Al Ghad Al Arabi went on air on October 20 this year after implementation consultants Galal El Hakeem and Mohammed Akhlaq were called in to establish phase two of the project. The channel was relaunched as Egypts first privately owned 24/7 news channel. BroadcastPro ME speaks to the consultants for exclusive details Al Ghad Al […]
Al Ghad Al Arabi went on air on October 20 this year after implementation consultants Galal El Hakeem and Mohammed Akhlaq were called in to establish phase two of the project. The channel was relaunched as Egypts first privately owned 24/7 news channel. BroadcastPro ME speaks to the consultants for exclusive details
Al Ghad Al Arabi started broadcasting from London in 2013, with plans to set up studios and production facilities in Cairo and Beirut in subsequent years. The broadcaster built a production centre in Cairo Media City last September but the channel strategy changed from building a production centre to building a full-fledged 24/7 news channel.
The channels strategy was to re-launch Al Ghad Al Arabi as a 24-hour news channel where its core broadcast would come from Cairo Media City rather than London. London would still have an important role as a broadcast centre, which will also serve as a disaster recovery site should the Cairo facility suffer a catastrophic failure.
Abdul Latif El Menawy, CEO of Al Ghad Al Arabi, former head of Egyptian News Centre, was tasked with the mission to head the first private news channel in Egypt and turn it around as a pan-Arab news channel.
The aspiration of the channel is to be amongst the big news players, says El Menawy.
We are aiming to deliver news with a modern and fresh perspective and to be the source of informing our viewers, not misleading them.
This new vision had to be followed by a complete restructure and transformational programme to get the channel to be recognised as an international broadcaster. We had a very aggressive approach to re-scope, re-structure and transform Cairo Media City studios to suit the new requirements, in addition to designing and building a world-class facility.
The first phase of the project was stopped and a review was carried out. In March 2015, Galal El Hakeem and Mohammed Akhlaq, implementation consultants from Hi Media Pro, were asked to carry out a gap analysis of the infrastructure and the operating model for Al Ghad TV. Part of their remit was to look at the current build in Cairo and find out what was needed to enhance the facility to accommodate a full-fledged 24/7 news channel.
Both Galal and Akhlaq have been in-charge of the entire project and delivered and implemented the whole project in a very professional, efficient and timely manner. I am very impressed with the results, it was a job well done and successfully delivered, El Menawy adds.
Systems integrator AV Solutions, which implemented the first phase, was called in to work on the second phase as well. Zaid Wattar, Managing Director of AV Solutions, says that his company worked in close coordination with El Hakeem and Akhlaq to achieve the channels vision.
The idea was to use the existing infrastructure and enhance it to allow production of 24/7 news with social media integration.
As the overall Project Launch Director, Galal W El Hakeem managed the entire project, while Mohammed Akhlaq was the Project Launch Broadcast Operations and Technical Director.The project came with a very strict timeline and budget constraints, informs El Hakeem.
The real challenge, according to El Hakeem, was to deliver solutions for multiple locations in Cairo, Beirut and London while relying on existing infrastructure where possible, and solving any existing problems. The idea was to deliver a new operating model with complete integration between the three locations and centralising everything in Cairo.
Speed was an important factor to consider, as the system had to be able to ingest, create and transmit to air in the shortest possible time, points out Akhlaq.
This needed to encourage collaborative working; it needed to be a streamlined production process to manage workflows and facilitate sharing of material with ease. As pictures are being ingested, multiple users can access these images and start to work on them in their own channel styles without impacting other users, he adds.
The production system was upgraded from a single ISIS crate to a cluster, adding redundancy in critical areas where there was none before. This increased storage capacity built a more robust ingest and playout and improved the graphics system. A 6×2 (70) Barco video wall that only used one Viz engine was also deployed.
While designing the system, the team paid special attention to effective and easy workarounds in the event of system failure. These workarounds were designed to buy time to fix the problem, while maintaining output without affecting production quality, informs El Hakeem.
The Avid system had to be used to its full capacity with desktop editing, social media, integrated graphics and archive, using an efficient and integrated workflow. Having an integrated system with shared storage means the broadcaster can use content much more effectively. Stories generated for news and programmes, as well as breaking news content, can be distributed to all departments, which in turn have the ability to edit and repurpose stories to suit their audiences. From news to documentaries to online, all within one system, automated and streamlined publication to the web, mobile devices and social channels makes multi-platform distribution faster and more intuitive.
Desktop editing was a big concern, as it involved training traditional journalists on a new advanced file-based system, teaching them not only to produce bulletins but to edit headlines, create out of vision (OOV) scripts as well as add their own graphics.
The system is designed to allow as much control of stories as possible to the journalist. A journalist can view content, edit material from headlines to OOV to full edits, add lower thirds and create headline graphics, full-frame graphics and so on, using Viz templates. In effect, a journalist can produce a complete bulletin, including content and all on-screen furniture, from a desktop.
With the help of Avids workflow consultants, journalists were able to use the system and edit their material, including voice-over packages, after two weeks of training.
I believe the key was thorough training and a strict adherence to the prescribed workflow, says Akhlaq.
By integrating Media Distribute into workflows, journalists can automate and streamline publication to the web, mobile devices and social channels, making multi-platform distribution faster and more intuitive. It provides a single interface within iNEWS or Interplay to create and deliver content to any selected destination platform.
This leads on to a centralised storage and archive area. Once again, the vast array of material is available for all to use, thereby enriching output. Having a single archive policy simplifies searches and reduces duplication, in order to manage the archive library effectively. SGL installed and configured applications remotely and all training was also delivered via the web. Spectra Logic sent an installation and configuration engineer to deliver the relevant training.
Graphics and video wall
The Vizrt graphics systems had to be retained, but significant changes were made in the system and workflow, to enhance and improve on what was built previously.
We installed a fully redundant Graphics Hub and Content Pilot servers, which did not exist in the previous system that lacked redundancy, says Akhlaq.
Viz Maps were previously a standalone engine and did not fit the needs of an agile news environment. These were upgraded to a real-time maps server and allowed news producers and journalists to create maps on their own from templates, without depending on the creative team.
We also installed a Barco video wall, but rather than have a Viz engine driving four cubes, we used an E2 controller and a Viz Multiplay engine to save time and money, with one engine instead of three, Akhlaq explains.
Viz Multiplay is based on new engine capability and allows a single Viz engine to provide up to eight DVI video outputs. Traditionally, it was only possible to get one output from each engine, and a complex video wall needed multiple engines. With eight outputs from one engine hardware, the resolution from one engine can be up to 6K. Another advantage of Multiplay is that it is web-based; it can run from any desktop, and can be controlled via touchscreen or even from gallery or studio floor on a tablet.
Signiant was selected for file transfer, mainly for its accelerated transfers and simple workflow that allows person-to-process.
For Al Ghad, we wanted a user to initiate the file transfer to prevent unnecessary files being sent. Signiant Media Shuttle would place the right folder at the receive site, where Vantage would transcode the file and place it in the right folder in Avid. This process is automated using watch folders, Akhlaq adds.
Video over IP for contribution circuits
The internet and telecoms infrastructure in Egypt is still developing, and bandwidth remains a challenge.
Akhlaq decided to use VOIP from London to Cairo at Al Ghad, based on the fact that Nilesat already uses this technology to send material to its playout centres, with a high degree of reliability.
This will save considerable cost, as it uses new technology on the public internet in a secure manner.
The challenge we faced was to match the encoders in London to the decoders at Nilesat. Throughput of information was difficult, but once we got through we were impressed with the results. There is an occasional break-up, but that is because it is a contribution circuit and not a distribution circuit, he explains.
Importing equipment into Cairo was not easy. The recruitment and training of more than hundred editorial staff also proved to be challenging, as they had to be trained to use Avid.
Change in management and transformational change within an organisation is challenging, but relaunching a channel while dealing with training and a limited skill set of staff was harder. Having worked in the region and understanding the culture helped to overcome the resistance we faced. By holding regular meetings with teams and offering open forums to help understand their concerns, we listened and adjusted our approach to achieve the desired results, El Hakeem concludes.