Freedom Studios in New Jersey Offer New Option for REMI Productions

Pandemic spurs conversion of warehouse space into control rooms

The global COVID-19 pandemic introduced a few new words and phrases to the sports-production lexicon. Topping the list: pivot and accelerate. And Clifton, NJ-based Freedom Broadcast Group embraced both when it converted warehouse space where its trucks were parked into studios and control rooms.

Freedom Studios offers plenty of social distancing for production crews.

“We sketched out a plan to build two rooms for regional broadcasts and then two more for national broadcasts, four announcer rooms, a master-control room, kitchen, a couple of bathrooms, and an upper area with meeting rooms,” says Freedom Broadcast Group’s John Brown. “When the pandemic hit, we decided to lay down lumber, sketches, and built out our own studios in a warehouse.”

The facility currently has four production rooms in different configurations, he says. Each national room can accommodate 11 people, and each regional room can have up to nine; each room also has a separate audio room. Brown adds that there is the possibility of expanding into the adjacent warehouse to create new rooms.

Gear includes Grass Valley Korona K-Frame switchers with 3 M/E, graphics gear from ChyronHego or Ross, 16 channels of Evertz DreamCatchers for replay as well as EVS XT3 servers, and Allen & Heath audio boards.

Kitay Productions President Joel Kitay began working with Brown and Freedom Broadcast when the two companies teamed up four years ago to package productions of New York Cosmos matches. That first REMI experience resulted in the vision for Freedom Broadcast Studios that Kitay and Brown have brought to life.

According to Kitay, more than 300 shows have been done at the studios, many of them with different configurations. Basketball games, for example, had announcers coming into the studios, and football games did not. The Freedom Broadcast team quickly built announcer studios.

“The key is, everything in every room was pre-wired so we can swap things in and out,” Kitay explains. “We have a big enough router that can handle everything, and, if the need arises, we can build a couple more rooms.”

Three studios allow announcers like Bill Raftery (left) and Ian Eagle to broadcast safely.

The studios are the latest addition to Freedom Broadcast Group’s arsenal, which also includes five trucks designed for six to eight camera shows with up to eight paths of transmission. Since the linchpin of REMI production is a robust IP backbone, connectivity at the studios includes multiple 1-Gbps circuits. However, the truck’s mux uplink capabilities enable a strong backup solution when IP is not available or is failing at the site. Brown says the philosophy was to create a facility that allowed the fleet of Freedom Broadcast trucks and the studios to pitch and catch signals between them.

“We can send our trucks out and provide a redundant plan to get the signals back into our studios,” says Brown. “It gives the client one-stop shopping, where we can do the packaging, crewing, and give them a finished product.”

The facilities can also tap into trucks from third-party providers, such as Game Creek Video and NEP. CBS Sports was a key client upon the studios’ opening, using it for remote production of NFL games, college football, college basketball, the PGA Championship, and more.

“The main thing the client wanted was to protect their staff and take them off the road during the pandemic,” Kitay explains. “We have a solution that allowed their producer, director, AD, BA, and others to work safely from a local facility.”

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