21CF Chats: Warren Vandeveer, SVP Technical Operations and Engineering for FOX News and FOX Business, on building Studio F

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FOX News Channel’s new state-of-the-art studio, introduced to viewers on Election Day and announced as part of the network’s 20th anniversary, is a luminous space filled with features like a video chandelier, LED walls and LED columns. While viewers and passersby may marvel at what they see in Studio F, there may be just as much to admire in the studio’s unseen components.

To hear about the story behind the new studio, which will be used by FOX News and FOX Business Network, I spoke with Warren Vandeveer, Senior Vice President of Technical Operations and Engineering for FOX News Channel and FOX Business Network. During our conversation, he explained the challenges of bringing the studio to life, the themes in the studio, the studio’s energy efficiency and more.

When did planning for the new studio start?

I think you have to go back a long time, because we had our eyes on the space – it used to be the Charles Schwab retail space – since the early 2000s. We’d periodically call and get the real estate people involved and talk about it, and it just never worked out for us until they moved out and the landlord was looking for another tenant. That was a few years ago.

What happened after that?

We started kicking around ideas for the space internally. It took a little while to get everyone on the same page in terms of what we wanted to do in there. We had kind of a bake-off, if you will, where we invited a number of different designers to come up with ideas for the space. It was five or six of them, then we narrowed it down and made our decision and finalized our budget. As the project evolved, it became obvious we had to get it done for election night.

That must have been quite a sprint.

We finally got the whole plan together in 2015, and we started construction in March of this year. So the construction cycle was relatively quick, but the whole concept and deciding on what we want to do and how we want to use that space – we took our time with that, and I think everybody is thrilled about the results.

Do you think you’ve ever been part of an undertaking like this, from a planning and timing standpoint or otherwise?

We have had a lot of quick-timetable projects here, and I’ve been here since 1998. One of the things [FOX News Co-President] Jack Abernethy talked about during the employee recognition event for the 20th anniversary was that over time, we have taken a number of different retail spaces in this building to build studios.

What are the chances that in the next election or two, another studio will be needed?

Well, as I thanked everyone internally, I told them that for the 2020 election, hopefully we won’t have a studio to do and can just focus on everything else that surrounds the election, because it’s a huge process with getting all the graphics, the rehearsals and having all the data display properly on the screen. The same team that was working on that was also very involved with getting the studio on the air. We have a small engineering team, and everyone tends to get involved in everything. This election cycle was tough, but it’s really a tribute to the work that everyone did internally here to make the outside events, studio project and election night happen.

It sounds like there were a lot of challenges in this particular endeavor. Now that you can look back, does a specific challenge stand out to you the most?

It was tough getting started because it was difficult getting consensus, if you will, on what we were going to do. Once we made that decision, the tough part became executing it within the timetable we had. You look on TV and you look at the windows and you see all that technology, and none of that can come in until the box is built. Getting all the coordination between everything that needs to go on a ceiling that’s 36 feet in the air, between the air conditioning, the sprinkler piping, the lighting and the steel that supports a lot of the things that are hanging is just tough. Then you start loading in the set and making the place look pretty, but there’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes that has to happen before the set starts getting loaded.

Like what?

You’re trying to make an office space into a studio, so you have to make sure the subway noise doesn’t come in and you have to make sure the street noise doesn’t come in. If you’re a retail space, that doesn’t matter. If you’re Studio F and you’re going to be on the air for FOX News or FOX Business, you can’t hear the D train rumble by every few minutes. The other thing I want to point out is that the visible part of the project is the studio, but we also had to build a control room downstairs where nobody sees it. We also had to expand some of our equipment rooms to support the new studio and the new control room. So it wasn’t just building the studio; there were about three different things that were happening in parallel to make this studio happen.

So the studio is almost like the tip of the iceberg?

Exactly. Great analogy.

You mentioned gathering consensus in the beginning of this project, and I was wondering if that was more about the functional elements of the studio and everything that supports it or more about the aesthetics.

I think the design elements and how you best utilize double-height space – 36-foot-high space. When Charles Schwab was in there, they had a ceiling that took up probably 20 of those 36 feet, so they didn’t use a big part of the space that they had. We love height in a studio, but with 36 feet on Sixth Avenue with huge windows, you don’t want to fill up the top half of the studio with lights. Coming up with the idea with the double-height studio and the balcony and trying to make all that work, that was a breakthrough when that idea was presented to us.

Studio F Overview

Studio (29 feet high)

LED wall (downstairs)

Video chandelier

LED wall (balcony)

Monitors (34)

LED columns

Cameras (14)

Power (LED lighting reduces power required)

Was there an overarching theme, so to speak, for Studio F? What is it meant to convey to viewers and passersby?

We have a ticker on the outside of the building that we’ve had since the beginning, and that’s kind of our signature shot. But the ticker is also duplicated in the studio – it runs around the balcony. There are curves around the balcony, and those curves match the video chandelier and the LED floor, which is right underneath it. So the curves of the ticker get picked up by the curves of the chandelier get picked up by the curves of the balcony get picked up by the round LED floor. It’s a rectangular space, but there are a lot of curves in there.

The video chandelier seems like a central piece to the studio.

The video chandelier is very unique: 15-foot diameter by five-foot-high LED screen that can be raised and lowered as it’s required to either disappear up in the ceiling or to be in the shots in the balcony. It can also be brought all the way down to the floor level. You’re not going to see that in many other studios, and that uses the height of the studio to its fullest extent, to have that element come in and out of the camera shots.

And that’s far from the only LED screen in there.

All of this technology means there’s no hard branding in the space, so it’s all electronic. So as we go forward and use it either for FOX News or FOX Business and whatever shows ultimately end up in there, the place can be changed in an instant. It’s just graphics and screens, and those graphics and screens look great on camera. It’s not just that it looks great to people who pass by the windows or people who are in the studio, but it looks great to the viewers at home and allows us to tell a story. I think television is all about telling a story and connecting with viewers and bringing them information. The technology in there and all the different ways of displaying information is going to help us deliver great television for our viewers.

How much thought was given to what passersby would see when they walk by the studio on Sixth Avenue? Was there any thought given to the interaction between the studio and people who walk by on the street?

We really have three audiences, one being the people who pass by on the street, the casual people who walk by. The other audience is people who go in and out of this building every day. And the third and probably most important audience is the people who see the space through our camera lenses. We have to give something that each of those groups will appreciate and can take something away from; we didn’t want the studio to be a big black box when we’re not on the air. So what we’re in the process of doing now is figuring out how we’re going to use those displays to activate the space when there’s no show in there. How do you get the FOX fans to interact with the studio or want to come and see the studio, even when the studio’s not on the air? We’re still trying to figure that out. 

I read that the studio requires just 1/5 of the power other FOX News and FOX Business studios do. How much did energy efficiency factor into the decisions you all made from the beginning? Was it simply the result of using these more modern forms of displaying information?

It’s a little bit of both, and I think that number comes in comparing our other studios, for example, with Studio F, because there are all sorts of differences in the sizes and all that. I think the lower energy consumption comes specifically from the theatrical lighting that’s there. Everything is LED these days, and this was the first studio that we did with LED theatrical lighting. It hadn’t come of age the last time we did a studio, but this time it was ready to put in, and there are significant energy savings because of that. We also have LED displays, but it’s more about the energy savings from for the studio lighting. So it’s more about the efficiency of the lighting, which is a huge part of the running a studio. To be able to do it with the technology that’s out there, and to be able to save that energy and use less air conditioning and everything else is – we’re glad the technology finally got to the point where we could implement it. We looked at it for a number of years and it was finally ready.

It sounds like the studio is a success on many fronts.

I am just so proud of what we were able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time, with the dedication of a lot of people here. You looked at our screen on election night versus all of our competitors’ screens and I think we blew everybody away with everything that studio had to offer our viewers – and it will in the future as we move shows in there.