MBC recently strengthened the news component of its Egyptian channel MBC Masr with a turnkey newsroom and studio installation. Systems integrator Media Group International was selected to deliver this project under difficult political conditions in the country. Vibhuti Arora brings you an exclusive behind-the-scenes report Free-to-air network MBC Group recently contracted systems integrator Media Group […]
MBC recently strengthened the news component of its Egyptian channel MBC Masr with a turnkey newsroom and studio installation. Systems integrator Media Group International was selected to deliver this project under difficult political conditions in the country. Vibhuti Arora brings you an exclusive behind-the-scenes report
Free-to-air network MBC Group recently contracted systems integrator Media Group International (MGI) to build a turnkey news facility in Cairo for its MBC Masr channel. MBC Masr is MBC Groups 12th channel and was launched late last year in Egypt to provide viewers in the country with a selection of general entertainment and news programming. Given the political turmoil in the country, part of MBCs mandate was also to build a strong news element within the channel.
The installation at MBC Masr, therefore, involved two phases. Saudi-based systems integrated First Gulf Company (FGC) undertook Phase 1 of the project, which included building a Master Control Room (MCR) for the channels entertainmenprogrammes. MGI, which is headquartered in Qatar, was responsible for Phase 2, which included building a studio and creating a turnkey news environment for MBC Masr.
Phase 2 involved a comprehensive project including broadcast systems design, engineering and installation. What is noteworthy is the fact that MGI worked under dire political circumstances to undertake an installation within a very tight deadline to ensure that MBCs on-air broadcast mandate was fulfilled. The project was, therefore, completed within a span of four months and the channel went on air in April 2013.
Nick Barratt, Senior Manager of MBC Group comments on the decision to select MGI: MBC usually undertakes system builds in-house using our skilled engineering team but due to the location and existing projects, we decided to outsource this build. MBC required one supplier who could deliver this important project and meet our tight budgets and deadlines. We also needed a company that was willing to operate in difficult circumstances. The change of leadership at MGI and their strategic alliances placed MGI in an ideal position to do this.
Salam was rebranded as Media Group International in March 2013 under a new management.
MBC Masr is MGIs first major project in Egypt following the companys restructuring, explains Paul Wallis, Sales Director of MGI.
Our engineering teams past experience in executing similar projects proved to be a key deciding factor in winning this project, he says.
Creating a news environment became an increasingly vital addition to MBC Masr given the political situation in Egypt. While the installation was a necessity, the turmoil in the country and the consequent logistics involved in getting equipment delivered to the country served as a serious hurdle to the timely execution of the project.
The objective was to build a turnkey HD-capable newsroom that allows multi-format programming in both SD and HD. The installation required the design and build of a broadcast control room or gallery, a central apparatus room (CAR), an audio equipment room, a broadcast studio, three edit suites and a newsroom complete with the necessary IT infrastructure.
The MBC Masr facility is located in Egyptian Media City and previously served as a film studio. It now had to be repurposed to suit the requirements of a broadcaster. This, of course, called for careful co-ordination between the civil works and systems integration teams.
As the technical installation progressed alongside the building of the set in the studio, the systems integrator, the contractor and the set designers required to be in sync at all times. It is important to note that MBC Masr was on air at this time. Phase 1 had been completed and the initial programming for the channel was running as per schedule. This meant that Phase 2 had to carry on without disrupting the channels existing broadcast service.
MBC Masr decided during the installation to expand the workflow by adding new programmes to meet the ongoing political demands at that time, Raed Bacho, Broadcast Manager at MBC Group, clarifies.
This meant that MGI had to accommodate multiple variations in the system whilst still delivering on the agreed deadline.
MBC Cairo uses five Sony XDCAM cameras for ENG purposes and the AMA (Avid Media Access) workflow with NewsCutters to import the material to ISIS and check in to Interplay.
In addition to that, the facility boasts the latest Grass Valley LDX-80 studio cameras, which are based on CMOS technology as opposed to traditional CCD.
An ingest workstation at the newsroom enables the cameramen to ingest the footage as soon as they return from a shoot.
At the heart of the system is an Avid production system. Avid Interplay serves as the central database to connect and control all systems for ingest, file storage, editing suites, iNews, command playout and graphics.
Other technical highlights of the project include a live production switcher from Ross, a broadcast communications system from Trilogy, a Barco LED video wall and most importantly, a Studer all-in-one Vista audio mixing console, the first of its kind to be installed in Egypt.
The core component in the ingest part of the workflow is the Airspeed 5000 and Interplay Capture, which does baseband ingest. A Telestream Vantage system is used for file ingest and can accept any video file format and transcode them to Avid MXF file and check in to Avid Interplay.
All baseband recording is done by Interplay Capture while Quicklink is used as a file delivery system by the correspondents for delivering finished reports.
In addition to the above, listed users can ingest materials from the internet and other similar files that they might receive from various sources.
Part of the installation is the Avid Instinct for rough cut edit and Avid News Cutter for final video editing. The end user can employ Instinct to create rough cuts for their stories. These rough cuts are then picked up by the video editors and used as the start of an edit. The sequence created in Instinct is loaded to the Source Monitor from the Interplay window and then cut to the timeline of the NRCS (newsroom computer room) sequence.
News reporters can add the text to their iNews story using Instinct if they wish or prepare the script in iNews before opening the story in Instinct. The craft editors then use NewsCutter to finish the stories in Instinct or start new stories from scratch.
The journalist can also prepare the stories in iNews. Vizrt graphics are integrated with Avid at this point to save time. From each of the iNews client sessions, the journalist can open a Vizrt plugin window, which allows them to select a template, photos, graphics and so on to incorporate with the news.
Later, at the on-air playout stage, both the news and the graphics can be played from Avids playout system so no manual intervention is required for the Vizrt play out. This, in turn, ensures cost savings.
Finally, to play the stories to air, MBC Masr uses iNews Command, which can play both video and CG events to air. The latter is inserted into iNews by the newsroom journalist.
MGI has a local partner in Egypt, who provides 24/7 support to the channel. The same company also services other broadcast clients in Egypt.
This installation included several rounds of training with key manufacturers that was aimed at ensuring that the end user was fully skilled to handle the system operation functions while also being aware of equipment maintenance procedures. MGIs in-house team provided the staff at MBC Masr with end-to-end knowledge of the broadcast installation with special focus on the Avid components.
The main driver for getting on air was the elections in Egypt but the sense of urgency was heightened due to political unrest prevailing in the state. This was primarily because the political situation in Egypt had continued to worsen while the project was in progress putting huge pressure on the systems integrator to carry out the project in a much shorter span of time.
The project was challenging due to the recent political unrest which drove us to reduce the overall project timeline. The biggest challenge in this project was to be able to get on air to be able to report on the changing political situation, explains MGIs Wallis.
The challenges were many. Equipment deliveries, the overall logistics including customs clearances and manpower resources faced huge roadblocks.
One of the biggest single issues we faced was the importation procedures in Egypt, explains Wallis.
Although MBC is located in the free zone area, we often had to work with MBCs own logistics team to ensure the goods arrived on site and in a timely manner. The second major challenge in this project was converting some of the products on site to run in SD. On at least one occasion, our team could not leave the facility overnight because demonstrators were protesting outside, Wallis adds.
Today, MBC Masr has grown since its initial days to a full-fledged 24/7 channel with a core news element designed to share news from Egypt with the rest of the world. Of course, the channel also serves as a general entertainment channel for its Egyptian viewers regaling its audience with dramas, talk shows and reality shows.