Al Rai TV goes for state-of-the-art installation

After maintaining a low profile since its launch last Ramadan, Al Rai TV, Kuwait’s first private channel, decided to break the silence and speak about its broadcast installation in an exclusive interview with Digital Studio.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  April 3, 2005

I|~|hassan.jpg|~| Hasan Sayed Hasan, technical and operations director for Al Rai TV.|~|When Kuwait’s first private channel was being planned, there was one thing the management was clear about. It would invest in broadcast technology that was state-of-the-art and scalable. More importantly, it would ensure that all of its systems were seamlessly integrated with each other. “Work began on the Al Rai TV project at the end of 2003,” says Hasan Sayed Hasan, technical and operations director for Al Rai TV. “We had issued tenders for different parts of the system. Sony won the main broadcasting infrastructure contract as prime contractor and systems integrator. It, in turn, subcontracted some parts of the project to other vendors.” Under the Sony umbrella, Al Rai had Omnibus automation, Leitch servers, Pinnacle for graphics and a lot of other vendors including Drake, BDL, Tektronix and Yamaha. The overall technical infrastructure at Al Rai includes a fully-redundant IT system provided by HP for servers and workstations, and Cisco for the network infrastructure. In parallel with the Broadcasting systems, Al Rai TV also put in place TV Business systems, which included software and systems for traffic management, advertising sales, and rights for acquired programmes. For this, the channel chose an integrated solution from Broadcast Traffic systems (BTS). “A lot of integration was required between the traffic system, the Omnibus automation system and our financial system, which is JDEdwards,” says Hasan. “This was very challenging but there was strong and early cooperation between all of the vendors and the systems integrators for interfacing between different systems. This played a major role in the success of the implementation,” he adds. The new BTS installation at Al-Rai TV offers all of the features required to provide an integrated traffic and automation environment, managing the entire traffic scheduling and advertising sales operation. The system operates on Windows 2003 servers on a fully fault tolerant hardware platform. The BTS application is tightly interfaced with the Omnibus on-air automation system ensuring that all new ingest data is constantly updated on the automation database thus highlighting any upcoming problems for scheduled material. BTS uses the product’s internet capabilities to provide software delivery and support. It also delivers multi-lingual capabilities through a standard browser interface, and can specifically handle both Arabic and English characters. ||**||II|~||~||~|“We evaluated a number of traffic systems on the market before selecting BTS for the job. They were one of the few systems that offered, in addition to traffic management, a complete suite of integrated modules covering various aspects of the broadcasting business from advertising sales, programme asset management, scheduling and traffic management to media management. In addition, they offered vital integration with the Omnibus automation system and the legacy system which was key to this project,” says Hasan. “As a newly formed television station, we wanted to achieve an internal workflow that would fit comfortably with our business model. BTS was able to understand this requirement and tailor a product that catered to our needs.” Hasan believes that the Al Rai TV installation is quite unique especially to the Middle East region. “We are one of the few companies in the Middle East to have a traffic and scheduling system fully integrated with automation on one side, and with advertising sales and programme rights on the other. This means that the advertising sales department books and slots advertising spots directly into schedule in a real-time mode offering flexibility and a dynamic environment,” he says. “Also, on the one hand, the BTS solution integrates the traffic and automation environment, managing the entire traffic scheduling and advertising sales operation. On the other hand, it is tightly interfaced with the Omnibus on-air automation system ensuring that all new ingest data is constantly updated on the automation database thus highlighting any upcoming problems for scheduled material. Likewise, Al Rai’s newsroom also has a sophisticated system in place, and is completely tapeless from ingest to playout. A centralised area at Al-Rai TV is used for ingestion of video material for news production. This is usually from three source locations: regular feeds via subscription to Reuters and APTN, ad hoc manual recordings from local or breaking news feeds and source tapes from ENG. All material is ingested in parallel to both the high resolution and browse resolution news servers. Journalists in the newsroom use the ENPS newsroom system to create scripts and stories for compilation into a running order. From here, it goes for playout under the Omnibus News automation by means of the MOS protocol. Any subsequent changes to the ENPS running order will be reflected in the Columbus rundown. Any changes to the media such as a revised duration or name, will be reflected back to the ENPS running order. This, in turn, will update the Columbus rundown display and programme timing. ||**||III|~||~||~|Al Rai’s journalists also use Omnibus’ Headline DE desktop editing software to view and edit content in low-resolution. They access this software from within ENPS. Voiceover track is also created to accompany edited footage, with the ability to do complex audio editing. Completed edits are saved as projects to a network-shared workspace, where the editor-in-chief can check them. The Headline Project can be reloaded into any Headline client workstation for review before committing the EDL for conforming on the news ingest server. Once the project has been deemed ready-to-air, it can be published to the news ingest server. “If a more complex craft edit is required for the content, we also have a NewsFlash non-linear editor from Leitch that allows for complex video transitions,” explains Hasan. “NewsFlash can source material directly from the news ingest server or a local VTR. Completed edits are conformed to the ingest server and automatically registered to the Omnibus database and ENPS clips list.” Clips for news transmission would normally be played from the news playout server, which is a Leitch Nexio. Should the clip not be available from the news playout server at the required playout time, the Columbus automation will seek to play the clip from an alternative location, ideally from the news ingest server, which may also be required in the event of device failure of the playout server. After a clip has been played out from the playout server, it will be necessary to remove the clip from that location to free up storage space. An archivist then uses archive manager software from Omnibus to create a list of clips to be archived. The action of selecting and approving a clip for archive will create a dub request to the nominated VTR. Clips will be dubbed into multiple segments on the archive VTR tape. At that stage, clips will be dubbed automatically to a Gamma server in very low resolution (128kb/s). In addition, keyframes will be generated automatically on scene changes. Using the Gamma Desktop search application, the journalist can go to the frame of video/audio indicated by the keyframe, and continue playing the media from that point. Once recorded, the media can then be viewed from any workstation that has Internet Explorer. “The Gamma server acts as a content viewer for Al Rai,” says Hasan. “The de-archive process requires the journalists to identify the desired clip for their story by searching and browsing the Metadata database and Gamma video. The appropriate archive tape is then manually loaded into the VTR in ingest area and the selected clip can then be dubbed back to the news server for editing and post-production,” he adds. For graphics, Al Rai chose Pinnacle FX Deko and Thunder clip server. “These are also integrated with ENPS through MOS protocol. Within the ENPS screen itself, the journalist selects the appropriate Deko Graphics template, edits it by inserting text, graphics and photos (e.g. maps, icons, political figures photos),” says Hasan. A full preview of the graphic can then be seen in a WYSIWYG mode ensuring that the right backgrounds, text, and graphics are selected before sending it to ENPS running order. The complete graphics running order is sent from ENPS to a Pinnacle playback controller in the gallery as a graphics playlist. This playlist is dynamically updated from ENPS in the event of any change during a news programme. For internally produced programmes, Al Rai TV uses Leitch’s DPS Quattros non-linear editing system. “In addition to the power and ease of use of the system, it has a great advantage of being integrated with our Leitch Nexio Server for playout. Material needed for editing can be transferred through FTP from the playout servers to Quattros NLEs for editing, and the final edited programme or clip can be sent back to the servers through FTP. It will then be immediately ready for playout instead of dubbing it to tape at the NLE suite and ingesting it again for playout,” explains Hasan. The entire broadcasting system was built and tested in the UK before being shipped to Kuwait, where it was re-assembled. “This gave us the ability to operate the system in an almost real mode and there was enough time for system changes before the final installation and launch date,” explains Hasan. ||**||II|~||~||~|On October 15, 2004, the first day of Ramadan, Al Rai TV went on air. “Ramadan is the best time for advertising and the time when we have the highest viewership in Kuwait and the Gulf region. That is why we planned to launch during Ramadan,” explains Hasan. Six months after launch, Al Rai TV is already building three additional studios to cope with its increasing production needs. Currently, it has just one big studio equipped with Grassvalley switchers. “We have two Zodiac and two Kayak systems. The reason we have gone with Grassvalley switchers is because they are very easy to use and powerful,” says Hasan. “We also have the Master2100, which is GVG presentation switcher.” Lighting for the studio was undertaken by the broadcast division of Oasis Enterprises, a Dubai-based systems integrator. Oasis installed a D-rail system, which comes with built-in DMX and electrical cables. The studio is also equipped with 30 Junior Spider pantographs as well as two types of luminaries — 33 Delux fluorescent luminaries and 21 CST fresnel lights. The channel currently uses Sony BVP-E10 cameras and MSW-900P IMX camcorders for field production. For ENG, it uses Sony DVcam camcorders. “We use the DSR 390 cameras primarily. For documentaries, we have some DSR 170P cameras as well,” he adds. Just six months on air and Al Rai has already felt the need for more studios to cater to its production needs. By the end of June 2005, therefore, the Kuwaiti channel will have three more studios — a 750 studio, a 450 studio and a 150 sq. ms studio. The 150 studio will be used to host a virtual set for news and current affairs programmes. Although Al Rai TV currently airs one free-to-air, 24-hour Arabic language channel providing news and current affairs as well as entertainment programmes to the Middle East, it is gradually grooming itself to play a bigger role in the region. The channel is keeping its future plans under wraps, but it is certain that with a technology as sophisticated as the one it has deployed, we will be hearing more from Al Rai TV. ||**||

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