Al Jazeera is among the leading television news broadcasters in the world. Founded in Qatar in 1996 as the first independent Arabic news channel, it has extended its reach internationally with an English language service and an American presence, plus a themed documentary channel. Over the last five years the broadcaster has upgraded the newsroom technology at its London and Balkans bureaux; and installed a transitional system based on Avid technology at its Doha headquarters.
This paved the way for a complete upgrade of Al Jazeera Arabic's (AJA) newsroom, at end of 2016. The new system will lead to greater networking and sharing of material between Doha and Al Jazeera's other newsroom worldwide.
Al Jazeera has been using Avid iNEWS since 2003, rolling it out for various channels and international offices as the network grew, with a programme of upgrades and new installations having taken place over the last few years.
"The Al Jazeera Balkans Channel moved to complete Avid production in 2011, Al Jazeera London followed in 2014" says Miljenko Logozar, director of technology solutions and integration, Technology and Network Operations Division at Al Jazeera. "The last phase was our headquarters in Doha, which is the most complex of our news centers. Not only is it live, but there are multiple languages, including English and Arabic. We left this installation to the end because we wanted to build centers with the ultimate goal of connecting them all with the main complex, and with each other, by 2017."
While the plan was to build the outer-lying global network first, Al Jazeera executives, operations staff and engineers knew that Doha was the ultimate priority because the iNEWS legacy system was reaching end of life and was constraining growth, with no real potential for expansion to include new services and functionality. There were also many tasks that had to be carried out manually, taking up the time of creative operational staff.
"There have been major changes in news and newsgathering in recent years," says Ali Elhusseini, head of network operations standards, "and we reached the point where had to make a change so as not to compromise quality. We knew we needed an entirely new file-based HD workflow, which would be an enormous and disruptive task, so in order to stay on air we decided to create a transitional system that would be an upgrade on the old version of iNEWS, and would also help us build an infrastructure able to cope with the heavy flow of media and information now involved in modern TV journalism.”
Among the main requirements for the new system was to upgrade to HD, based on what Elhusseini describes as “better orchestrated workflows” that are both fluid and efficient. To achieve this, a complete production chain was created using Avid iNEWS working with Interplay | Production (production asset management), ISIS 7500 storage, AirSpeed 5500, Media Composer® editing workstations, the Avid MediaCentral | UX web-based cloud interface, Interplay Capture scheduling and control and Interplay media services.
The Interplay | Production system was selected so that material could be ingested, edited and played out in the newsroom, with full connectivity to other facilities. Logozar explains that essential but time-consuming procedures such as transcoding, file delivery and quality control (QC) have been automated to allow reporters, producers and technical staff to concentrate on their jobs.
"Importantly, we had the engagement of the newsroom from the beginning of project," he says. "The journalists are really experienced in using iNEWS but the challenge here was to train them in the end-to-end video workflow, allowing them to edit video on the fly and search for clips.
The main centers will all connect together to form one big news room. Everything will be visible for everybody, sharing information and video clips.
head of network operations standards
Al Jazeera’s project team also recognized immediately the value of preparation, consultancy, training and Go Live operational support from Avid's Professional Services team. The team delivered over 160 days of workflow and training services, supporting Al Jazeera Arabic throughout the transition from workflow design to project management to end user training support from both English and Arabic speakers.
Logozar says that Al Jazeera's experience with Avid’s technology, equipment and Professional Services team gave everyone the confidence that end-to-end workflows can and do work. The aim is to use the transitional system as a stepping stone to a more inclusive and sophisticated Avid-based newsroom network that will link Doha to Al Jazeera's other broadcast centers, with all video material and supporting information available online for correspondents around the globe.
"The main centers will all connect together to form one big news room," Elhusseini comments. "Everything will be visible for everybody, sharing information and video clips."
The transitional installation is about 20 percent bigger than the system AJA had been using for 12 years, offering more inputs for playout. The final system that went into service at the end of 2016 was designed very much around the needs of the users and is approximately 30 percent bigger again, with greater bandwidth and storage.
Now that the new installation has been completed, the legacy system will continue to serve an important purpose by providing training facilities that will lead to the future of newsgathering for Al Jazeera.