Hadi Ghanem, CEO of 7 Production has set his company on the path to international expansion and believes having a vision for the future is the key to the success of 7 Production (Seven).
Seven’s expansion into several countries across the Middle East is a testament to the strength of its technical capabilities, and also to their skill in handling broadcast of complex events with a world-class production standard. With Saudi Arabia opening up its entertainment sector and poised to host hundreds of large-scale media, sports and cultural events, 7 Production is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the opportunity in live production services.
Ghanem says Seven in a good position to expand across the region due to the fact that he envisioned this kind of expansion many years back and has consistently worked towards this vision over the last decade.
“You have to have the vision. You have to be always ahead of the market and predict things."
We are today operating in the Middle East as well as in Europe so you have to monitor the market and predict where you could be involved.”
“Of course now that Saudi Arabia (KSA) has opened more so they are starting to bring more events, celebrities and we are doing the coverage there. We were dealing with Saudi Arabia since 9 years and have been doing jobs for many events and TV shows. We have an office there and a studio there as well, to meet the client’s requirement.”
Seven and established offices in Riyadh almost 2 years back followed by a state-of-the-art studio facility. Ghanem feels the timing was right to expand their presence: “I see the same opportunities in all the GCC countries. We are based in Dubai for 10 years now, and of course, KSA is a big market and the capacity is a lot bigger, but we have the same results across the Middle East.”
He believes the Kingdom is where Dubai was 12 years ago when it opened its doors to investors and production companies: “There is this opportunity to really enter the Saudi market at the right time and really become the partners of the government because they are our key strategic partners and we can really take the opportunity at the right time and expand the market.”
Ghanem believes that because Seven was already doing many jobs in KSA they had the advantage of a head start: “We had the right contacts and knew the right people. We were there well before Saudi Arabia opened its doors, so we were already ready to take advantage,” he says.
The studio in Saudi Arabia is the biggest studio in the country at the time of its building, and the investment in crew, equipment and production facilities KSA is already beginning to pay off for 7 Production. Ghanem says, “Since the time we have built it just over a year ago, the studio has been booked back to back so it is fully utilized. We have our clients there running back to back shows there so our facilities are there and our crew is there running 24/7.”
End-to-End Service Provider
Seven initially started as an equipment rental business and the CEO says that knowing what clients want has helped them get a steady stream of local and international clients renting out their fleet of OB vehicles. Working with international TV networks like BBC and CNN has helped them raise the standard of regional broadcasting, turning 7 Production into a full-service professional solution provider, which today has the project experience, technical know-how, consultancy skills, and systems knowledge to execute complex live broadcasts and high-end production services.
“Before we made our base in Dubai, the international TV networks used to bring their own equipment and crew here which was quite costly. Working with us, they are able to minimise expenses and bring in the latest equipment,” he says.
“This was our main intention at the start and then we started expanding,” Ghanem continues. “Because clients wanted the end to end services. You have to give the client the whole production service to make their life easy, and you have to offer attractive packages as well. So if they wanted stage design we do it, and if they ask for lighting design we did that and so on. So all the facilities we are able to provide.”
Along with expanding service capability, comes the need to invest in expertise and equipment and provide solutions for changing broadcast needs. The CEO says they continue to do on a regular basis. “Whenever it is required to increase our fleet, we invest. For example, in the last 3 months, we have acquired four OB vans to meet the growing demand.”
Ghanem says a lot of research goes into getting the right equipment and working with the right suppliers in Europe. As a regular visitor to the IBC conference in Amsterdam, he says it is essential to catch up on the latest innovation and broadcast technology trends. “We always visit IBC to look at what’s in the market and what the vendors are creating so that we are up to date,” he adds.
Cutting edge gear is only one aspect of production: “It is not only to have the facilities – but it’s also the know-how that our team can provide. Live broadcast is something very serious because you cannot afford to have any mistakes. So you can have all the latest equipment but if you don’t have the right crew, it is a problem. That’s why we have built such a reputation and got the confidence of international clients to do big events here because they know they can depend on 7 Production.”
With building a studio he says the challenge is different. “You have to do the sound acoustics right and put the lights and the trusses so that the lights can be moved based on the need of the productions. They want different stages, colours, light designs etc. but it is not as difficult as a live production. The difficulty when you are broadcasting live is there is interference and a lot of things can go wrong."
Ghanem believes the standard of regional production has improved tremendously since Seven started its journey: “There is a big difference and it’s always developing. It’s a big change in the region. UAE is now much more advanced in this domain. In Saudi Arabia, it’s going to happen fast!”
Building Pan-Regional Scale
Seven currently has established offices staffed with managers and crew in KSA, Lebanon and Dubai, adds Ghanem, which gives them the capability to mobilise resources for the large-scale live events across the Middle East. The equipment is available across locations, making it easier to service the region.
“Whenever it is required we can mobilise – from UAE to Saudi, or from Saudi to Lebanon, or from Lebanon to KSA and UAE, and even to Europe if required,” Ghanem explains. “The main thing is we can mobilise resources quickly. If there was say a large event which needed very large capacity, we could then potentially move crew across location. For example the big Saudi national day event that we did that was something we has to put all our resources into Saudi Arabia so that took a month of mobilisation to make it happen. That’s very possible for us because we have the staff to do the planning and mobilisation.”
The Saudi national day broadcast was a great example of 7’s ability to manage international scale broadcasts. With a 25 member crew stationed in the Saudi office and over 100 staff present in Dubai, Ghanem says they have enough technical and creative manpower to address a project of this scale.
What have been the main reasons why Seven has a long list of clients and is constantly winning new projects? “It’s our relationships. Our work speaks for itself”, says Lara Ghanem-Cunningham, Regional Director of 7 Production. “So it is simply word of mouth. Only recently that we have started working with publications and doing some marketing activities.”
“When we do a project for a client, they are so happy with the production services that we can deliver that they keep coming back and its repeat business. At the end of the day with all these countries including the UAE, the decision maker for the biggest events is the government. So it’s quite a small group of individuals who make those decisions and if they are happy with the quality of service delivered they will come back or they will give a referral.”
Governments are the key decision makers she points out: “they say yes or no to bringing in celebrities and doing large scale events in the region.”
“To build such a reputation is not easy,” adds CEO Hadi Ghanem. “You are dealing with the government and when they are having such an important event such as Saudi national day or the opening of the Dubai water canal which is broadcast everywhere, you cannot afford to make a mistake especially when they know you have the qualification to do such big jobs. Not to talk about the cost as well, because usually, they used to bring in service providers from Europe to do such events, and the prices were so high. So now they are doing the same quality with fewer costs and the facilities available in the region.”
Preparing New Ground
Looking ahead, Seven wants to cover as much ground as possible in 2019 and the future targets are not only to get as much business as possible but also to get involved in European market. Ghanem speaks about the plans to win more projects in Europe: We a have a head office in Helsinki but it’s a little bit different operation and more related to storage facilities.
We are preparing the ground because as I said you have to have a vision of where the business is going. We opened in Helsinki and we put the base there because the target is Russia. Because they have winter sports there and they need HD ready OB vans and live production services. However he adds the plan is to move slowly: “Because we are heavily committed in the Middle East region, we don’t want to go very fast without planning for everything.”
KSA currently is the biggest growth area for Seven with Europe firmly in their sights as a future opportunity. “I would say the future is Europe. We already picture it and we are planning for it. Europe is a very big market and this is my next big vision,” says Ghanem.
We discuss the current market conditions in the broadcast and production industry - with quite a few broadcasters facing revenue pressures, does it have an effect on the demand for 7 Production’s services? “It doesn’t affect our business because we are able to meet the requirements. I’m not affected by any situation.
Within the GCC we can move around countries. So say if not many events come to Dubai, and they are going to Lebanon, that’s where we are. If they go to Saudi we are there as well so wherever there is business we are there. That’s why we are sustainable.”
Dealing with technology shifts like the move towards 4K/UHD production, Ghanem says they do have plans to increase the 4K ready OB fleet but he adds that “you have to consider also the clients. They don’t want to exceed the cost because when you are using 4K it’s not the same price as for HD and there is an increase. The price increase can be almost double. So we provide those options and it’s up to the client whether they want it or not. We were the first company in the region who filmed with 4K for the Dubai Opera event in 2016 with singer Hussain Al Jassmi for MBC,” he adds.
“The biggest challenge we face is to bring the company to international standards so that from different parts of the world people are asking for your services.”
With an outside broadcast vehicle fleet unsurpassed in the region, custom-built studio production facilities and end-to-end host broadcasting capabilities, 7 Production is well on its way to achieving international recognition.
BREAKING NEW GROUND: First ever live TV broadcast of a Cirque Du Soleil performance
September 23, 2018, saw Saudi Arabia celebrate the nation’s 88th national day with a range of events, the centerpiece of which was Cirque du Soleil first Saudi Arabia performance in Riyadh. In what was one of the theatrical performance company’s largest shows ever, the event organised by MBC Group was attended by 27,000 guests of the General Authority for Entertainment.
Broadcast live on MBC1 to an audience of over 200 million viewers, the event put a global spotlight on Saudi National Day celebrations, and therefore also on the broadcaster. It was the first time a performance by the world-famous entertainment troupe was to be broadcast on live TV. So the challenge included not just capturing the dazzling colours and spectacular artistry of the Cirque du Soleil show for a live TV audience, but to also broadcast and present National day celebrations taking place at 10 different locations.
Managing Director of 7 Production, Pierre Tabet, took charge of a crew of over 100 team members responsible for executing the broadcast. A challenge that was completed successfully by 7 Production. Tabet says in terms of scale this was easily one of the biggest events in the MENA region. “It’s the fact that we actually did 10 events at the same time on Saudi national day.”
The numbers behind the broadcast tell their own story of the magnitude of the task facing the host broadcasting service provider. More than 250 cameras and 11 OB trucks were deployed across 10 different locations around the Kingdom to capture and broadcast the National Day action live. Seven ensured that each of the ten locations that would host the celebrations were covered with 12-14 cameras.
An estimated 10 km of cabling was laid out at the King Fahd stadium with setup work starting weeks before event day. Eight of their newly acquired Panasonic 4K camera systems were deployed in the VIP areas to ensure the VIP footage is captured without inconveniencing the guests.
“Both HD and 4K cameras were used for this event due to different protocol requirements and special filming angles. OB vans were present at each location with ENG cameras ready to film interviews and location reports. 7 Production has a variety of technocranes and is the only provider to have a Furio S2 by Ross Video, which we utilize extensively for events across the GCC,” explains Tabet.
Seven also deployed its latest investment in high-end technology - the Canon DIGISUPER 95 (XJ95x8.6B) super-telephoto lens. With a 95x zoom ratio that's longer at the tele end and the widest focal length (8.6mm) of any field lens in the industry, the XJ95x can dramatically capture every possible on-site sensation.
“The client had certain specifications that needed to be adhered to and we had to plan many things in detail such as the type of equipment and lenses that are being used and plans for the onsite crew. We were ready for all kinds of situations and deployed and wireless systems along with the latest remote cameras in HD and 4K and even hidden cameras,” explains Tabet.
“As a technical service provider, we showed our capability of doing ten events all in the same day and no other company is able to do that. This is the second year in a row where we have covered the Saudi National Day celebrations and that level of support is why we won the Digital Studio award for our coverage last year,” he concludes.
The successful live production of this event shows how 7 Production is clearly capable of delivering the technology, expertise, and know-how of large scale complex events and help their clients deliver amazing productions.