Rotana hit parade

When Rotana TV decided to open a new transmission centre in Beirut, it also made up its mind to deploy a fully networked editing, live production, playout and archival solution. Digital Studio reports.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  April 29, 2004

I|~|rotb.jpg|~|The Sony MSW-M2100P|~|Arabic music station Rotana TV has deployed a fully integrated system comprising tape migration, transmission, as well as content archive and post production at its new transmission centre in Beirut. One of the prime objectives of this project, in addition to addressing its production and play-out transmission requirements, has been to ensure that thousands of the music channel’s legacy tapes could be converted to a digital format so that they can be archived and retrieved easily in future. "Our new facility will deliver huge operational efficiencies through a streamlined workflow that will produce significant benefits for our customers,” says Tamer Abdelaal, technical director, Rotana TV. “The improved workflow and level of automation of this new system allows us to provide a wider and more responsive level of programming. And besides now having a 24/7 main music channel, two more channels are now well into the planning phase; the first of these has gone on-air in April.” As the largest producer of Arabic music and associated music clips in the Middle East, Rotana currently has two production centers, one in Beirut and another in Cairo. Over a period of time, the company has accumulated a substantial tape library archive comprising 5,000 Betacam tapes. These old tapes, however, are bulky, store very little content and are now considered an unreliable method of storage. With age, tapes decay and the outdated systems used to play them may be in need of spare parts that may not be available easily as most of them are no longer manufactured. As a result, the channel realised that these tapes needed to be migrated onto a play-out server and digital archive. “They wanted to archive all this old material and build a completely computerised, digital IT driven infrastructure,” explains Nigel Thompson, A/V marketing manager, Sony Business Middle East. The company’s systems integration division, Sony Professional Services undertook the design and installation of the solution. ||**||II|~||~||~|To ensure that Rotana’s objectives could be met and the archive process automated, Sony put together a system comprising components from Sony, IBIS, Pinnacle, Harris and Thomson GrassValley. At the beginning of the archival system are two Sony flexicarts, which can take in hundreds of betacam tapes. Each of these flexicarts has two IMX VTRs to play the tapes. The flexicarts, controlled by Sony AutoCat (automated cataloguing s/w) interfaces, are armed with a lever that moves up like a conveyor belt, picks the tape, goes down and inserts it into one of the 4 x Sony MSW-M2100P players to play. These players take in the analogue content and play them out as a digital file in the MXF (material exchange file) format. This, in turn, is sent to the main Pinnacle Palladium Exchange server. Here, a SAN architecture based on Pinnacle Media Stream Servers with Palladium Storage is provided for the transmission server element in the system along with a totally redundant configuration for material content. All material throughout the system is stored as MPEG 50i to retain the highest quality through the post and transmission chain. IBIS and Harris solutions are integrated to provide the programme scheduling and automation layer for the system. The Harris layer controls the movement and tracking of material and metadata throughout the system. Sony also needed to figure out an alternative to storing all the content on the server. “Once the data goes onto a server from the tape, you’ve got thousands and thousands of hours of material on it, but the server is only so big and it can’t hold all of that. “A server that size will not just be unmanageable but it will cost a fortune as well. You don’t want music videos that are three to seven years old on the server. You only need to retain material that is about six months,” explains Thompson. ||**|||~||~||~|The solution was to send all material that was more than six months old to a Sony S-Petasite, a near line server archive. The Petasite digital archive utilising high density S-AIT drives is integrated seamlessly with the transmission server, providing for automated archiving and restoring of material to the transmission sub-system. All data that comes to the Petasite is stored on cartridges, each of which can store upto 500 G/bytes of content in the native form. “Unlike in IT, where you put all your data into a compressed format, video content has to go in an uncompressed form. Therefore, this cartridge can take only 500 G/bytes of information. If you are storing excel, word documents and so on, you can compress it and it can store about 1.2 T/bytes of compressed data onto this cartridge,” explains Thompson. With this, the entire archive system has been automated. However, this project also includes a digital post centre. Here, three Pinnacle Liquid Blue NLEs have been integrated into the workflow and material is available for editing directly from the central transmission server, all in file-based format. Also, a state-of-the-art transmission control room (TCR) stands at the heart of the operational system. “One of the key attributes of this project is the tape-less and file-based workflow throughout the operation, from automated file-based ingest via Sony e-VTR through to the SAN server transmission architecture, digital archive and file based post environment. This is indicative of the AVIT [audio visual information technology] world we live in,” comments Karl Hijazi, manager, Professional Services, Sony Business MEA. The new system at Rotana TV is thought to be well designed and perhaps, a model that other broadcasters with legacy tapes will need to consider if they are to preserve all the material they have gathered over the years. Thompson says several Arab state broadcasters who have rich cultural content dating back to 20 years have been putting off archiving for many years. However, they have now reached a point, where procrastinating any further will result in the loss of this content forever, he warns. “They have thousands of hours of material stored in betacam — 1 “, 2”, 4” and some even on cine. All this material needs to be digitised or archived. Otherwise, the tapes are going to get rotten or sometimes, the old machines they play it on get spoilt and can’t be easily repaired because they are all outdated. This is crucial material that was recorded about 20 years ago and forms part of the country’s rich heritage,” explains Thompson. If broadcasters take action now, they can safeguard their material and storage can be guaranteed for the next 25 to 30 years, he adds. While the time frame may not seem very long, Thompson cautions that for every extra day broadcasters wait now, they risk losing one more tape of old material. ||**||

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