Technology inside Kelvin Hall
BBC Studioworks is one of the UK’s leading providers of television studio infrastructure and services. As part of its ambitions to create a nationwide television production ecosystem, it opened the Kelvin Hall studio in Glasgow in mid-2022.
This facility built on the pillars of sustainability and the best production technology available has been the talk of the industry for the past six months. Has it been developed on IP infrastructure? Can it accommodate virtual production techniques? What picture standard does it work on? We asked David Simms, Communications Manager, and Stuart Guinea, Studio Manager, of BBC Studioworks, all these questions. Here are all the details.
What are the functions of BBC Studioworks?
David Simms: BBC Studioworks is a commercial subsidiary of the BBC providing studios and post production services to all the major UK TV broadcasters and production companies including the BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, Nexflix, Banijay and Hat Trick Productions.
Located across sites in London (Television Centre in White City, BBC Elstree Centre, Elstree Studios) and in Glasgow (Kelvin Hall), our facilities are home to some of the UK’s most watched and loved television shows.
Some of our credits are “Good Morning Britain”, “Lorraine”, “This Morning”, “Loose Women”, “The Jonathan Ross Show”, “Saturday Night Takeaway and The Chase” for ITV. For the second channel of ITV we can highlight “Love Island Aftersun” and “CelebAbility”. For Channel 4 we produce “Sunday Brunch” and “The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan”. For Sky we make “A League of Their Own” and “The Russell Howard Hour”. “The Crown” and “Crazy Delicious” are some contents we produce for Netflix. And, for the BBC we create “The Graham Norton Show”, “Pointless”, “Strictly Come Dancing” and “EastEnders”.
Kelvin Hall is one of your latest projects, what are the reasons for its construction and what objectives did you intend to achieve with it?
David Simms: Kelvin Hall is a 10,500 sq.ft. studio. It opened on September 30, 2022 and its construction was co-funded by the Scottish government and Glasgow City Council. Between them, £11.9 million was invested. The Scottish city council owns the building.
The studio has been designed to host all kinds of productions. In its development, sustainability was one of the main pillars on which we based ourselves. To meet these obligations, we brought new life to an existing building that was already in disuse. Other facts that make it a sustainable project are that it uses 100% renewable energy and has been designed with LED lights.
Kelvin Hall responds to our ambition to open more studios throughout the UK. We did our research across major UK cities and the studio at Kelvin Hall comes in direct response to a growing demand from producers and industry bodies to make more TV shows is Scotland, as well as a niche in the Scottish market for more Multi Camera Television (MCTV) studios to meet the demand.
Our objectives with Kelvin Hall were to create a boost to Scotland’s capacity to produce multi-genre TV productions and as such help fuel the demand for Scotland’s creative workforce and economy.
Have expectations been met?
David Simms: Since opening the studio at Kelvin Hall we have facilitated over 40 episodes of television —on two shows: BBC Two’s “Bridge of Lies”, produced by STV Studios; and BBC One’s “Frankie Boyle’s New World Order”, produced by Zeppotron— created job opportunities for local production, technical staff and freelancers (six permanent staff and an average of 100 people working on a studio record day).
We have also helped to support the next generation of talent to join the TV industry – we launched a Multi Camera TV Conversion Programme in collaboration with the NFTS and Screen Scotland that trained 12 trainees who are now being offered paid work placements at Kelvin Hall.
We understand the importance and necessity of inspiring, nurturing and developing the next generation of production talent, so collaborating with NFTS Scotland and Creative Scotland to offer entry points for young Scottish people to the industry was a priority for us when opening Kelvin Hall.
With regard to supporting the nurturing future local talent, we aim to forge an industry collaboration, supported by Screen Scotland, which routinely invests and delivers initiatives that create a sustainable talent pipeline to meet the growing demand for skills and people.
The creative sector in Glasgow flourishes, built on a reputation of having the best talent that can be sourced locally. We want to increasingly deliver on this ambition over the next five years.
Kelvin Hall is said to be integrated with state-of-the-art technology and has been built to be consistent with the other BBC studios. How did you achieve this?
Stuart Guinea: The BBC Studioworks project team that managed the construction and installation of Kelvin Hall consisted of a group of our in-house experts who had previously project managed the remodelling and technical fit-out of our facilities at the Television Centre in London between 2013 and 2017, as well as our move to the two Elstree sites in 2013.
One of the key decisions made in the design of the Kelvin Hall studio was the commitment to install the infrastructure for LED lighting. This not only reduces the carbon footprint of the studio operation, but it also puts us at the forefront of the change to LED lighting in multicamera TV Studios.
Unlike our facilities in London where our project teams had to work to specific space limitations in existing buildings, at Kelvin Hall we had the fortune of building a brand-new studio facility from scratch in a cavernous space. We took advantage of this to maximise our spaces, ensuring the control rooms and galleries were amply sized – these technical spaces are now the largest across our entire footprint, allowing room for possible tech expansion in the future.
The biggest challenge for the whole project was timescale. There are always small delays in every building project and although we had planned for these, we were also working towards the deadline of our first confirmed client production series at the end of September, so the pressure was on to deliver on-time.
It is also important how the connections between equipment and devices within Kelvin Hall and even between other studios are developed. Designing them over IP is the big challenge and promises many capabilities. What is the situation in Kelvin Hall with respect to this technology? And in other studios developed by BBC Studioworks?
David Simms: After extensive research, we decided to implement a 3G (non-IP) solution for Kelvin Hall.
This was the more cost-effective route for our business model and is already known to our clients, as this is the tried and tested solution that we have in our London facilities.
The core infrastructure at Kelvin Hall is all 4K ready, so we can accommodate a 4K production in the future.
What are Kelvin Hall’s virtual production capabilities? LED or Green Screen, which has been your bet?
Stuart Guinea: Our studio at Kelvin Hall is a large flexible space (10,500 sq. ft.) – we have integrated hoists, data and power distributed throughout our overhead grid and the studio floor is paintable so can be matched to any greenscreen system. We can therefore accommodate both LED or Green Screen for VR.
Focusing on the technology, which manufacturers have you relied on to develop the Kelvin Hall installations?
Cameras, visions mixers and monitors
• Six Sony HDC-3200 studio cameras. The 3200 is Sony’s latest model which has a native UHD 4K image sensor and can easily be upgraded to UHD.
• Sony XVS7000 vision switcher, LMD and A9 OLED monitors for control room monitoring.
Hardwired and radio communications systems
• 32 Bolero radio beltpacks with the distributed Artist fibre-based intercom platform and for external comms, VOIP codecs.
• A SAM Sirius routing platform solution to support the most challenging applications in a live production environment and to ensure easy adoption of future technology innovations.
• Studer Vista X large-scale audio processing solution that provides pristine sound for broadcast.
• Calrec Type R grams mixing desk. A super-sized grams desk providing ample space for the operation of the Type R desk and associated devices, such as Spot On instant replay machines.
• A Reaper multi track recording server.
• ETC Ion XE20 lighting desk and an ETC DMXLan lighting network.
• 108 lighting bars with a mix of 16A and 32A outlets (if tungsten is required).
• 48 Desisti F10 Vari-White Fresnels.
• 24 ETC Source 4 Series 3 Lustr X8.
Another major focus has been on sustainability awareness. In practical terms, how can broadcast technology reduce its impact on the environment?
David Simms: We were fortunate enough to find an area within Kelvin Hall that was already part of a wider redevelopment initiative at the site – the studio repurposes a previously derelict section of a historically important building. And as there is no gas plant, all electricity is sourced from renewable sources.
The studio has been designed without dimmers to encourage LED and low energy lighting technology.
The reduced heat generated by the low energy lighting has enabled the use of air-source heat pump technology for heating and cooling, and the ventilation plant has class-leading efficiency using heat recovery systems.
For the past three years we have proudly held the Carbon Trust Standard for Zero Waste to Landfill accreditation at our Television Centre facility, and we are currently working on achieving this for Kelvin Hall too.
The Zero Waste to Landfill goal was achieved through a combination of reducing, reusing and recycling initiatives to reduce environmental impact. Specific waste contractors have been procured to ensure diversion from landfill and an onsite waste disposal system, incorporating eight different streams, has been implemented to encourage responsible waste disposal and reduce cross contamination.
We are also a founding collaborator of BAFTA’S / ALBERT’s Studio Sustainability Standard, a scheme to help studios measure and reduce the environmental impact of their facilities.