many of the consultant’s more elaborate suggestions have been value engineered out, the solid core of the functionality remains. The company has a rock solid, and expansible IPTV distribution system, and a series of well-equipped group meeting rooms, the interactivity in which will only expand in its usefulness as the teams get to grips with what it can do with them. As with any modern AV installation, the infrastructure is key. The Cat 6 network within the building may be a relatively AV-free zone at the moment, but coupled with the Cabletime distribution system and Crestron’s RoomView it will make the inevitable office moves, and team expansions must less painful than would previously have been the case.