Inside CNBC Arabiya

In the last one year since its launch, CNBC Arabiya has gradually built a name for itself in the Middle East and expanded its operations across the region. Digital Studio takes a look at the broadcaster's systems and the upgrades it is undertaking to ensure that its operations continue to run smoothly.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  October 21, 2004

I|~||~||~|Walk into the CNBC Arabiya office in Dubai Media City and you will know that the broadcaster means business. In just a little over a year, the 24-hour Arabic language channel has made a name for itself in the region with its coverage of the local financial and business scene. In such a short span of time, it has also opened bureaux in Cairo, Kuwait city, Bahrain, Riyadh, Jeddah, Al Khobar and now, the broadcaster is in the process of establishing one in Doha as well. The office does not have half the frills that most new broadcasters in the region boast today: No glamorous studios — just one compact, well planned working studio — and no attractive interior décor or lighting greets you when you go in. If you want to have a look at what frills the broadcaster has, you might need to delve a little deeper and look at the broadcast systems and solutions that CNBC Arabiya has invested in, and is now upgrading. The office itself is a typical working environment with a main newsroom that has about 48 work stations; a production zone where a team of five puts the whole show together in terms of scripting, editing and adding the voice over; an equipment room that houses all of the central equipment and electronics required to run the place; the main production control room and transmission area; three high-end editing rooms, where essentially the long-term commercials and promotions are created; a compact studio that has three different backgrounds for the morning, noon and evening shows and a second control room that isn’t used much now but will be, as the broadcaster expands its features list. This control room also serves as a backup should the main control room suffer any technical setbacks. “We can essentially run every production out of here even though this control room is slightly smaller,” says Aaron Shaw, director of broadcast — operations and engineering, CNBC Arabiya. “Physically, it is slightly smaller than the main control room and the vision mixers, for instance, are one size smaller in terms of the number of inputs it has. However, it is equally as capable of running the show as the main control room should there be such a requirement,” he adds. At the heart of the CNBC Arabiya operations, however, is an ENPS newsroom system. Everything begins with the ENPS solution. The stories are written in ENPS, the show run downs are created in ENPS, the material that goes into the show, whether it is content on the server or titling or stills, also goes through ENPS. ||**||II|~||~||~|This newsroom system, in turn, links to four other main elements — an IBIS server play, a BDL prompter, a Pixel Power Collage and a Chyron Aprisa — through a MOS gateway. The IBIS server play, in turn, links to a Quantel SQ server, which plays out SDI video. The Collage is responsible for lower thirds while the Aprisa is used for shoulder boxes and basic still elements. “This is one installation that sees the entire range of IBIS applications at work and it’s all in Arabic,” says Andrew Winter, director of marketing, IBIS. “The IBIS PreCue, SprinTx, LandScape and A software solutions handle ingest, schedule creation and management, as well as playout and archive management at this site. IBIS’ channel management system, Pre-Q, helps the broadcaster prepare programmes like promos and interstitial material for schedule. This runs on an IBIS automation software. Our newsroom solutions work alongside Quantel’s Integrated Server Architecture at this site,” he adds. Typically, a journalist will drag all the elements required for a show into the show rundown on the ENPS newsroom system. Then, when the show actually goes on air, the ENPS sends everything down the MOS gateway to the various pieces of equipment and it automatically goes to air. No doubt, the show is supervised by a director but everything is preloaded onto the system and no manual entries are necessary. Shaw explains: “If, for instance, you want to have the names of the people on the show on screen, it must be typed into ENPS and it is then automatically downloaded. The scripts are also automatically downloaded for the prompter,” explains Shaw. When asked if the broadcast director would have preferred CNBC Arabiya to go with another newsroom system than the current one, he says it is not necessary. “It’s not like you’ll take one newsroom system out and put in a totally different one overnight. To even consider that, you would have to have something that is a quantum leap ahead and there’s certainly nothing out there that is really so far ahead,” explains Shaw. “Like all things, each system has its strengths and weaknesses. It depends on what your specific need is. Autocue, for instance, has a newsroom system that is quite strong in automation and controls devices directly instead of using the MOS gateway, which is how ENPS controls devices. But if that is your emphasis, then that is a good system for you. We don’t yet see the need to change what we already have but we are undertaking a major technology upgrade right now,” he explains. ||**||III|~||~||~|To improve the efficiency of its journalists, CNBC Arabiya is currently working with Quantel to put in place their ultimate solution of two Quantel SQ servers, storing up to 200 hours of material, with two 48-hour SQ servers managing playout as a mirrored pair, together with an L700E StorageTek data store using 99/40b drives and 140 terabytes of data storage. With this solution in place, several new edit stations will be available to journalists to edit using low-res proxies. The broadcaster also intends to archive all of its data onto a nearline archive system in future, and for this, it has already acquired the L700E hardware from Storagetek. “The plan is to have full low-res browsing capability by November and then hopefully by Christmas, we will also have the online archive system in place,” explains Shaw. Currently, CNBC Arabiya has eight Quantel QCut edit systems for high-res editing and no QView low-res proxy editing systems. Once it has completed the final process of upgrading, however, it will have 56 Quantel QView low-res proxy editing systems and 15 QCuts. “We are not running any QViews at the moment because the current system does not support low-res editing. Once we have moved to support low-res, there will be 56 of them, which means every journalist will have an edit station in front of them. The solution is limited in what it can do; it can do cut only editing and there are no voice over capabilities. But in terms of cutting a basic package together, any journalist can do that from the PC in front of them,” explains Shaw. With the new solution, journalists can first rough cut their news packages on QView and then use QCut to do a higher level of editing including adding transitions and voice-overs. “By doing this, we will have far more edit capabilities within the newsroom for news stories and essentially, we will be putting editing in the hands of the journalists rather than requiring editors as we do at the moment,” explains Shaw. The broadcaster also has two Quantel QEdit Pro systems, one Quantel gQ and one Quantel Paintbox. The gQ and the QEdit Pros are largely used for doing high-resolution craft editing for the channel’s commercials and other promotions while Paintbox is used for doing graphics, maps and other related jobs for the broadcaster’s shows. All of this, in turn, connects to a server so that material is only moving back and forth on the server thereby eliminating tape transfers. The next big challenge, for CNBC Arabiya, according to Shaw is to have a media management solution in place. “Having an archive is one thing but managing all the material and the process of accessing the material as and when it is required is totally another,” explains Shaw. Ideally, Shaw says that he would like a system that integrates with the ENPS newsroom system. “As yet, I have not seen any system that does that. I would ideally like a screen within ENPS so that the journalists can open up the screen on their workstations and search for the archived material. When they do searches, ideally they should get some form of descriptor with their results so that they have an idea of what those results are. They should then be able to double click that material and view it in low-res so that they can see if it is of any use to them; if it is, then they should be able to pull up the high-res copy for usage. This is the kind of functionality I am looking for because I would ideally like the journalists to be able to do it from within the newsroom system so that they are not continuously going in and out of different packages as part of their work. They should be working in a newsroom environment and everything should be sitting within that environment for ease of use.” ||**||IV|~||~||~|Clearly, CNBC Arabiya is investing millions of dollars to enable all of this functionality. Once the upgrade is complete, it will literally be going from eight edit stations to 70 or 80. “This is about 10 times what we currently have. At this rate, by the middle of next year, we would have reached the maximum number of newsroom staff we can house in Dubai,” explains Shaw. “However, we are a regional channel and expansion is more likely to be in terms of expanding our presence in the region across new cities in the Middle East,” he says, adding that the broadcaster will soon be opening a bureau in Doha as well. CNBC Arabiya’s bureaux are networked to each other so that they all have access to the same newsroom system, which means all staff in all offices work on the same physical stories and run-down as the people in Dubai. In terms of content, the broadcaster has drawn the odd criticism for its coverage of the war in Iraq. But this is incidental. The broadcaster’s prime concern is the stock markets in the region and the impact of global markets on the Middle East region. “What we are actually interested in doing is getting more capability in terms of interviewing stock brokers and merchant bankers. People don’t necessarily come to us to see what’s happening in Baghdad but they definitely switch to our channel to check gold prices or Aramco stocks etc,” says Shaw. “On a couple of occasions last year our carriers in Europe decided to do maintenance on a circuit on Sunday because they are closed for the weekend. They forget that we hang off the end of that circuit and that Sunday is a major trading day in the Middle East. However, we have worked quite hard in the last year to educate our external suppliers, and also to ensure that internally we have the redundant systems that we need so that if we do have an internal problem it is invisible to our viewers.” A look at the upgrade efforts at CNBC Arabiya and the measures it has in place to resolve any possible technical failures is a clear indication of the maturity of broadcaster’s operations in the region. As the Arab world’s first Arabic-language, 24-hour financial and business information channel, CNBC Arabiya has realised the importance of having in place solutions that will streamline its workflow and improve its efficiencies. One of the reasons for its successful and expansion into other parts of the region has no doubt been this informed choice and timely implementation of the right broadcast solutions. ||**||

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