Al Aan TV may be just six years old, but it has rapidly taken its place among the region’s best known broadcasters.
It’s been non-stop at Al Aan TV recently. The channel was the first to install its own transmitter in revolutionary Tripoli following last year’s uprising, beating both the BBC and Al Jazeera, with several more now in place around the country.
With six transmitters from Tripoli to Benghazi, Misrata and beyond, the entire country is able to receive the Al Aan signal from its Dubai HQ. The next step on this front will be to begin transmitting local content for its Libyan audience.
Closer to home, recent market research showed the channel is becoming an increasing favourite among its target demographic of young, professional, Arab women with its mix of culture, fashion and entertainment shows proving especially popular with young, Blackberry-using Emirati women and female Arab expats in Saudi Arabia.
It’s not all entertainment and fashion though. The channel has repeatedly shown it is not afraid to cover the big issues too – in April 2011 it came into the international spotlight when it showed footage of a woman reportedly being stoned to death by the Taliban in Pakistan, while towards the end of the same year it was also the only TV channel in the world to film and report the secret funeral of Muammar Ghadaffi.
Al Aan has certainly made a big impact since its 2006 launch. In September of that year it was announced that the channel was among the first in the Arab world to produce its own content, 24-hours a day, through a combination of its own in-house facilities in Dubai and content outsourced to production companies in Beirut and KSA.
There have been plenty more improvements to both content and infrastructure since then too, as Raad Haddadin, head of technical, explains: “We’ve upgraded significantly since launch, most recently the servers.
Initially we had only Harris device controllers and one Omneon server with four ports. We’ve now upgraded all that to being HD/SD capable and the infrastructure is all Harris now. We have two new ADC device controllers, eight ports and Nexio Gateway. We’ve also integrated our Avid edit suite with the server. Previously we were transmitting tapeless, but if we wanted to do any editing we had to do so on tape, but the whole workflow is now tapeless.”
Last year, Al Aan also launched Al Aan Services, making the channel’s equipment and expertise available to third party broadcasters who wish to shoot in, or broadcast from the region: “We have two OB vans complete with SNG, two HD flyaway kits and Sony 350K HD ENG cameras.
Any client that wants to shoot HD can do so, and the studios here are also available to hire. The studio on our fifth floor has room for multiple sets, so we can use that area for more than one shoot, and we’ve already had clients like Euronews shooting up there.”
With further improvements planned to Al Aan’s fifth floor studio, it may well become increasingly popular over the coming months, as Haddadin explains: “The whole of the fifth floor will be changing very soon.
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I’m going to be replacing all the lights – currently we’re using Arri Tungsten, but I’ll be upgrading to Arri LED. With tungsten we’re limited by what we can do up there by the power consumption, and the heat.
We can’t run more than one set at a time. I’ll be installing seven new LED sets in July – they consume just 22W of power and give you 1,000W of light.
“On top of that, I’ll be redesigning the Master Control Room. Currently it’s one big room with all the transmission and ingest in it, but soon it will be two separate rooms with all new equipment and more of a 2012 look and feel.
“The set too will be changing. We already have two sets in the fifth floor studio, but we’ll be installing a rotating set on wheels where the smaller set currently is, giving the option of three different sets in the same space. Along with the main set, we’ll be able to broadcast seven shows from that single studio. We’ve recently upgraded the studio from three cameras to six.”
Haddadin has only worked at Al Aan for around a year, but it seems few areas have escaped his ongoing drive for improvement. The OB Vans, for example, although they predate Haddadin’s arrival, have had their own share of upgrading: “The vans were three years old when I arrived,” he explains.
“So we’ve done some basic maintenance to the cabling, monitors and so on. I’ve also bought the new Sony cameras for the OB vans, as they previously shared cameras with the studios. On top of this, we also have offices in Libya and Islamabad which are also equipped with lighting, audio monitors and ENG cameras for bulletins.”
To illustrate his point, Haddadin notes that some 32 US broadcasters took advantage of Al Aan’s services during last year’s Dubai International Film Festival: “They were broadcasting 24-hours-a-day,” he says.
“We had two HD SNGs working the whole week, and for the last three days they took OB vans too, so we were providing the transmission for pretty much all of the US’ coverage of the festival.
We have a lot of interest from channels in Europe too – right now they don’t even search in Dubai for HD uplinks, they just come straight to us, so we’ve broadcast the swimming, cage warriors and the Rugby Sevens for European broadcasters. We’re getting approached through word of mouth recommendations too, and that includes work in Bahrain, Qatar, all around the region.”
Al Aan has proved a hit online too, with more than 6.5M views per month on its YouTube channel, 2M fans on Facebook and 13,500 Twitter followers, and this is another area where Al Aan is constantly seeking to stay ahead of the game: “We have some of our own unique software in place, so news bulletins automatically go online as soon as they’re approved for broadcast and breaking news goes live on the channels ticker and also on Twitter as it’s reported. Each of our shows has its own hashtag, and when we launch a new show it gets its own hashtag as soon as it goes on air.
“We also have some great translation software in house, so all our Arabic news bulletins are translated immediately into English with only a tiny margin of error. This is really useful as not everyone here speaks arabic so that helps a lot around the office.
In fact our general manager himself doesn’t speak English, so he’s really pleased with that, and we’ve found that the in-house set up has a really tiny margin of error. Breaking news goes out as a ticker during live shows and also on Twitter simultaneously, and the producer can change the wording as needed, again using all our own software. All of this links up with our VizRT set up on screen for the broadcast graphics.”
While Al Aan’s infrastructure is already capable of both producing and broadcasting in HD, like many others in the region it has not yet taken the step of broadcasting an HD signal, although Haddadin says this is something we can look forward to in future: “We’ve already done a feasibility study,” he explains.
“We know exactly what equipment and work we still need, and it’s just a question of when. I already buy everything new HD-capable so we don’t have to pay twice when we do take the step up. The servers and cameras are already HD so the broadcast infrastructure is already HD-capable, there are just odd ends that need tying up, like the audio mixers are still SD, and these are already being upgraded on a rolling basis.”
Haddadin adds that Al Aan has the capability to carry out most of its upgrading in house, so with an infrastructure that is already largely HD capable it seems unlikely to be too long before Al Aan joins some of the region’s other big players like MBC, OSN and Abu Dhabi Media as part of the growing HD club.