Rotana Media Group recently went to air with a fully revamped 14-channel playout system to enable content delivery across multiple platforms. The project is one of many phases undertaken by the media conglomerate to achieve a full file-based HD infrastructure across its broadcast workflow. In an exclusive interview with BroadcastPro ME, Dr. Naser Refaat, Technical […]
Rotana Media Group recently went to air with a fully revamped 14-channel playout system to enable content delivery across multiple platforms. The project is one of many phases undertaken by the media conglomerate to achieve a full file-based HD infrastructure across its broadcast workflow. In an exclusive interview with BroadcastPro ME, Dr. Naser Refaat, Technical Executive Services Manager and Acting CTO of Rotana TV Network and a leading technologist in MENA, elaborates on the recent project and sheds light on other parallel projects that will help the Arab film industry to bring its famed library of old Arabic content back to the screen as new
Rotana Group has one of the oldest and largest movie libraries in the Arab world, with Arabic-language movies dating back to at least 1921. It is also one of the largest producers and owners of Arabic content and owns a film production company, print media, TV network, radio stations and a record label as well. The media house presently operates 26 channels worldwide, with 14 SD channels on Nilesat and Arabsat, and 11 HD channels on Arabsat only. 13 channels are streamed through IP to European and US distribution cable partners. It also broadcasts two channels exclusively to Europe, two to the US and one channel to Canada via cable. All of Rotana’s content is distributed worldwide via OTT partners as well.
As the owner of such a massive Arabic film library, Rotana has taken upon itself the onus to restore professionally that content once again for the public. For this purpose, it has undertaken a massive restoration project in conjunction with Prasad Corporation, one of Indias largest digital restoration houses. The project includes the conversion of its media assets to HD and 4K formats.
In parallel, their technical team has been mandated by the TV network’s President Turki Shabana and Rotana Media Group’s CEO, Fahad Al Sukait to transition to an HD infrastructure, migrate all of Rotana’s content to the new system and enable content delivery across multiple platforms. As phase one of this project, Rotanas Cairo facility recently went to air with a 14-channel playout system from Imagine Communications under the leadership of Dr. Naser Refaat, Technical Executive Services Manager and Acting CTO of Rotana TV Network. Egypt-based systems integrator Systems Design implemented the project in Cairo while also coordinating the media migration processes, ensuring quality control of the content and providing on-site support.
“We are constantly growing and upgrading,” explains Dr. Refaat.
“This project is phase one of a bigger project for Rotana to upgrade all of our channels to HD and have the ability to add more TV channels in the future as and when needed. With the migration from SD to HD transmission, Rotana required a system upgrade to increase its storage capacity and scalability, so as to achieve higher video bitrates that would create a better viewing experience for our viewers.
“This entire solution has been built around Imagine Communications automated playout. These systems have made our operations more efficient and reliable and, therefore, we have embarked on a roadmap to build our services further and offer a better viewing experience to our viewers.”
Paul Wallis, Regional Sales Manager of Imagine Communications, reiterates that “the project was to help Rotana move to a file-based HD infrastructure and increase the storage capacity. This new implementation triples the existing storage that Rotana has available for higher bitrates. Additionally, it has increased the system channel capacity to accommodate the growing demand for new channels.”
To put the project in perspective, Rotana had a system that could only play out four channels in 2009. Back then, Imagine Communications was contracted to provide a 10-channel, fully redundant system. This full end-to-end solution incorporated ADC playout automation, Nexio servers, graphics, glue, routers and multiviewers. However, it was time to upgrade most of this, enabling Rotana to play out 14 channels while providing it with HD capabilities. The current upgrade also includes a massive revamp of the media houses legacy storage system.
The existing system storage capacity has been replaced with the latest Nexio Farad scalable online storage system from Imagine Communications. Rotanas current online storage capability is 48TB, although the new system provides the broadcaster with the ability to upgrade to up to 1PB of online SAN. In addition to this, Rotana has deployed Imagine Communications Nexio Volt servers to allow it to increase the number of channels it can play out in increments.
“In essence, with the Nexio Volt servers, Rotana now has the ability to add up to 400+ channels,” explains Dr. Refaat.
One of the big challenges with this implementation was data migration.Wallis addresses this: “It was handled smoothly through our Nexio Motion digital asset management system. As with most facilities, they
also had limited rack space. This was overcome by using the Nexio Volt 1RU servers instead of the traditional Nexio AMP 3RU servers.
“Imagine Communications completed a seamless transition from its existing storage system to a fully redundant Farad storage system involving the data migration of 35K of hi-res media content to Imagines Nexio Motion digital asset management system. This was completed without any interruptions to the on-air process. As the Nexio server architecture is designed with full redundancy in mind, the migration from the original playout server to the new Farad storage system went smoothly,” Wallis explains.
Imagine Communications has also added the core for a fully expandable system, from the storage capacity point of view as well as the channel counts.
“This implementation is the first step in this major project to implement a file-based workflow that would work across all of Rotana’s departments in Cairo, enhancing both productivity and efficiencies within and between our departments,” explains Dr. Refaat.
Once the installation was completed, a quick-start introduction was provided to the resident team. Comprehensive in-depth training will take place at Imagine Communications Academy in Dubai Media City in coming weeks.
“We have a large support team based in the UAE that covers the region and has a lot of local spare parts in stock as well. This combination enables us to deliver a seamless solution that helps the transition to a file-based HD workflow without any service interruptions,” adds Wallis.
This project, however, is only one of several milestones for Rotana under Dr. Refaats leadership.
Elaborating on some of the tech teams achievements and work in progress, he explains:
“We have not only upgraded our facility from SD to HD for some of our channels, but are also undertaking the same to migrate to 4K using Imagine Communications. In addition to that, we maximised on the old 2009 structure and started using it for streaming to Europe, the US and Canada. We offer exclusive channels to stream online content to these countries.”
While the new systems have streamlined several different processes for Rotana Group, handling such large volumes of data across different platforms has been a task in itself, Dr. Refaat points out.
“Multichannel delivery poses a huge challenge. We are not just looking at distributing content on 26 channels anymore, but across multiple platforms as well. Now, we have a fully automated solution that includes a fully redundant system. The router is completely redundant and our new MCR caters to all of our requirements. The redundancy is 1 plus 1 plus 1.
“We receive feeds from live studios Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Dubai and Lebanon at times, and from Europe and the US for events. We also manage emergency playout for Fox and Fox Movies. Their delivery to different satellites comes from our central Cairo-based facility.
“The Imagine platform is being used to move all of our content to 2K and 4K when needed. This is a massive project and Imagine manages the delivery part of this process. The conversion of our material from 35mm to 2K and 4K is being undertaken by Prasad Corporation in India. We have invested heavily in the relevant hardware and are using their expertise to convert the content under the supervision of Rotana’s Head of film library, Tarek Gabali and Michael Cairns, COO at Rotana Media Group .
“Simultaneously, we are working with a storage company to make content available online. Parallel to this, we have issued a tender for a MAM project and are in the process of identifying the right partners. The aim eventually is to ensure that our catch-up content can be made available to our viewers within minutes of it being on air. Previously, it used to take us two days to make our material ready for catch-up. Now, within 30-50 minutes of it being on air, you can find it on the web,” Dr. Refaat explains.
The converted content is routed through a BTS traffic and channel scheduling system and then, eventually, the Imagine Communications system. Although the BTS solution handles most of the traditional scheduling and playlist operations, Rotanas media buying house, Rotana Media Services (RMS), now has much more sophisticated traffic and scheduling requirements, managing not just the various ad sale spots on TV channels but also other ad media such as street banners, exhibitions, radio spots and so on.
This is beyond the scope of a traditional broadcast traffic system.
“We had a traffic and scheduling system tailored to our requirements by German media solutions company, Cataneo,” explains Dr. Refaat, placing the project in perspective.
“The project began in bits and pieces in 2009. Then we integrated the BTS traffic system and completed the flow with Cataneo. We simultaneously started the restoration project and, in parallel, scouted for an IP distribution platform. We have now expanded on Imagine Communications to achieve that in partnership with Nilesat.”
In essence, he says, with the new solution in place since summer this year, Rotana Media Group is fully geared for playout and delivery via IPTV, IP and OTT, with its catch-up service hugely improved as well.
The media house intends to upgrade its post-production facilities to support 2K and 4K in the coming months.
With an enviable content library, a restoration project due for completion in a few years, the conversion of data to 2K and 4K formats, a proper MAM system in place in the near future and metadata requirements being addressed, Rotana Group is poised for a future of even greater success.
– Vijaya Cherian and Vibhuti Arora