How does a fiscally-responsible firm like Prudential Financial build a new video production studio that can create broadcast-quality content at a reasonable cost? By combining the best of new and old technologies to create a modern studio that looks great on camera but stays within budget.
That’s the approach that the design firm Provost Studio of Raleigh, NC, adopted when it accepted the project. Located in a separate, multi-story building near Prudential’s headquarters building in Newark, NJ, the new Prudential Studio has everything to produce a range of live and recorded programs, from interviews and group discussions to news. These programs are streamed to employees in-house, and some are also made available to customers, investors, media, and other external audiences on the company's YouTube channel and other outlets.
Out with the Old
Before the new studio was built, Prudential used two small studios that really didn’t do the company justice. “Prudential had two state-of-the-art control rooms with a strong ability to produce quality video content, as well as seasoned video professionals in place,” explained Peter Provost, Provost Studio’s president and director of design. Unfortunately, its existing studios didn’t match them in quality. “They included two small greenscreen areas and an informal discussion area, but didn't provide the flexibility, brand alignment, or optimization for mobile content.”
In fact, one of the studio spaces was kind of a "Between Two Ferns" setup. “It had a backdrop, a riser, literally a fern, and two chairs,” Provost said. “I think Prudential realized, from a visual perspective, that their environment didn't really match the quality and the thought leadership that their content provides, so they really wanted to raise the overall level of production in all elements.”
The new Prudential Studio, which opened last fall, is a significant step up. Provost was hired to build a spacious, elegant corporate boardroom-style set with multiple shooting zones. While every project is unique and has its own set of learning opportunities, Provost said the most impactful part of this project was the close collaboration.
“We worked together to design a studio that prioritized flexibility and allowed the team to generate compelling and impactful content for a variety of audiences," he added. “They basically wanted to update everything aside from their control rooms. We designed a flexible studio environment that features multiple shooting areas within a 30x40-foot footprint. By tracking scenic elements and technology, we were able to create four distinct shooting areas, including a media wall area, informal area, stand-up area, and chromakey area.”
At the far left of the studio, the media wall area has a news-style anchor desk and large 1.6mm Planar LED video wall background. To its right, Provost installed a freestanding, movable 75-inch Philips touchscreen/whiteboard for interactive presentations in its stand-up area.
Next in line is the main studio conversation/informal area, which features full wall-length "windows" with city views. These are not actual windows, of course, but they also aren't LED displays. “Due to budget limitations, we utilized a system of scenic backdrop rollers in two areas rather than LED,” Provost explained. “This setup allows Prudential to update in a later phase with LED if they choose.”
In its current form, the windows can be filled using one of three different pulldown photographic backdrops that show urban and other scenes. Granted, using static photo backdrops is an "old tech" solution that harkens back to the earliest days of TV broadcasting. But when it comes to on-camera visuals, these backdrops look just as real as actual window views or electronically generated images on LED video walls or inserted via greenscreen in the control room. It works well with the room’s stylish contemporary interior, while keeping costs down.
Going further to the right is a bookcase wall/informal area, which can also be used for multi-person shoots. The 75-inch touchscreen can be rolled into this space to serve as a display. There is also a chromakey area for video insertions.
For those times when a non-windowed space is needed, Provost Studio has built a roll-in wall with multicolored panels and lit areas. This can be moved around the set as needed, essentially creating an entirely new visual space for the set’s multiple Sony HSC-300 cameras, which are equipped with Telescript prompters. The cameras are holdovers from the last studios, along with the Sony MVS-6530 video switchers, Soundcraft Vi5000 digital audio mixing consoles, Ross XPression CGs, and Evertz routers in the control rooms.
"We reimagined the look and feel of Prudential's on-air brand to align with other communication channels and generally elevate the way video content is created with scenic, lighting, and AV display systems,” Provost noted. “In addition to the scenic environment, we took a comprehensive approach to increasing the overall production value of the video content for Prudential, including lighting design and integrating display technology at multiple scales. The new studio material palette takes inspiration from the new corporate headquarters, with particular attention to creating a less corporate, more hospitality-inspired space.”
Looking back on the Prudential Studio project, Provost feels a sense of satisfaction. His people succeeded in creating a flexible multiuse studio space that elevated the look of Prudential’s video content to align with the quality of its content and corporate reputation—all while harnessing existing equipment and cost-saving solutions that kept project expenses under control. The result was in line with Provost Studio’s approach to corporate design.
“Our main goal with any project is to create a visually stunning environment that resonates with the brand and target audience,” Provost said. “Just as important is the fact that the spaces we design meet and exceed current and future needs. Our job as production designers is to collaborate with our clients to provide them with a custom studio ‘toolbox’ that they can use for their specific needs.
"That said, our measure of success for a project isn't ‘are they using the studio toolbox as we originally imagined,’ it's ‘are they creating new shooting use cases and content scenarios with the toolbox we designed that we hadn't previously anticipated?’ With every project, we learn a bit more about how to anticipate current and future content production needs,” he continued. “There is definitively a common theme in the use cases, but the real art/science comes from the nuance of creating original spaces as distinct as each of our clients.”
As for Prudential’s reaction to its new studio space? “It’s been great,” said Provost. “We saw a pause with this client and others in terms of getting back to the office after COVID and starting to create content in these spaces. But now that they are up and running, it all seems to be doing really, really well—and we’ve been getting very positive feedback.”