The new faces of Dubai TV

Along with a host of new faces, Dubai TV has also got itself a state-of-the-art newsroom that is sure to be the envy of the Arab broadcast world. Digital Studio takes a look at the broadcaster’s new abode at Dubai Media City.

  • E-Mail
By  Vijaya Cherian Published  July 1, 2004

I|~|dtv1.jpg|~|From left: Karl Hijazi and Mark Karlen.|~|Amidst the towering successes of Dubai’s commercial landscape, Dubai TV has always stuck out like a sore thumb. While the rest of the Emirate’s investments have generated huge profits, the comatose state broadcaster has shuffled about like a poor relative, unable to stand its ground, let alone compete with the likes of MBC, CNBC Arabiya and Al Jazeera. But that is likely to change with the launch of Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI), which promises to be a force to reckon with. “DMI is committed to provide a state-of-the-art and unrivalled broadcast service for our community,” says Hussein Lootah, who heads the new order as CEO of DMI. “Dubai is recognised the world over as a modern and progressive country. Our mission is to reflect and build upon this recognition through the transformation of our radio and television services into one that is amongst the best in the world.” To make that possible, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and chairperson of DMI, asked that a young and dynamic team be put in place to run the organisation and more than US $109 million dollars has been pumped into the project. The result of that is what promises to be a potent and dynamic private network of four TV channels grouped under DMI, which will be rolled out in phases. The first phase — Dubai TV, which is targeted at the Arab family — was launched on May 31, 2004, and with it, was unveiled DMI’s spanking new news production centre at Dubai Media City. Designed by US-based newsroom specialist, Broadcast Design International (BDI), Dubai TV’s newsroom, which includes studio facilities and state-of-the-art audio-visual and IT (AV/IT) technology as well as dynamic news production techniques, is centered around a stunning multi-stage and multi-floor set design. “We looked at all of Dubai TV’s potential competition including Sky News, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, MBC and Future TV,” says Mark Karlen, senior design representative, BDI. “Basically, when they zigged, we wanted to zag. We wanted to completely differentiate ourselves from everyone else in the market. The competition was all glass and metal and gave a cold look. We wanted to do something very contemporary and modern, and create a warm and inviting look. That’s what we have tried to achieve here. This is probably the most sophisticated newsroom in the Middle East, if not in the Eastern hemisphere,” he says. ||**||II|~||~||~|Karlen also points out that the design at Dubai TV’s new facility is ‘a fine balance between technology and lighting’. “We have very dramatic projection systems projecting onto very reflective surfaces like the sail structures in the middle of the room. We are essentially painting the newsroom with light. With one switch, you can alter the entire colour of the newsroom and convey the mood you want to convey to your audience,” he says. The studio itself includes six different sets for main international news bulletins, international news briefs, sports news, political programmes, talk shows and debates, current affairs, local news briefs, dynamic stand-up locations, weather and VIP/guest programmes. Although these sets lie sprawled across the ground and mezzanine floors of the newsroom, Karlen explains that the newsroom has been designed in such a way that Dubai TV can cover all of them with a minimum number of cameras. “Each of these cameras is very expensive so we have tried to devise a way by which we can put as many sets as we can into one area. This way, we have been able to cover all the sets with the least number of cameras,” says Karlen. Four cameras have been positioned in such a way that they can cover all the sets. A Jimmy Jib camera with a five-metre boom arm, for instance, will be able to do beautiful sweeping shots over the truss works. “All you have to do is position a camera in one direction to cover one set. Then, literally spin it to 100-180 degrees and you’ll be shooting a completely different background and set. It will look like it has been shot in a completely different studio,” explains Karlen. Dubai TV has tried to go against the grain in many ways, and Karlen justifies each deviation. For instance, while most networks have virtual sets and video walls, Dubai TV wants none of it. “What Dubai TV has, is a working newsroom and while it may not be an original concept, it has a dynamic background. Moreover, this is an extremely cavernous newsroom, so there’s tons of depth of field in here and will reflect well on air,” he adds. BDI has also discouraged the use of virtual sets in the newsroom. “If you don’t have the technology and environment to support virtual sets, you could have a background that looks like a big chromakey wall,” he warns. “Virtual sets are still in their infancy. If you do a big virtual set and you don’t have a camera tracking system that you need on a virtual set to give you different looks as the camera tracks, then it looks really bad,” he says. ||**||III|~||~||~|Instead, Dubai TV has invested in one of the world’s latest and most sophisticated video cube walls. “One of the main issues that we have always had with video cube walls in the past is that the minute a lamp goes out, it’s very difficult to calibrate the monitor so you can’t retain the same colour temperature and video levels as the others,” explains Karlen. But the Barco solution installed at the newsroom is a new, sophisticated system that uses two lamps. The minute one lamp goes out, another instantly lights up in its place and within two to three seconds, the internal software automatically calibrates the colours, the temperatures and the level to match the rest of the cubes on the wall. Moving away from the design, the central news room and studio floor has nine Sony BVP-E10 cameras to provide acquisition for the news production control room. This room features a fully expanded Sony DVS-9000 Live Production Switcher along with a powerful Neve digital audio production mixing console. Coupled with this is a lighting solution that will provide sophisticated computer-controlled effects across all six news studio sets. DMI’s choice of solutions has been based on several factors. “We worked very closely with Dubai TV on this project and chose some solutions for reasons of design, flexibility, budget and also, familiarity with the product,” says Hijazi. For instance, the newsroom is equipped with news servers and non-linear editing work stations from Avid because Dubai TV employees are familiar with this solution. “They have used Avid at Dubai TV, and their computer newsroom systems are based on i-news, so it was a natural choice for them, and we have worked with Avid on the integration of all their systems,” explains Karl Hijazi, manager of Sony Professional Services, Dubai. Other key facilities of the new centre include the Central Apparatus Room (CAR) for all processors, servers and IT equipment, a fully equipped news line and ingest area for monitoring of all incoming and outgoing lines and recording of up to 28 live news feeds from around the globe. In addition, there will be a sophisticated news graphics facility, a comprehensive multi-format tape transfer area, a logging area and several high-end non-linear editing suites. Solutions from Pinnacle Systems, Leitch, Snell & Wilcox, and Vizrt have also been used to kit out Dubai TV’s newsroom. ||**||IV|~||~||~| “All the equipment you see here in this newsroom has been purchased for this project. There is no old material or graded or repurposed equipment here,” says Hijazi. He also adds that the solution at the newsroom is flexible and “can be adapted and grown so that in the future, they will be able to expand, and this system is capable of providing Dubai TV with a 24 hour news channel, which is their ultimate goal.” One other significant point to note, according to Hassan Chahine, technical director of DMI, is that Dubai TV is embracing a tapeless solution. “We have adopted a tapeless solution from the point at which we receive the signal to when it is sent for transmission to our old facility,” he says. “Adopting a tapeless solution will enable content to be shared by all people in the newsroom. The editor, for instance, will be able to look at the material and edit it, send it back and create a playlist for the news bulletin. From there, it will be sent to the news gallery and then for transmission,” adds Chahine. The cost benefits of adopting a tapeless solution are potentially huge. “Workflow benefits will be hugely improved. DMI will be able to streamline and speed up the way it works and therefore, speed up the way it produces a programme. There is a big cost saving there and the operational efficiency in each of these areas will be hugely improved,” says Sony’s Hijazi. In the meanwhile, a look at the newsroom shows that it is something to be proud of. The fact that it was planned, designed and created from scratch within four months draws surprises from all quarters of the media industry. Karlen of BDI points out that a project of this scale would take at least a year-and-a-half to complete in the US even if it was a fast-track project. “But I hear Dubai always does things this quickly once it has made up its mind.” Sony especially agrees that the time frame was the biggest challenge for the systems integrator. “We had about three months to complete the whole job on site. Normally, with a technical or broadcast installation, you go into a site that is clean and dust free because this is harmful for the equipment. But we didn’t have a choice in this case. We came in when the building was still being constructed, and worked under extremely dirty and dusty conditions with many other contractors. ||**||V|~||~||~|“This was a real challenge because when you do that, normally your efficiency drops in terms of the installation. But we resourced it well, we put a lot of effort into the project management side of things and the planning to ensure that we counteracted those risks,” explains Hijazi. On the content side, Dubai TV claims that it has hired some of the best talent from the Arab world to host its programmes. “Our goal is to be the number one Pan-Arab station in the next two years,” says Lootah. More than 20 new programmes, produced locally, have been included into the schedule for the whole family. Presenters and hosts include prominent political scientists like Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla and Dr. Mohammed bin Huwaidin, upcoming stars like Dina Al Sharaf and Khalid Al Marri and Arab TV personalities like Lina Sawan, Marianne Klat and several others. Dubai TV has also signed an exclusive deal with Disney and Warner Bros for the next three years. “All the output from Warner Bros. for the next three years will be exclusive to Dubai TV — whether it be movies, sitcoms, serials, cartoons, you name it. It’s all for Dubai TV on a free-to-air channel,” adds Lootah. Work, however, is still in progress. The newsroom at Dubai Media City is only the beginning of more things to come. Content is still being sent to the old facility for transmission until the completion of phase II, when the whole operation is expected to be relocated to DMC. In the meanwhile, Encoda Systems is replacing the existing manual transmission and scheduling systems at Dubai TV’s old facility. Encoda’s D Series Automation and programme scheduling and air-time sales solution, Broadcast Master, will be used to transmit and manage its four current channels: Dubai TV, Channel 33, Dubai Sports and Dubai Business Channel. In addition, Broadcast Master’s commercial sales module will also allow DMI to optimise sales revenue from commercial air-time for the first time. The transition from a conventional state broadcaster to a dynamic television network has not been an easy one but as with all things, Sheikh Mohammed and his cadre of young Emiratis are showing the world that anything is possible in this part of the world. As Karlen of BDI rightly points out, “This is the Dubai way.” ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code