Case Studies TV Channels

Sky News Arabia deploys new global content contribution platform

When SNA wanted to replace an old global contribution system, it specified a solution that would establish two-way contribution links over a terrestrial network, using IP/MPLS as an underlying technology while using the internet for back-up. The Abu Dhabi broadcaster shares details of the technology it chose with BroadcastPro ME.

SNA recently put in place a new global content contribution platform to connect its 12 global news bureaus, including Washington, DC; Cairo; Istanbul; Osterley and Millbank (Westminster) in the UK; and Ramallah, Gaza, Dubai and its DR centre with its main hub at the twofour54 site in Abu Dhabi.

Suresh Kumar Nair, Director of Technology at SNA

To provide greater flexibility at a reduced cost, SNA wanted to establish two-way contribution links over a terrestrial network, using IP/MPLS as an underlying technology. The plan was to use the public internet as a back-up network.

Shifting to a new technology, however, is not without its challenges. Even with the strictest QoS classes, an IP/ MPLS grade network is prone to jitter, delay and packet loss – which raises the risk to a much higher level than most demanding broadcasters are ready to accept.

Implementing high-quality services on top of an IP/ MPLS network is complex and requires a large degree of configuration to ensure that the different types of traffic do not conflict with each other. Another big challenge is to offer greater flexibility while optimising bandwidth and reducing the operational cost for providing video services.

The main goal for SNA was to establish uninterrupted communication between all its bureaus, to enhance the quality of contributions and ensure its journalists could break news as soon as it happened.

“We specified a system that would be able to switch seamlessly between IP/MPLS and the standard internet as necessary while guaranteeing high-quality service” Suresh Kumar, Director of Technology, Sky News Arabia

SNA already used Net Insight’s ScheduALL for resource scheduling and its interoperability platform, ScheduALL Chorus, to enable independent control systems to effectively communicate and work together. In 2016, SNA went one step further and selected Net Insight’s media contribution over internet solution, the Nimbra VA series, to connect its 12 news bureaus globally. It also implemented Nimbra Vision, for easy at-a-glance overview of the network, service health and performance.

So when it needed to bridge the gap between the internet and the reliability and quality requirements it had, SNA sought out Net Insight again.

“When looking for a new solution, our main requirement was ultimately that the link should be operated on the public internet – at the same time, we are under no illusions about the shortcomings of the public internet at this time,” explains Suresh Kumar Nair, Director of Technology at SNA. “That’s why we decided to deploy an IP/MPLS link as the initial primary link. While providing a clear gain in OPEX over satellite, IP/MPLS is not perfect either and is prone to buffering and latency. So we specified a system that would be able to switch seamlessly between IP/MPLS and the standard internet as necessary, while guaranteeing high-quality service.”

Net Insight worked with SNA to specify and install 27 units of the Nimbra VA 220 at each of the remote news bureaus, and at the broadcaster’s head office in Abu Dhabi. These units combine the advantages of an MPEG-4 encoder and decoder, together with an integrated video transport solution. Built on the same rugged software baseline as the Nimbra MSR family, the Net Insight VA series offers reliable operations and tools to quickly understand if any issues occur in the network.

“The plan, in time and when the technology is proven, is to make the public internet our main contribution link” Suresh Kumar, Director of Technology, Sky News Arabia

This union aims to provide the operational simplicity of one point of management, as well as reduced network complexity – both minimising potential sources of errors and maximising service availability. At the same time, the new solution provides SNA with the possibility of using internet grade transport and still maintaining its strict broadcast quality standards.

For the Nimbra VA deployment, Net Insight’s Professional Services team of engineers, experts and project management from Stockholm were involved, along with some of the team on-site in the UAE capital. They helped SNA to configure the boxes for bandwidth optimisation.

“Since this technology is not off-the-shelf, it required a lot of interaction between our technical team and Net Insight’s team to architect this solution,” comments Kumar.

Interoperability platform Chorus allows SNA’s independent control systems to effectively communicate and work together, from initial feed request to ingest control. The advanced automation supported by Chorus includes a complete bi-directional path that sets up the communication between disparate systems like Miranda, Broadcast Bionics and Paradigm NMS across the facility.

“We are able to automate a lot of processes at our News Operations Centre because of the system,” says Kumar. “The solution allows us to be flexible and to get the most out of the hardware and software, so that we can be more effective with our resources.”

The implementation of ScheduALL has streamlined the increasingly complex environment of a modern file-based workflow at SNA’s News Operations Centre. ScheduALL prevents duplication of data, in turn reducing human error, automating workflows and giving a small team of operators the ability to process large numbers of bookings through a wide range of complex machines. This enables Sky News Arabia to react to breaking news stories faster than ever before.

With the new software, journalists, editors and producers anywhere in the SNA facility are able to find out when feeds are scheduled, and check real-time status. This is in addition to improving awareness of feeds for production, improvements in the workflow and reporting, easing the burden on control room staff and administrators.

The ScheduALL core system has the ability to interface with back office human resource and ERP systems, creating a 360-degree cost control and reporting functionality that drives business analysis and increased efficiencies. Nimbra VA lets the broadcaster build, launch and manage broadcast-quality, cost-efficient media transport over the internet.

The Nimbra VA uses a combination of SNA’s IP/MPLS infrastructure and the internet to provide a reliable, flexible and bandwidth-efficient protection scheme for the video services brought to the news centre from the remote offices.

“The plan, in time and when the technology is proven, is to make the public internet our main contribution link,” confides Kumar. “We are not at that stage yet, but this is the direction of travel. Previously we experienced a lot of issues with our IP/MPLS feed. The new installation has helped us see an immediate improvement in performance. It has improved the availability and quality of our global bureau production. The major achievement has been uninterrupted feeds from our bureau.”