Reach for the sky

Sky News Arabia finally launched in May, so we took a look round.
Some of the new Sky team get ready for launch.
Some of the new Sky team get ready for launch.
Official launch date, Sky News Arabia, Analysis, Content production

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After months of speculation, Sky News Arabia, the region’s new 24-hour Arabic language multi-platform breaking news service, launched on 6th May, 2012.

The official launch followed a period of 24-hour rehearsals and successful test broadcasts on the Sky News Arabia website, which launched in Beta phase at the turn of the year. Even before the launch, the channel had already attracted 100,000 fans on social media.

The new channel promises to be a trailblazer in the region both in terms of technology and content. The production side of the operation features the very latest in broadcast technology, including the ability to integrate non-broadcast and user-generated content such as Skype and YouTube as well as the very latest in production and broadcast hardware and software.

Editorially, meanwhile, the channel is the first in the region to feature an objective Editorial Advisory Committee to ensure it delivers fair, accurate, consistent and independent news. The committee is made up of a variety of voices from the region and internationally.

Well-known local names on the committee such as Dr Sulaiman Al Hattlan, CEO of the Arab Strategy Forum sit alongside respected international names such as Chris Birkett, executive editor of Sky News and Roger Alton, executive editor of The Times.

James Zogby, author of Arab Voices, founder & president of the Arab American Institute and now chairman of the Editorial Advisory Committee, comments: “We are looking forward to working with Sky News Arabia to support the channel’s aim to present an independent evaluation of the news agenda, free of external influence.

It will have clear, unambiguous standards, upheld by an editorial charter that sets the framework for world-class news delivery as well as creating a whole new culture for Arab journalism.”

Nart Bouran, Sky News Arabia director of news, adds: “Sky News Arabia will offer the MENA region a fresh approach to television news with an independent editorial mandate at the heart of everything we do.

“The committee has two nominees from each of the shareholders [Abu Dhabi Media and BSkyB – ed], but there are four independent individuals, very well respected, whose role is to work with me and to assist the team in making sure that we are independent in what we produce.”

The launch comes at an opportune time, with many in the region and beyond discussing the agenda of various news channels, both regionally and internationally, particularly during the events of the still reverberating Arab Spring.

Even regional leaders such as Al Jazeera, as well as the usual Western suspects, have received criticism for their allegedly biased coverage of events which are still unfolding across the region.

It is perhaps the ideal time, then, for a channel with a new approach to editorial independence to enter the fray, although Bouran doesn’t wish to overplay the topicality: “With the editorial advisory committee, it is very clear to the journalists that work here that we are trying to be transparent and objective in covering the news, giving both sides of the story,” he says.

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Bouran adds: “It turns out to be a matter of coincidence that we are launching at this particular turbulent time. It really does not matter to us. The Sky News Arabia idea was born more than two years ago.

Our aim has been to create an impartial and independent breaking news channel for the Arab world across multiple platforms. It has been a huge collaborative team effort resulting in the most technically advanced news operation in the region. We have nearly 400 of the best journalists, reporters, presenters, producers and broadcast technicians working together to create an unparalleled news channel.”

Integration for the new channel was carried out by TSL, which designed and built the fully file-based facility, including the capacity to incorporate ‘non-broadcast’ content such as Skype, YouTube and other user-generated content as it appears on social media networks and elsewhere online.

The fully file-based channel is comprised of a state-of-the-art production facility housed in a studio on the twofour54 campus, with a separate building for the newsroom, graphics and editing, machine rooms and operations centre.

Amongst many other cutting edge elements, the solution contains a bespoke universal bookings system which removes the need to manually co-ordinate the booking of each element separately by automating the scheduling and quality control of all input/output circuit bookings across Sky News Arabia’s control room.

“The way the scheduling system has been fully integrated across the whole solution, is a good example of why we are way ahead of anyone else,” said Bevan Gibson, launch technical director for Sky News Arabia.

“The skills and experience of TSL’s engineers not only enabled them to come up with this cutting edge integration, but they could also push the vendors beyond their comfort zone to make it all happen,”

As all of the station’s content transfers over IP, TSL had to design a very solid IP infrastructure, while achieving broadcast standards of reliability, and allowing priorities to be set for traffic close to air time.

“We have invested significantly in our skills and staff recently to develop a high level of expertise in the IP space - which Sky News Arabia really appreciated,” said David Phillips, MD of TSL. “Furthermore, we’ve delivered a system which is not only functional but easy to support over the lifecycle of its capital investment.”

Automation is heavily implemented to minimise the requirement for operational staff and to ensure that the broadcaster’s operational budget is maximised for getting journalists and crews out to the scene of breaking news.

TSL is also pleased with the channel’s call handling system, which its audio systems business development manager Martin Dyster describes as ‘one of the most advanced and comprehensive call handling systems at any news facility in the world’.

For the broadcasts themselves, Sky has opted for a large single studio. It has taken advantage of an existing studio that was previously part of twofour54’s Intaj facility, and now houses several different sets for different programmes facilitated by the four Sony cameras which reside permanently in the studio, as well as at least seven further Sony cameras which can be called on as required.

The channel will be available across the region from May 6th on Transponder 14 on Arabsat Badr 4, Transponder 15 on Nilesat 201, on the du IPTV and e-Life platforms plus in HD on the OSN platform.

Tech breakdown

  • Avid newsroom computer system
  • Apple FCP
  • Broadcast Bionics communications management
  • Calrec audio mixer and distributed audio processing
  • Cisco broadcast and corporate IP network infrastructure
  • EVS media production server and asset management
  • EVS/Front Porch Digital archive storage management
  • Grass Valley production switcher and clip servers
  • Harris automation, transmission scheduling, asset management, IP encoders and decoders
  • Miranda multi-viewers, control and monitoring, routing
  • Omneon transmission servers
  • Riedel communications
  • ScheduAll booking and scheduling
  • Sony cameras in the studio
  • Four Panasonic P2 cameras in the field
  • Spectralogic tape archive
  • Vinten Radamec camera robotics
  • Vizrt graphics

 

 

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