A cutting-edge digital media hub has emerged in Dubai, designed to meet the demands of a tech-savvy, digitally immersed Arab audience. With a strong focus on providing content optimised for online engagement, Vijaya Cherian explores this new-age facility, integrated by Ideal Systems Group, where every space is a potential production set.
In September, Dubai welcomed a fresh media venture designed to cater to the Gen Z and millennial demographic in the Arab world. Blinx, a brand-new digital storytelling hub that occupies the whole second floor of Building 2 in Dubai Media City (DMC), aims to produce and deliver engaging news and related short-form content across multiple platforms, from social media channels to the web, television, wearable devices and the metaverse.
Central to Blinx’s vision is a 16,384 sqft, state-of-the-art facility that includes a pioneering metaverse/extended reality (XR) studio, as well as cutting-edge production facilities and control rooms. The whole office is designed as a set, with six studio cameras and around 15 ENG cameras. The studios are fitted with the latest live production tools, including AI-enhancement features aimed at helping content creators craft virtual media content.
Blinx is the brainchild of General Manager Nakhle Elhage, a well-known broadcast veteran. His core team includes Chief Operations Officer Ruba Ibrahim and Chief Creative Officer Fadi Radi, and they lead a team of 160 employees currently working at the Blinx headquarters in DMC.
“Our aim is to attract Gen Z viewers and millennials who prefer getting all their information, whether news or entertainment, on social platforms today,” says Elhage. “We bring the live production experience to multiple smart devices and screens, creating a holistic on-demand social ecosystem where MENA youth audiences will be able to find culturally relevant content at their fingertips.”
The core of Blinx’s operation relies on an end-to-end 4K-ready audio and video chain facilitated by the latest NDI and Dante tools. This system was designed and implemented through a partnership between Blinx and systems integrator Ideal Systems Group, which worked closely with other solution providers as well.
An essential aspect of the social media content hub is its focus on news operations. Given its target audience of digitally savvy young people, Blinx’s strategy hinges on modern infrastructure and high-end production workflows. It has used the potential of cloud, AI and data technologies to gain a strategic advantage over other media platforms.
As a result, in just a month since its launch, the media entity has reported impressive numbers on its @blinxNOW and @blinxNEWS social media handles, with the former having an astounding digital footprint at 184m users. Early last month, the digital hub also launched @blinxNEWS to provide extensive, dedicated news coverage of events in the Arab world.
“Some of us at Blinx come from broadcast backgrounds and know the value of content,” explains COO Ruba Ibrahim. “We also recognise that a young, digital-native population requires content at their fingertips in a format they find palatable, and research supports this. A recent report from Vizrt shows that 84% of Gen Z viewers prefer to consume content that is heavy in graphics for storytelling, with 75% wanting it optimised for mobile viewing, as 37% consume all their content on their phones. In the Arab world, around 55% of the population is below the age of 30 and they consume almost all content on their devices. They are our prime audience. Most of our staff and all our storytellers are also young and communicate best with our Gen Z and millennial audience.”
CCO Fadi Radi elaborates: “Traditional broadcasters often use a one-to-many communication model. Digital platforms, however, can leverage personalisation and interactive features to engage their audience more directly and meaningfully. Blinx is data-driven and uses AI extensively to reach our audience through scientific methodologies.”
Having conceived of a brand new concept that did not exist in the Middle East, Blinx contracted Ideal Systems to design and deploy the entire broadcast system, including the lighting for the studios, a file-based infrastructure, IT infrastructure, IPTV, video walls, XR studio, production kits, graphics, MAM and NRCS systems, and edit suites.
“They wanted something outstanding and unique to other projects in this market, and there are several firsts associated with Blinx,” explains Ayman Alkhatib, Managing Director, Ideal Systems ME. “This is the first NDI-based social media hub in the MENA region, for instance. They wanted their operators and journalists to be able to access the system and interact with their production tools remotely. In addition, rather than rely only on a traditional studio, they wanted to utilise any and every space in the Blinx facility as a potential shooting position with filming standards set to UHD quality, and they wanted studio production to be fully automated. Those were some of the mandates.”
Blinx’s core video infrastructure leverages NDI technology for seamless transmission of video signals over an IP-based network. In parallel, Dante technology over IP underpins the audio infrastructure, ensuring a seamless and efficient production process. Sony 4K cameras with Fujinon 4K broadcast lenses power the studio sets. For audio, Blinx uses Sennheiser’s Dante-based wireless microphones and IEM system, meeting the studio’s audio needs impeccably.
The core video backend is anchored in Sienna NDI infrastructure, offering a comprehensive suite of NDI processing tools. Blinx’s unique integration of a redundant NDI router from Sienna and Densitron’s control system offers seamless routing capabilities, empowering customers to establish a redundant tier-1 broadcast core using NDI technology. In the audio domain, Blinx employs native Dante-based audio consoles and processing modules from SSL, delivering an agile and adaptable audio production platform.
A notable feature of Blinx’s set-up is the inclusion of XR studio sets and LED screens from Liantronics, providing a cost-effective solution for XR/AR production. “We built an XR production studio with the help of fine pitch LED display supplier Liantronics, utilising the latest LED technologies and tracking system,” explains Alkhatib.
To meet PCR production needs, Blinx relies on Viz Vectar, Tricaster panels and Mosart automation. The creative team’s production and operational requirements are fulfilled through graphics components from Vizrt.
For seamless video transformation, Blinx uses NDI gateways and converters from AJA and Kiloview, for smooth transitions between SDI, NDI and HDMI. Additionally, Blinx is equipped with a hybrid MAM and NRCS system that supports its story creation and media content production operations. For its media storage requirements, it relies on solutions from GB Labs and Object Matrix, ensuring that all media production needs are met with efficiency and reliability.
The studio complex at Blinx is equipped with hybrid MAM and NRCS systems, supported by cloud and AI services from AWS. These systems enable Blinx to create and manage media content effectively and provide a better user experience. It can scale to any number of users, using the hybrid storage infrastructure between on-prem nearline storage and cloud-based archive.
This part of the project, along with project management, systems architectural planning and the implementation of the integrated cloud newsroom and media production workflows, was undertaken by Kunnusta, part of Fonn Group, with support from Ideal Systems.
Mimir, a cloud-based video collaboration and production tool, forms the backbone of Blinx’s editing suite. Dina, a cloud newsroom tool, drives the news and editorial workflows, while Vizrt powers graphics, virtual studio and playout automation tools. Videos and images are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, allowing them to be reused across multiple applications within Blinx. This includes ingesting video content over NDI, searching and adding media to news stories in Dina, and publishing stories with video, graphics and images on multiple platforms.
“Cloud-based infrastructure allows for cost-effective scaling to reach different platforms with customised graphics and video production to suit each platform, so our staff have access to their everyday newsroom and video production tools from anywhere in the world. NDI technology ensures flexibility and scalability at a lower cost than traditional broadcast infrastructure,” explains Radi.
For video management and collaboration, Mimir reportedly offers robust functionality, scalability and integration with various AI and production workflow tools. The integration of AI into Blinx’s operations helps with content recommendation and creation, personalisation, automatic tagging, metadata generation and enrichment. By enriching video and media assets with metadata, AI helps improve searchability and the optimisation of content for search engine ranking. Videos are easily transcribed into any language, making it easy to find assets based on spoken words in transcripts, object and face detection, and many more parameters created by AI.
To cater to people who prefer graphics-heavy content, Blinx employs Vizrt tools to create high-quality virtual sets, augmented reality (AR) graphics and interactive elements. Remote production and automation tools enable Blinx to produce 4K-ready content in the cloud, ensuring it can be viewed on various devices in the format viewers prefer, with different graphics set on each one to fit the device. With a futuristic, wholly digital infrastructure in place, Blinx represents the future of news and content consumption, offering a modern media hub that leverages personalisation and interactive features to engage audiences. Data-driven and AI-enabled technologies transform content consumption for younger audiences, making it more engaging and interactive. The workflow among Blinx’s tools and automation supports easy virtual production and elevates the storytelling experience, making it suitable for live production. In essence, Blinx is a transformative force in the media landscape, catering to the evolving preferences of the younger generation and harnessing the full potential of technology and innovation.
The Blinx Metaverse
Blinx has introduced a new metaverse space spanning 16,384 sqft and designed by Tech Mahindra. This digital counterpart seamlessly mirrors the physical office within the metaverse, delivering an immersive and engaging experience for users.
Central to the project are various elements, including precise 3D modelling for an authentic representation of the Blinx office space, the creation of realistic 3D assets and seamless integration of interactive features like voice and text chats, screen sharing, video embedding and event hosting tools. Moreover, the metaverse space harmoniously blends with Spatial technology, ensuring accessibility across diverse devices and platforms. Users can interact with Blinx app content, including videos and sections, in a 2D format within the metaverse, and enjoy real-time streaming of events. Interactive nonplayer characters enrich the user experience, while an expanded amphitheatre space accommodates large audiences for watch parties and events.
The deployment process focuses on platform compatibility, rigorous testing to ensure performance, responsive content delivery from the Blinx app and robust security measures to safeguard user data and privacy, especially when user authentication and access control are involved.
Combining visually appealing design and a tech stack featuring Unity, Spatial and VR/AR tools, the Blinx office metaverse project creates a cross-platform virtual environment that aligns with its goals and offers adaptability and scalability. Users access this virtual space through a user-friendly interface, customise avatars and interact with NPCs. The space is further enhanced with realistic 3D models and animations, real-time voice and text chats, personalisation options for avatars, and project management tools that facilitate collaborative development.