Content Creation Production Features

Abu Dhabi’s LIVE HD takes the lead in sport production

LIVE HDWith more channels, the demand for locally generated sports content is growing and Abu Dhabi Media has been leading the pack with LIVE HD, its dedicated production arm. BroadcastPro ME speaks to the OB specialist that films 85% of the region’s sporting events

Broadcasters, globally, are acknowledging the power of sport as a significant revenue generator and the Middle East is no exception. There is growing interest in sports broadcasting in the region that covers not just international sport but also local events. In fact, big names, such as MBC Group, traditionally associated with entertainment, have jumped on the bandwagon for a share of the sports pie. In a recent announcement, the free-to-air (FTA) network introduced four new sports channels that are scheduled to air 240 football events this season. In late July, MBC, along with Saudi channel Al Riyadiah, secured the rights to broadcast the Saudi Premier League for the next 10 years in a USD 1 billion deal. This is a significant investment that is deemed to reap even bigger profits, experts predict.

Al Jazeera Sports rebranded itself as beIN Sports in early 2014 and introduced 19 HD channels to bring the world’s best sporting action to viewers in the MENA. Investment in sports broadcasting is most certainly on the rise, considering the high rate of return it brings in, which in turn leads to more demand for high-quality sports content.

Abu Dhabi Media (ADM) set up LIVE HD in August 2008. The outside broadcast company was established with the idea of covering high-profile events in the UAE capital. Although the broadcaster doesn’t carry major sports programming, its production arm has been quite successful in tapping into the growing live sports market. LIVE HD now films 85% of the regional sporting events for major broadcasters such as ADM, beIn Sports and Dubai Media Inc. (DMI).

This is perhaps the best time to be in the business of sports broadcasting, according to Ali Obaid Buali, CEO at LIVE HD.

LIVE undertook 1200 sports productions last year. With a staff of almost 140 and armed with eight OB vans, LIVE’s crew covered 237 football games including the Arab Gulf Cup, Arab Gulf League, Reserve League (26 games) and the President’s Cup. In addition, the team also covered jujitsu tournaments and 110 camel races from October 2013 to April 2014. The air show in Bahrain, Bahrain’s King Cup and Jordan’s King Cup, and more recently the Arab Gulf Club League in the UAE for beIN Sports, are some of the other events filmed by LIVE.

“Live sport has never been so big. There is so much action everywhere. Now, we are getting almost all the sports covered on TV,” says Buali.

The UAE recently hosted a number of high-profile international events, and the list is only growing.

“Why just international – there’s huge potential in local sporting events that have won a loyal audience over the years. The interest is on the rise. Viewers are more discerning and expect more in terms of quality and content. Viewers also want to view every little detail of a match and we give them that,” explains Buali.

With more money riding on it, sports has been credited for driving many a technological breakthrough in the broadcast industry. Buali couldn’t agree more. Technology has taken sports broadcasting to another level, he says.

Hamad Abdelrazaq, Head of Technology at LIVE HD, explains how the OB specialist has evolved over time to cater to the viewers’ requirements, in order to stay in the business of modern-day broadcasting.

“With growing capabilities, broadcasters are now demanding more camera angles and better quality. This is a new era of sports broadcasting, where every nano second counts in the game as we deliver on multi-screen digital platforms. For broadcasters, it’s a very competent market; we have to give them those extra bits to keep the viewers engaged.”

LIVE has been quick to adopt new technology to provide an immersive experience to the viewers, and one of the new features is the way the company is incorporating second screen delivery of live content into mainstream broadcast.

“We want to take LIVE’s capabilities beyond that of an OB company,” comments Abdelrazaq.

“We start with bringing in more people to the stadiums to watch an event live, then we give them the ability to replay the scenes. People can bring their own devices and download an app that gives them access to watch the sport live on their device as well. The second screen allows the viewers to choose camera angles and gives them a detailed view of the game. As of now, we have achieved this in the stadiums; the next step would be to offer this feature to the home user. We did an EVS C-Cast demo for the soccer matches between Manchester City and Al Ain in the newly built Hazza bin Zayed stadium. We gave the VIPs iPads and they could choose the cameras they wanted to replay, based on the C-Cast application.”

LIVE is the host broadcaster for the Pro League Committee (PLC), and the company produced the entire 180-game PLC season. PLC was partly covered by Abu Dhabi Media, but since 2013, LIVE has been responsible for its end-to-end production. The company gives video feeds from the venue to SNGs and satellites, and the broadcasters take it from there.

Catching the excitement

Both Buali and Abdelrazaq insist that producing live sport is a very specialised job, and that, just like live sport, it is packed with excitement.

According to Buali, “covering live sports takes more than just technical knowledge; it is also creative. It’s all about passion. We have our own directors and crew who specialise in sports coverage.”

The company owns five HD OB vans, with a sixth on the way. LIVE usually rents three additional OB vans, bringing the total to eight. Dubai-based service providers MediaPro and VAV help procure equipment and OB vans for LIVE.

“We deploy 18 cameras for PLC’s major games and 12 cameras for their smaller games, which is more than the standard for most normal games. Over the years, we have built a lot of things locally, based on the demand of the clients here. Our crew comprises highly skilled personnel from across the world, who are always willing to provide the clients with what they need,” Abdelrazaq explains.

The company uses 24 EVS systems and all of its OB vans are made to 1080i/50.

“The American standard is 1080i/59.9, so we have changed from 1080i/50 to 1080i/59.9 for an American client for the UFC event,” he adds.

Broadcasting from the sea

Last May, LIVE covered the finals of the dhow races (Ghanada Dhow Sailing Championship) held in Abu Dhabi, using a 12m OB van with two support vehicles. The OB vans were placed on a raft in the sea.

“Just before Ramadan, I visited Sweden and Spain and some producers there asked me how we could pull off a production of the scale of the dhow races from a raft. You have put USD 7m into the sea, I was told, but after the event we realised it was money well spent. We had two OB vans linked with a wireless system placed in Abu Dhabi Marina. This way, we could cover two places from an OB van on the raft and one on the shore.”

International sports

LIVE has been contracted to cover the entire season of the Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC). During the event, live feeds are provided to the spectators in the arena as well as two feeds separately sent to British and American broadcasters to relay the matches live.

Singapore-based Broadcast Solutions hired LIVE for coverage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches during the Abu Dhabi leg of the event, held in April this year. LIVE also supported the production house with equipment for the Dubai and Sharjah legs.

“IPL was yet another landmark event covered by LIVE. Our OB van normally takes 20 cameras, but we added 12 more. These included the hypermotion camera (NAC from Ikegami), very slow-motion pictures, Spidercam and stump cam for additional angles. The OB van was equipped with 20 Grass Valley LDK cameras,” explains Abdelrazaq.

Two video engineers handled the entire production for the IPL. The production team deployed its biggest truck, with 22 Grass Valley LDK 8000/8300 cameras and six EVS systems. This truck boasts the largest audio mixer in the world, the Lawo MC 90. Additional equipment was also deployed, including two more EVS, two hypermotion cameras, two stump cameras, two wireless cameras, a remote camera and a Spidercam. Everything was simultaneously recorded on hard disc drives.

“All communication and requests from the client came a month before the event. We were given the complete documentation for the camera plan, wiring route and OB parking areas, before the rigging day. Following this, we planned the staff positions and how the equipment would be transferred to other venues,” explains Abdelrazaq.

EVS was deployed for replays and highlights, a Hawkeye camera for the graphic replays, all of that was done with a production team provided by the host broadcaster, Broadcast Solutions.

Compared to the IPL, the UFL Championship required fewer cameras but was a bigger production in terms of the preparation. It was held in April this year at Yas Island in Du Arena. It took three days to rig and test the cameras and other equipment, and one day on live transmission. The main feed was covered from the OB van, while the audience could watch a parallel feed on the LED screens installed throughout the arena. The video signal was distributed using a control panel to the lighting director, producer, commentators, field editor, stage director and LED director around the arena.

“The UFL Championship was a great learning experience for us. It was challenging yet very fulfilling, and boosted our confidence,” comments Abdelrazaq.

As the interest in sports grows, so does the need for more content, and LIVE’s calendar is only getting busier, with more events lined up for the coming months as broadcasters continue to up their stakes in sports.    The company is now gearing up for the football season in the UAE and its neighbouring countries.

The GCC Cup in KSA, FIA, the endurance car race in Bahrain, the international golf tour and the rugby sevens are some of the events on the cards. The company is all set to announce a major revamp soon, in order to equip itself better to meet the growing demand for more sports content from regional broadcasters.