Going live

India’s Zee Network entered the Middle East last year with the launch of Zee Arabiya. A US $50 million facility under construction in Dubai is a clear sign of the broadcast giant’s future intentions, but until that facility is ready it has set up a temporary home in Sharjah’s SAIF Zone. Digital Studio looks inside Zee Arabiya’s current studio and post production unit.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  July 3, 2006

|~||~||~|Zee Network, one of India’s largest entertainment groups, has launched itself in a big way in the Middle East. The network, which launched a music and lifestyle channel called Zee Arabiya for Arab and Asian youth late last year, will invest approximately US $50 million to set up its headquarters in the Middle East. Zee Towers, which is being built in Dubai currently, will eventually house the entertainment network’s production, post and broadcast management infrastructure. But until that facility is ready, the network, which has plans to launch two additional channels in the region, has invested more than US $2 million in a production and post facility in Sharjah Airport International Free (SAIF) zone, to cater to its local production needs. The studio project was undertaken by Abu Dhabi based systems integrator, Tek Signals. “As we began to produce more programmes here, we realised that rental facilities were very expensive and subject to availability,” says Afzal Lakadwala, vice president - broadcast operations, Zee Network. “This was a big cog in the wheel. We were in dire need of a full time production facility because we were producing so many programmes locally such as Gulf pulse, anchor-based shows, interviews, live dial-in shows and more for Zee TV as well as Zee Arabiya, so we decided to invest in a studio. It’s pretty much ready for most formats. We had already invested in a post production unit within SAIF zone in December so it made sense for our production facility to be in the same place,” he adds. The result is a studio with 300 square metres of shooting floor that is equipped with three Sony DXC cameras, and expandable to five in the future. “We have opted for digital betacam as the final output, and although the current setup is ready for a five-camera online shoot with a digital vision mixer, we are currently using only three. Zee India also has a good relationship with Sony Hong Kong so we imported all our Sony equipment from there,” explains Lakadwala. Apart from the studio cameras, the entertainment network also has DSR 450 cameras from Sony, two mini HDV cameras, a mini HDV recorder and 10 Digibeta VTR recorders. For Tek Signals, it was a significant challenge to convert a basic warehouse with four walls into a sophisticated production facility. “We were just given a warehouse and we converted it to a standard television studio with facilities ready to go live once hooked to the fibre optic link,” says Tariq Raja, managing partner, Tek Signals. “Our engineers undertook the whole project for the studio from scratch including the studio acoustics and lighting, console design, monitor bank, racks, video, audio and control systems as well as wall box wiring. It is a relatively small setup but it has all the features and facilities of a standard television production studio,” he adds. Due to space limitation, the Production Control Room (PCR) serves for both video as well as audio production. This is a spacious control room with a nine-monitor bank and talkback system. One console, however, will be used to serve as both a video and audio production desk. The PCR comprises two 42RU racks accommodating all the electronic frames. VTRs, Sony DVW-2000P Recorders and J 30 player are stacked in custom-made cosmetic racks with 2RU 4x4” Wohler LCD monitors for local preview. The PCR system includes a Digital DME vision mixer, Inscriber CG, Mackey audio mixer, network audio/video router, network SDI, PAL, & analogue audio DA. Genelec 8030 speakers have been used for audio monitoring in the PCR. The monitor bank depth is only 30 centimetres deep as the studio is equipped with the latest Sony LMD monitors. Tek Signals custom-developed UMD Tally monitors and interfaced them for this project. The shooting floor space has been maximised taking into consideration acoustic treatment and finishing. Two identical mirror image studio wall boxes have been place on either side of the studio to provide flexibility to the shooting crew in terms of moving cameras, monitors, microphones, speakers and talkback facilities. Additionally, Kroma TM6008 Talkback systems have been installed at the site. “Its configuration has all the features of a standard full studio talkback system, enabling full voice communication of the facilities and still expandable to meet future demands,” explains Raja from Tek Signals. Of special mention is the lighting in the studio, which includes products from Strand, UK and Balcar, France. The lighting installation for this project was undertaken by Lighting Solutions in Dubai. “We have a total of 40 lights in this studio - 30 studio lights from Strand and 10 cold lights from Balcar - and they are all fully moveable,” says Lakadwala. “They are on a lighting grid we bought from IFF in Italy. The lights can be brought down to three feet above the ground and can go all the way up to the ceiling. The grids are manual. All the lights are controlled through the lighting console in the control room. The lights are fully programmable and fully dimmable and can be preset for different purposes,” Lakadwala explains. The Zee studio also has a gel floor that it imported from France. “The gel floor ensures the smooth movement of the camera when we use the dolly and for tracking purposes,” explains Lakadwala. The whole project is estimated to have taken approximately two months. “The biggest challenge was in doing the studio itself,” says Lakadwala. “We basically had just four walls. From getting the walls done to getting the approval of SAIF zone authorities to do the construction and converting the warehouse into a studio, everything involved a great deal of organisation. Most importantly, at the end of two months, we were rolling.” Having invested quite a bit of capital into this project, the entertainment network is likely to retain this studio even if its opens a major production facility in Zee Towers, Dubai. “We are most likely to retain this facility. Perhaps all the shows that are not going live on air can be shot here, while some of the bigger shoots will be done in Dubai,” explains Lakadwala. At the time of going to press, Zee TV was also putting in place a voice over booth. “We are making a sound booth with audio production facility, mainly voice dubbing and other production,” he adds. Zee TV also has in place a state-of-the-art post production facility, which was put in place by the company’s inhouse team led by Lakadwala. The post production area includes three Final Cut Pros, one Avid Adrenaline, one Smoke, two graphic workstations from Boxx as well as 3DS Max, Combustions, After Effects and Photoshop. “We’ve been using Smoke systems for the past six years for our broadcast operations in India,” says Lakadwala. “We’re very comfortable working with it as it delivers what it takes to make our channel branding appealing and eye-catching.” “We have spared no effort to put in place a sophisticated production and post unit,” says Lakadwala. “Despite knowing that we would eventually have a state-of-the-art facility in Zee Towers, we have made every effort to ensure that our local production does not suffer in the meanwhile by investing in such a facility.”||**||

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