Case Studies TV Channels

Engineering seamless workflows at Al Aan TV

Raad Haddadin, Head of Engineering and Support at Al Aan, talks about the upgrades undertaken at the Dubai facility.
Raad Haddadin, Head of Engineering and Support at Al Aan

Al Aan TV has upgraded its studios with new equipment and additional features, to create a more engaging viewership experience while reducing the complexity of current workflows. In an exclusive interview with BroadcastPro ME, Raad Haddadin, Head of Engineering and Support at Al Aan, talks about the upgrades undertaken at the Dubai facility.

With an increasing viewership base, phased H D upgrades and a fully integrated social media interaction platform, Al Aan TV is gradually taking the steps necessary to encourage its audience to make the transition from passive to more engaged viewing. Raad Haddadin, CTO of Al Aan TV, says a tech refresh and content updates are crucial to retaining the network’s viewership.

“Our aim is to take full advantage of new technologies in the market, and in parallel to exploit the potential of social media to encourage our viewers to engage and interact more closely with us, our programmes and each other. Alongside this, we are involved in a number of technical changes, some of which are completed and some of which are in various states of progress,” says Haddadin.

Big changes have come to Al Aan, with one of the key aspects being a comprehensive review of the power distribution at the network to allow true A/B power distribution across all areas. This also required replacement of the existing CAR A/C, which had grown organically over the years as required and could no longer support the needs of the area.

In addition, Al Aan recently sourced hardware and software from Imagine Communications to replace its existing main playout chain, with the existing main chain equipment serving as the back-up. This solution includes the delivery of a new Imagine storage system, which includes both hardware and software and replaces the existing playout server and storage. The existing main chain equipment will be reused to replace the existing back-up chain equipment.

The new SAN provides 18 bi-directional HDSDI ports across three Nexio+ AMP servers with a fibre switch configuration. A new Nexio PRX transcoder and Media gateway, also attached via fibre channel, are part of this revamp.

“The fibre channel switches were provided by Al Aan and are those currently in use in the existing system. The 2x Imagine Versio IOX chassis supplied form the SAN storage and consist of a single core chassis with fibre channel host bus adaptors and a single storage expansion chassis. Both chassis are fully loaded with 12 x 8TB drives each, for a total usable storage capacity of 128TB usable storage. The total bandwidth provided by the SAN system is 6,000Mb/s,” explains Haddadin.

The deployment includes a new Nexio FTP server, a Nexio Proxy transcoder, the Versio IOX Storage, a new Imagine ADC CHP device server and a Nexio PRX transcoder, which reads all Nexio-supported high-resolution, HD and SD formats and can automatically transcode four or eight independent, simultaneous streams up to four times faster than real time. Once transcoded into low resolution, all MP4 proxy files are stored on storage arrays where they can be viewed.

The New Nexio Media Gateway provides a typical multi-stream transfer performance of 2,500Mb/s over the 10Gb Ethernet network connection, within a range of 1,500- 4,000Mb/s. A new single ADC CHP replaces the back-up chain device server, while the existing Imagine storage solution replaces the current back-up playout server and storage.

“This investment will increase the number of playout ports, thereby giving Al Aan TV the ability to transmit new TV channels while increasing the redundancy for all the current channels. In addition to this, a third HD back-up chain will be created should any of the main or back-up chains fail. The third and separate back-up chain will immediately take over to ensure zero downtime,” explains Haddadin.

Imagine Communications will also provide its professional services as part of this update. The entire project was done in-house by the Al Aan engineering team and completed in September this year.

In parallel, Al Aan has now embarked on two additional projects. One entails securing a new 6Mbps space on Eutelsat to be used by its news team to receive feeds and by its services department to lease the capacity. Alongside this, Al Aan has undertaken a complete newsroom revamp with Avid, investing in an automated monitoring system from SAM as well as a social TV server from Vizrt.

According to Haddadin, most TV channels invest in a number of Avid servers because they are required for redundancy. However, this requires a lot of rack space and cooling and involves high power consumption. SLA is also very expensive because the hardware and software is provided by Avid directly. Now, however, Avid has circumvented this issue by providing clients with virtual servers from a third party.

“Being free of hardware allows for lower power consumption, cooling costs and more free rack space, while still providing us with the latest technology from Avid. It also means we have triple the storage space. We can upgrade to the latest releases from Avid, creating a totally new hardware environment,” explains Haddadin.

“Removing the dependency on Avid IT hardware is in itself an attractive proposition. The new system is also very easy to update to the cloud. The cost reductions for SLA are massive. Plus there is better uptime for the new system when you start it from scratch. It loads within a few minutes compared to the previous set-up, where it used to take at least half an hour.”

Furthermore, with social media increasingly important, interaction with viewers has become a top priority for Al Aan. This led to the recent procurement of the Vizrt Social TV server, a multilayer graphics generator with a social media broadcast engine for TV production. Haddadin says it collects and collates all messages from viewers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms in real time.

“This Social TV solution can be integrated with existing Vizrt environments or provided as a onebox solution where data is harvested, moderated and triggered to air with custom graphics in a simple workflow,” explains Haddadin.

Producers in the newsroom can use the Social TV solution to harvest, moderate and create social media content with the same tools and the same workflow they use for all other content. Data can be captured from any social media outlet, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube and any RSS/Atom or JSON/XML feed.

They can also use newsroom control systems or the MCR to send breaking news and programme updates to Twitter and Facebook during live broadcast.

“You can search for any hashtag that you want and filter it through the software and insert it into your own design template. This can then be shown on-screen as graphics. All subjects in news bulletins may be searched for through a hashtag.

“We can receive feedback from people and show it on air. This is called social media to air, and is primarily used on current affairs shows as well as news and talk shows. If you ask any question to the viewers during the show and ask them to use a certain hashtag, it will show up,” says Haddadin.

“We have also developed our own software for whatever we have on the grid to be tweeted to our Twitter account. If we have a particular show at a particular time, it can immediately send a tweet showing viewers that this is what will be on-air at a specific time, with a particular presenter. There is even a link to our YouTube channel, or a preconfigured image for that particular show.”

On the satellite front, Al Aan has signed a new contract with Eutelsat for its own occasional use space segment. This is used by the news team to receive feeds and the service department for lease.

“For the last three years, we had a contract with Arabsat for 3Mbps. Right now, the market requirements are changing. We lease SNGs, OB vans and production equipment. A lot of times, the clients are not happy with 3Mbps because everyone wants to transmit in HD. This is why we now have 6Mbps with Eutelsat. We have two space signals now, one for occasional use and another for Al Aan to go HD.”

With an updated workflow, Al Aan TV is poised to retain and engage its viewers.