MBC undertakes major Vizrt upgrade

As MBC began expanding its channel offerings, it found that its existing graphics system could not cope with sophisticated requirements. As a result, the broadcaster deployed a complete template-based asset management Vizrt system at its office in Dubai Media City. Digital Studio reports.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  February 2, 2005

I|~|vizrtbig.jpg|~|Fadi Radi, news graphics manager at MBC.|~|As part of its efforts to improve the overall look of its channels and keep pace with the graphics requirements incurred by its current expansion plans, MBC has deployed a more comprehensive, new-generation Vizrt solution. Where it previously had a single Viz|Artist license, it now has a complete template-based asset management Vizrt system, based on Viz|Content Pilot management and control software and the Viz|Ticker. “We previously used Viz|Artist animation software successfully for our news, sports, promos and finance programmes but it was always used in post production,” says Fadi Radi, news graphics manager at MBC. “But we soon realised that to get the most out of our real-time 3D system, we needed to add a control application and a template-based graphics system. This would allow us to store our repetitive graphics as templates and also enable our journalists or anyone who wasn’t a graphics designer to quickly create high-quality graphics,” he adds. At the heart of the system is the Viz|Content Pilot server, a centralised database for the template-based graphics system. “This is an Oracle database, where all the data and templates are stored offering full flexibility and scalability of the system”, says Kristian Kim Eikeland, regional manager for Vizrt Middle East. The installation, undertaken late last year by Salam Technical Services, has been successfully used by MBC to create graphics for various programmes including the Asia Cup (football) and the US elections. MBC’s graphics department created the templates for this purpose. Once the templates were designed and installed, the workflow to create the graphics for each news story or production was fairly straightforward, says Radi. “We required that the setup be highly automated and integrated with our existing Avid iNews and Harris automation systems. It was very important that this workflow be as simple as possible,” he says. As part of MBC’s efforts to simplify the whole workflow, each journalist’s desktop PC has Viz|Content Pilot ActiveX embedded into Avid iNews. This allows templates to be called up from a visual list and provides users with quick access to images and clip file databases located on the server, all within the iNews workspace. The journalists can select the templates they need and preview the graphics so they can check for spelling mistakes, length of text, images and objects. By using the templates in this manner, they can also link stories with the required graphics and create a rundown. While it is also possible to create the templates by using the traditional *cg commands, which is a quicker approach, Vizrt’s Eikeland warns against using it unless journalists know how to type the commands in correctly. Once the journalists select a template on their workstations for the graphics they want to use for a story, they can enter the content, such as text, images, objects, colors, audio etc. They can then save the graphic which can be dragged and dropped into the story.||**||II|~||~||~|Rundowns are created in Avid iNews, and downloaded to both the Avid BCS/Control Air automation system and to the Viz|Content Pilot for playout. For integration to Avid iNews, Vizrt also devised a new integration between Vizrt’s Viz|Artist animation design, the Viz|Content Pilot management and control software, and Avid’s iNews and BCS/Control Air newsroom system. This new device manager, contained within Viz|Content Pilot, provides direct control of graphics playout from Control Air and bypasses the need for the MOS interface option within iNews, enabling much more streamlined operations. “In the control rooms for MBC and Al Arabiya, we’ve installed Viz|Content Pilot, which is connected directly with iNews and BCS/Control Air,” says Eikeland. “Rundowns downloaded from iNews are sent to both Viz|Content Pilot for playout and to BCS/Control Air.” During an on-air operation, the BCS/Control Air operator manually triggers all elements of the show, including graphics rendered on Vizrt’s powerful Viz|Engine 3D rendering software. All graphical elements corresponding to the stories are then extracted and sent to Viz|Content Pilot. However, these elements continue to remain as separate entities until they reach live playout to air. “This makes it easy for us to make last minute changes to the graphics,” says Radi. Another important addition to Al Arabiya is Viz|Ticker, a sophisticated ticker system that will enable the broadcaster to go beyond merely creating a crawl with text to achieving, what Radi calls “more complex goals”. “We’ve already included the market bug with live stock values from Reuters through our Viz|Datapool [a software that takes real-time financial or web-based data and updates live graphics receives. In this case, it manages data from Reuters and passes it directly to Viz|Engine for live updates]. We will also soon use it to separate news, sports, and business news in the ticker, similar to what CNN does with its Viz|Ticker system,” he says. In addition to the interfaces with Avid iNews, Vizrt also connects to a Harris ADC-100 automation system, located in the transmission rooms. Harris automation is the large scheduling and control system for all of MBC’s channels. It controls the Vizrt system through GPI to put the ticker on or off and to trigger additional graphics effects from the ticker. It also triggers transitions between news segments that go on the ticker, and in the future, will provide the trigger for MBC’s sponsors as well. One of the challenges that Vizrt had to address with regards to this project was to ensure that all of its software supported Arabic because MBC is an Arabic broadcaster. This meant that all the equipment associated with Vizrt had to work in Arabic as well. Although Viz|Content Pilot included full Unicode support, there were considerable challenges, says Eikeland. “With Arabic, and other complex script languages, you have to configure Oracle, Viz|Content Pilot, Windows, etc. to accomplish this. All the issues we had were related to getting the configurations set correctly,” he adds. One good thing about this system, however, is that it is modular, which ensures that adding features and upgrading the system will be a lot easier. In fact, when MBC decides to add more channels, all it will require to do is purchase additional Viz|Engine licenses. “They can add maps, interactive solutions, weather and finance systems by just adding more control software, which interface to the correct data feeds,” says Eikeland. “Our systems are open with software development kits. This gives the customer the freedom to customise our software according to their requirements. They can add features like data feeds, automation, etc. by themselves without any help from us,” he adds. With the new system in place, MBC’s Radi claims that the graphics quality of the broadcaster’s channels has improved significantly. “We are able to produce much more live, updateable graphics than we did previously. We’ve also simplified parts of our workflow and improved the productivity of our workforce,” says Radi. ||**||

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