Big Systems on Campus

Dec. 1, 2005
Nielsen Media Research creates a universe of integrated technologies

By Dan Daley

The phrase “Nielsen household” is a particularly American one. The A.C. Nielsen company literally invented the metrics of television broadcasting, providing both the data necessary for the televised advertising industry to establish its own value and creating a mirror for the culture that underscored the Warhol-esque notion that we are what we watch.

The digital age brought new urgencies to the collection and analysis of broadcast and media data, if for no other reason than there was so much more of it. The Nielsen Media Research division sought to create a centralized media center that could consolidate its media analysis efforts, making it more efficient and quickly responsive to a rapidly changing media landscape.

The result is Nielsen Media Research’s Global Technology & Information Center, in Oldsmar, FL, near Tampa; it sits on a 40-acre campus on a scale commensurate with that of the task before it. Various integrated technology centers allow Nielsen to monitor and scrutinize the changing habits of a digital audience.

“Nielsen uses AV a lot - it’s a mainstay of their training and presentation programs and how they market the company,” says Larry Stephen, an account executive at Professional Communications Systems (PCS), the integrator Nielsen chose, after a competitive bid, to design and install an extensive and turnkey AV system throughout the campus. The entire AV project, based around a 610,000-square-foot main building, cost an estimated $700,000, part of the multimillion-dollar new construction of the Global Technology & Information Center that began in 2002 and which, in stages, would accommodate many of Nielsen’s technical services.

“A project this large meant that the [system] designs evolved over time,” Stephen continues. “You have to get a sense of the culture of the company so you can specify equipment and create designs that support it.”

The project, which included numerous individual spaces, was done in three phases:

  • A client demonstration room and a massive 1,000-seat cafeteria, both with advanced projection, display, and audio capabilities, were completed in autumn 2003.
  • Phase Two saw a large modular conference room and an orientation/training space completed by December 2004.
  • A large state-of-the-art auditorium was completed in July 2005.

Between these major design components, work continued on other aspects, such as a computer lab and eight conference rooms of various sizes. Work continues on other components, including the “Trinidad” conference room - a high-security corporate command center equipped with a Christie DS-50 DLP high-resolution projection and other display systems - that offers the ability to view sensitive information (Nielsen’s famous ratings data, which lubricate a $60 billion annual television advertising industry) securely and can withstand Florida’s notorious hurricanes. In fact, part of the installation was accomplished during the 2004 hurricane season, which saw what was then a record number of dangerous storms hit the state, and the building provided refuge for several Pinellas County officials during a storm in 2005.

Café Society
The scale of the Network Café belies its name: Nielsen’s 82- by 81- by 25-foot-high employee cafeteria dining room seats upwards of 1,000 people and is equipped with a 7,700-ANSI lumens Christie ceiling-mounted projector that can be lowered to floor level, and contains its own control room. Tannoy 12-inch ceiling-mounted speakers provide high intelligibility despite the fact that three of the cafeteria’s walls are sheer glass, giving the space reverberant characteristics.

On a similar scale is the center’s Patricia McKnew Nielsen Auditorium, named for the late wife of founder A.C. Nielsen’s son, Art Jr. The space, which seats 108 and whose dimensions are 47 feet front to back and 53 feet wide, has a diverse complement of presentation technology, including high-definition projection, a screen that can accommodate both 4x3 and 16x9 aspect ratios, Dolby 5.1 surround-sound audio, and a separate AMX-based control room. The egg-shaped room is asymmetrical, with a continuous curved wall on one side and two layers of 5/8-inch drywall followed after an air gap with 2 inches of fabric-covered fiber glass for acoustical absorption.

The auditorium’s audio is a good example of CAD-based design. James Wagoner, a PCS design engineer who worked intensively with the project, used the Renkus Heinz EASE software, in consultation with acoustical consultant Siebein Associates Inc., in Gainesville, FL, that allowed him to input room dimensions and material types, as well as the density and types of seating desired, and then model various types of speakers and speaker configurations. “As a result, there is only a 3- to 4-dB variance between any two seats in the room,” Wagoner says. The 5.1 sound system uses JBL Application engineered Series speakers, including dual-18-inch subs. “You can really feel the low-frequency effects in there,” says Wagoner. Other audio features include a Lexicon MC-12B decoder capable of Dolby 5.1, DTS, and THX digital audio formats and fitted with analog, optical, and coaxial I/Os. The sound system is powered by Crown CTS 2000 amplifiers and controlled with a Symetrics 8 by 8 DSP controller.

The auditorium’s video technology, which includes a Christie DS+8K HD DLP 8,000 lumens projector, is controlled from an AV control room at the rear of the room. It projects onto a Stewart Film 10- by 5-foot screen that retracts into the ceiling and has automated masks that drop in to toggle between aspect ratios and is perforated to allow placement of a center channel in the 5.1 sound system behind the screen. The AMX controller uses a wireless touch panel that controls video, audio, and lighting. “The projector has a custom card that makes it capable of running HD SDI formats, and the Autopatch Modula router in the control room has the same capability,” says Mike Griffitt, design engineer and project manager for PCS.

Signal sources include a DVD deck, but provisions for the future have also been made to install a high-definition D-5 tale deck and for IP addressability. “Early on in the concept meetings about the auditorium, Nielsen made it clear that they didn’t want a dead-end room, technologically speaking,” says Wagoner. “The room would have to have the ability to grow as media technology progressed.”

Client Demo Room
The client demonstration room is also complex. A massive, custom-built credenza made from pressed wood and laminate dominates the front of the room. It’s pocked with multiple display systems including a VuSonic VX900 LCD display and two 50-inch HD-ready Panasonic plasma screens. Including conventional CRTs, there are nine screens in all.

Wagoner agrees that the credenza is not the sleek, elegant, modern-looking fixture that some might expect, but there’s a very practical reason for that. “Nielsen’s engineers made the point very clear that they would have to pull components out often, so it had to have easy access,” he explains.

This 34- by 38-foot rectangular room also has 5.1 audio, using JBL Contractor Series speakers mounted atop and on the sides of the credenza, as well as two on the rear wall for the surrounds.

What sets the demo room apart, though, is a control system whose user interface is an AMX NI-3000 master controller using an MVP-8400 wireless touch screen and a nearby tech closet filled with source decks, cable boxes, and satellite receivers (including access to Nielsen’s own tracking systems), and a router that allows any screen to display any source at the touch of the screen. The same controller also adjusts interior lighting and motorized shades along one wall of windows. Up to 25 people can comfortably sit in sofa-style chairs and plush rolling seats with attached desks as presentations and demonstrations are given. “We programmed presets into the controller so that they can have one-touch reconfigurations of the entire system,” says Wagoner.

That philosophy pervaded the design process, particularly in the large, partitionable Conference Center 5/6/7, a single space that can be divided into three distinct spaces, each with its own AV resources routable to any of six drop screens, via sliding-track partitions. “Nielsen wanted the room flexible enough so that any trainer could walk in and begin working and not have to call an AV technician for assistance,” says Wagoner.

Configured as a single space, the 81- by 40-foot room seats more than 200 people. Then it becomes a kind of architectural Rubik’s cube, with variable-geometry walls letting it change into four different configurations. PCS worked closely with both Nielsen’s own AV department and with technicians from AMX. “Usually, we’d look at a system as selecting a switcher and mixer and then adding an AMX [Modero] to control them,” says Wagoner. “Here, we started from the AMX touch panel as a kind of chart to see what functions we needed to address and then see what components were necessary to fulfill them.”

All of the technology in the room is wired back to a central tech room with a central router, in this case an Extron matrix switcher. It, in turn, feeds back to all four possible room configurations and activates each room’s own source collection of DVD players and VCRs and amplifiers in their own subclosets. There are six screens, three of which are positioned at 90-degree angles from the others: In a three-room setup, each space would use only one; when used as a single large space, two of the rearmost screens become delay screens to provide an unobstructed view to those in the back of the room.

“The control system programming was intense - each time you select a source to display, the system controller senses what configuration the room is in,” says Wagoner, who says he spent three weeks programming the system. A touch of a button rolls down the appropriate screens and activates the right amplifiers and playback devices.

The Great Outdoors
An expansive, 50,545-square-foot lawn that abuts the glass wall of the café borders the main building. In a case of highly functional landscaping, a concrete ledge near the foyer forms a stage. An Electro-Voice Dynacord Cobra stackable line array-type PA system can cover the 3,000 people the open-air space can accommodate. Each side of the system has a dual 18-inch sub and a pair of dual 15-inch midrange boxes. Two E-V ZX-1 weatherproof speakers permanently mounted under a building eave in an adjacent courtyard augment this portable PA. A 32-channel Crest HP Eight console routes audio. Telex and Shure wireless systems are used with the microphones. Monitoring is by six E-V Madras wedges. Mike Griffitt says that the Cobra PA offered the best dispersion pattern, crucial because the glass wall of the cafeteria acts as a sonic reflector.

The audio is also routed into the café via a Telex wireless transmitter located at the FOH position. A receiver in the cafeteria’s tech closet sends it through Tannoy flat panel ceiling speakers, turning the glass-walled café into an instant VIP room.

The Nielsen Media Research’s Global Technology & Information Center has numerous other spaces, including a 20-seat orientation room with data projection, sound, and control system, and eight conference rooms in the training center capable of being controlled from a central location. An upgrade to the center’s existing videoconferencing center has recently been completed, including a dual projection video system and updated audio using Audix PH3-S Powerhouse Series self-powered speakers and a Shure SCM-262 stereo mixer. “The challenge in that room was to reposition the camera to provide more complete coverage,” explains Larry Stephen. “We rehung it from the ceiling, which gave us a better angle on the room.” A Sony E70 Series was added to the Polycom videoconferencing system already in place.

“It’s an amazing project,” says Stephen. “But the key to much of the design is to allow the facility to change as media itself does.”

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