Last month, a custom-made outside broadcast (OB) van was shipped from Dubai to Ethiopia. In the course of an exclusive tour, Vijaya Cherian discovers why this OB van is more than just another production unit and what it signifies for the Ethiopian broadcast landscape The production crew at Ethiopias state-owned Addis Ababa City Government Mass […]
Last month, a custom-made outside broadcast (OB) van was shipped from Dubai to Ethiopia. In the course of an exclusive tour, Vijaya Cherian discovers why this OB van is more than just another production unit and what it signifies for the Ethiopian broadcast landscape
The production crew at Ethiopias state-owned Addis Ababa City Government Mass Media Agency are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first OB van. For them, this vehicle signifies a strong change that is sweeping across the African broadcast landscape.
Nigel Thompson, Sales Manager, Sony Professional Solutions MEA gives an overview of the market.
Africa is lagging behind most other regions in the world in terms of broadcast development. They still use a lot of tape. I would say they are still probably 80% tape based and 90% still operating in Standard Definition (SD). There are only a few areas in Africa that have made the migration to HD, one of which is South Africa, of course. Then, you have places on the West coast like Morocco but thats mainly for production. Still, 90% of Africa is still operating in Standard Definition.
That environment, however, is undergoing a gradual change and the first sign of that shift is the fact that most broadcasters are now replacing their existing SD cameras with multi-format systems that can operate both SD and HD.
This van is, therefore, designed to handle any production from SD all the way to progressive scanning for HD. Equipped with four Sony cameras and wired to immediately accommodate another four, this van compelled the systems integrator to think out of the box and provide solutions that would keep in mind the cold and dusty clime of the country while also keeping a tight rein on the budget.
They had such a tight budget, explains Thompson.
We really had to push the envelope in terms of working with the end user and coming up with some crazy designs and solutions to some unique problems we had never faced before. Facing a tight budget is not unique but you need to keep in mind the multi-purpose nature of the van. We are proud to have revisited the designs on the table and come up with a unique solution, he says.
In several ways, this van is a first, chips in Project Manager Giovanni Ramilo.
For example, this van is equipped with LED lighting instead of halogen lamps. It consumes less power, which means we could add other equipment that they required. The client is planning on adding another four cameras as soon as they receive the van so we have already incorporated a lot more power into the design to accommodate this, he adds.
The end user was also keen to incorporate a Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) unit on top of the van.
However, somewhere along the way, both the end user and the systems integrator agreed it would be better to incorporate the DSNG on a separate mobile.
This trailer served several purposes, explains Ramilo.
Already, we knew the end user was going to increase the number of camera systems because this was their first OB van. They wanted to maximise the potential of the space inside the van. So we decided to keep the DSNG on a separate mobile unit.
Thompson adds that the trailer took great volume out of the van.
This trailer now houses the power generator, which creates a lot of noise. The cable drums which take a lot of space are also now on the trailer. We have added storage shelves on the trailer to accommodate tripods and other electrical parts that would normally be inside the OB van. By moving some of the key components into the trailer, we have managed to create additional space for the operational functionality that the end user wanted to achieve. It also means that where you could previously squeeze in only two people, you can now easily fit four. Thats the clever part.
Normally, the Mercedes coaches are popular for OB purposes. However, Sony went with an Iveco vehicle this time and Thompson says it was interesting to see how the systems integrator had the design altered to accommodate the needs of the end user.
There are not many vehicle manufacturers that can provide these specs. Here, we gave the customer a choice between Iveco and Mercedes. In terms of price, there was negligible difference so it didnt matter. The key thing was that they wanted to fit in eight cameras and all of the electrical equipment, so the trailer became a clever add-on. There is also slightly more space in the rear side of the Iveco as well as more height to the van and that makes a world of difference.
Besides this, there is the political element that immediately makes Iveco, an Italian brand more appealing than the Mercedes to an Ethiopian client, explains Thompson.
Historically, the whole of Africa and Italy have had good relations, which means theres good support for Iveco in Ethiopia. So if they need servicing which they are going to need every now and then, theres good representation from Iveco and this immediately turned to their advantage, adds Thompson.
Every element of this OB van has been designed to take into consideration the Ethiopian terrain, its narrow roads and its dusty environment, explains Thompson.
The roads in Ethopia cannot accommodate a massive OB truck. So we went high instead of going broad. In addition, we designed a platform on the top of the van to mount a tripod if the end user required the facility.
In addition, Sony had to keep in mind the cold climate and the dry dust when designing the van.
We spent a lot of time considering the altitude factor and, therefore, we over specified by about 30% the capabilities of the generator which is now, on board the trailer. Again, the trailer is considered clever because it can accommodate a much bigger generator, which is heavier and requires more space. With just an OB van, you could not have managed that, he explains.
Besides the fact that Sony had to revisit traditional OB designs and draw up a new plan for a unique environment, where budget and terrain requirements demanded something new, this van connotes the change that is coming to Africas broadcast landscape.
The shift to multi-format cameras will eventually demand changes across the chain, explains Thompson.
Most of these cameras incorporate tapeless technology such as memory cards. This, in turn, is pushing the rest of the chain to also adopt a tapeless format. If you are coming in with a memory card as opposed to a tape, then invariably you are going to put that memory card into a computer as opposed to a Video Tape Recorder (VTR) to do the digitisation. This then follows through in terms of editing, central storage, playout, and then, eventually the archives, all of which will be attached to a network.
African clients are in no doubt that they want to implement these new technologies. Their main concern is how to implement them and whom to work with for the implementation to ensure they do not repeat the mistakes of the early early adopters in Europe, America and the other parts of the world, says Thompson.
They want to make sure that when they do the implementation, they merely have to flip a switch for everything to work seamlessly.
Perhaps, the biggest challenge for African customers at the moment is learning to operate and manage the systems, Thompson adds.
Operators and broadcasters in European, American, Japanese, Korean and Chinese markets are a lot more fortunate because they have a lot of manufacturers and suppliers at their door step. In downtown Kampala, that simply does not exist. You have to get on the phone and try and get assistance remotely. Those are the prime challenges in Africa. The solutions are there. They are willing to make the migration but its making sure that they have the training to operate it and maintain it. Thats a big challenge for both suppliers and customers alike.
Several years ago, the Middle East stood at a similar point in history. The only difference is that most broadcasters here had the capital to invest in the most state-of-the-art equipment. Africa is a huge market waiting to be discovered but systems integrators and manufacturers who enter the region will have to revisit traditional designs to provide unique solutions within a tight budget.