Fawasel TV invests US $3 million in TV station

Fawasel TV, a new Arabic family-entertainment channel has been launched from Dubai Media City this month. Digital Studio takes a close look at the US $3 million project.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  April 2, 2006

I|~|fawa1.jpg|~|Reza Mehdizadeh of United Broadcast with Fawasel TV's operations manager, Tarek Tarabichi.|~|Fawasel TV is one of the newest channels to be launched out of Dubai Media City (DMC). The Saudi-owned Arabic channel is an extension of Fawasel, a Saudi Arabian entertainment magazine, which was established by the late Prince Talal Al Rashid. It was Prince Talal’s dream to extend the concept of the magazine to the television medium but unfortunately, he passed away before he could realise his dream. His close friend, Khaled bin Buthi Al Mutairi, then took up the project in an effort to make his friend’s dream come true. Out of this was born Fawasel TV, a family-oriented channel, which has been in test transmission since February this year, but was officially launched out of DMC earlier this month. Fawasel TV is no mean feat. US $3 million has already been invested into building the TV station in DMC. The project, which was undertaken by Dubai-based systems integrator, United Broadcast & Media Services (UBMS), in conjunction with Fawasel’s operations manager and broadcast consultant, Tarek Tarabichi, has seen the construction of two studios — a five-camera studio and a two-camera studio — a master control room, a production gallery, a voice production room and a recording studio. Although currently a standard definition (SD) facility, the infrastructure in the station has been chosen to ensure HD-compliance in future. “We have planned a HD-based environment but due to time constraints, we couldn’t put the whole thing in place at one go,” says Tarabichi. “The signals are currently tuned to SD because some areas need to go up to speed in terms of storage to ensure HD-compliance. For this, we require a fibre optic channel. We don’t have this in place yet but we do plan to get it up and running this summer. In the next quarter, we are also looking to reinvest in some areas of the facility to ensure that we are completely HD compliant,” he adds. In the meantime, Fawasel TV has invested in two Sony HD cameras and three digital betacams along with Fujinon lenses for its five-camera studio. The master control room includes a new system from Canopus called the Edius Broadcast. “This is not yet available in the local market but UBMS procured it for us directly from the manufacturer,” says Tarabichi. The MCR includes two video play-out servers and an ingest server which consists of a Canopus NX Professional and uses Canopus ADVC-1000 to convert its signals to SDI output. This is then sent to a reference system from Trilogy Mentor Plus SPG/TSG Digital Outputs and a Mentor Analogue TSG Board. As part of the workflow, the signal then goes to a Junger Audio Level Processor and a BEL audio synchronisation delay. “We have invested in an audio legaliser and frame sync to avoid sound distortion. This is a common problem here, where the viewer has to reach out for his remote control everytime a commercial comes up on television in between a programme because the volume suddenly goes up. This solution enables us to always maintain our audio level at -10, which is the international standard. Right now, we do not want the lack of a fibre optic channel to stand in the way of quality. So we have made sure that all our surrounding systems enable us to provide adequate quality,” adds Tarabichi. ||**||II|~||~||~|The whole system is powered and relayed through Network & Miranda-based amplifiers and converters. This, in turn, is connected to the transmission desk to both a Sony DFS-700AP video mixer and a Yamaha O2R96V2 audio mixer. The next part is a voice recording room, which is equipped with a Steinberg Nuendo 3 Production workstation. Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of Fawasel TV is the interactive nature of the channel. Since it has been on air, it has, on an average had at least 4000 participants log in daily from Saudi Arabia while the rest are scattered across the Gulf. “This is just the average. On some days, we have had as many as 8000 participants during the test phase so we expect many more responses when we become fully operational,” claims Tarabichi. The TV station, which has about 38 people working for it currently, has invested in its own playout facility instead of going through Dubai Media City’s Samacom. “We wanted speed so we decided to have our own playout facility. This is to avoid any congestion in signals. We also have our own monitoring facility. We are one of the very few TV stations here that have such a sophisticated system in place,” he adds. As with most projects in the Gulf, the biggest challenge was timing, according to Tarabichi and Reza Mehdizadeh, sales and marketing director of UBMS. “We had to launch the project by mid January 2006, get the equipment from the US and Europe during Christmas, when delivery time is a rare commodity, make sure the products were working properly, put them together in our lab and test them before dismantling the whole thing and reassembling it at Fawasel TV,” explains Mehdizadeh of UBMS. Mehdizadeh also cites undercutting and overpricing as a common problem in the Middle East market. “One of the problems that legitimate consultancy groups have to contend with in the Middle East is people promising to either integrate the systems for very little or exuberantly high prices. This confuses the customer. Smaller integrators tend to convince the client that the project is worth a lot less than it is. This leads to several problems because more often than not, the company can’t deliver on its promise and the client ends up spending much more to rectify the problems created by such companies. On the other hand, those who overquote confuse the customer. Fortunately for us, Tarabichi has a technology background and easily understood and determined what Fawasel TV would require in terms of equipment and infrastructure to meet its objectives.” UBMS also had another advantage. As a major reseller and distributor for professional broadcasting equipment in the Middle East, it was easily able to procure equipment for the client. “Fawasel left the micromanagement to us. This saved us a lot of time and effort in the procurement of items, price negotiations with different suppliers, delivery dates, shipment, storage, and payment of the products. If this had not been the case, we may not have been able to meet their tight deadline,” adds Mehdizadeh. The channel is currently looking at the possibility of sponsorship for its programmes, which it claims is much better than what is being shown on other channels. “The satellite space is currently flooded with TV channels that are using cheap video-clips and entertainment to conquer families’ living rooms. We are investing in programming and content because we feel that there is a need for culture oriented content. Also, we already have about 4,000 hours of good documentary content in our archives. Now we are working hard to top-up this number using our own content and programming which we are shooting in our Saudi and UAE studios,” says Tarabichi, who admits that the nature of content on Fawasel TV will be more conservative as it primarily targets the audience in Saudi Arabia. More channels are in the pipeline for Fawasel TV network. However, Tarabichi confirms that any additional channel will be launched only after the management is convinced that the newly launched entertainment channel will be capable of sustaining itself. ||**||

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