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Thu 1 Sep 2005 04:00 AM

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Facing the music

Launching a new music channel into an already crowded broadcast market is not an easy task. But Fatima Mohammed believes that a combination of good technology and strong business strategy will help Al Dana TV succeed. Digital Studio reports.

I|~|coveraldana.jpg|~|The Seachange server and other broadcast equipment at Al Dana is controlled by an Etere automation system.|~|Fatima Mohammed is an Emirati with a degree in media production from the Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates. For the last five years, Mohammed has enjoyed a steady income thanks to a job at Dubai TV as programmes director. But four months ago, Mohammed decided to fly the nest and look for a more challenging position in a private firm. And she landed one as manager of Al Dana TV, one of the two new music channels that was launched this summer from Dubai Media City.

“This is a very big challenge for me because the survival of the channel depends on how I steer it,” says Mohammed, who will be managing the whole channel while also directing many local music videos that will be broadcast exclusively on Al Dana. “It is not like a state broadcaster, where your salary will always be there for you whether the channel generates any income or not because the government supports it.”

Mohammed has a tough task ahead of her, as Al Dana TV is the newest of several private music channels that have been launched into an already crowded broadcast market. Music has always been a rage in the Middle East and some channels such as Rotana TV have now become a name in most Arab households. In fact, Rotana TV opened an office in DMC last month to run its global operations.

This time, however, we see a new trend emerging with Arab music composers investing in such channels. Hawas TV, for instance, which was launched in June this year, is owned by the well-known music composer, Ali Kanoo. Likewise, Al Dana TV, which was officially launched on the first of this month, is owned by another famous Arab music composer, Meheed Hammad.

Seeing the huge potential that music channels have in the region to generate revenue through both interactive services as well as advertising, Hawas TV invested more than US $750,000 in the technology and its installation at its facility in DMC. Al Dana TV has also invested in a similar tapeless solution.
||**||II|~|coverrhawas.jpg|~|Hawas TV has invested more than US $750,000 in just the equipment and installation at its DMC facility.|~|Systems for both facilities were designed, planned, sourced, installed and integrated by the Qatar-based systems integrator, Salam Media Cast.

Already, Hawas TV, which plays both traditional folk Arabic songs as well as regional music, has begun to attract more than 18,000 SMSs a month. One significant advantage that Hawas enjoys is that most of its traditional folks songs are composed by Kanoo and many of the music videos for the same are directed by Nahla Fahad. Fahad, like Mohammed of Al Dana, manages Hawas TV, while also directing music videos for the channel. As a result of this, both channels seem to have exclusive rights to several of the songs they play.

What is more significant, though, is the very professional approach both companies have taken with regards to the choice, installation and integration of broadcast equipment at their respective facilities. By contracting a well-known systems integrator to put in place their systems, they seem to indicate that they mean business.

“Hawas approached us in April to undertake the project. We began the installation on May 1 and it was ready to go on air in June,” says Sohail Shafi, senior sales manager of Salam Media Cast, Dubai. Shafi was responsible for both the projects right from the stage of planning. “For Al Dana, we had a much tighter deadline but we were able to meet those requirements as well and they have been on air since the beginning of this month,” he explains.

Solutions at both facilities are state-of-the-art and scaleable for future requirements. The Master Control room (MCR) at both Hawas TV and Al Dana includes a three-node video server from Seachange, which currently has a capacity of 200 hours at the bit rate of 15mbps. Each node can carry six hard drives and has a storage capacity of 147 GB each. Other solutions at Hawas include Pinnacle’s Dekocast for graphics support and Leitch’s Opus master control switcher, which is integrated with an SMS solution. “For the moment, 200 hours of storage will suffice for both Hawas and Al Dana so we have installed Seachange at both facilities. Hawas still has 75% space despite having more than 300 songs on its server. The Seachange server can be expanded further to a maximum of nine nodes if they require more space in future,” explains Shafi.
||**||III|~||~||~|Al Dana, meanwhile, has opted for Leitch’s 16x16 SDI router and two of the vendor’s remote control panels (RCP) with specs of 16x16 for production and 16x1 for output. The channel’s audio and video distribution are handled by Leitch’s 6800 plus series. Besides this, Salam has also installed a Leitch GPS 575 frame synchroniser to ensure that the audio and video streams are synchronised and a steady feed is send to air. The automation system, the server and the rest of the broadcast equipment are locked through the GPS so that the software can ensure that there is no drift in timing. “This is primarily useful for all live and external feeds because it allows them to go directly on air,” says Shafi.

Al Dana is equipped with an audio monitoring system from Del and a patch panel from Bes. The channel has also acquired two Synch pulse generators (SPG) from Trilogy that are connected to a mastermind auto changeover switch. This allows it to switch to the backup should one SPG fail. Al Dana has also invested in a Sony DVW M2000P VTR, which enables both playout and recording in multi-format.

Solutions at both facilities are controlled by the Etere automation system, which is installed at several other such facilities in DMC as well. In terms of editing, Al Dana has chosen Pinnacle chrome and 3D Max software while Hawas has opted for the high-end Avid Adrenaline system. “The Avid has an SDI output, which allows you to send material directly to the server and from there, you can go on air,” says Shafi. Hawas has also installed 3D Max and Combustion for colouring and compositing. Editing solutions alone have cost Hawas TV approximately US $95,000.

Al Dana currently has only a playout centre and an SMS room but it has plans to include a studio to accommodate its production needs as soon as it gets more space in DMC.
Hawas already has a three-camera studio equipped with Sony cameras, a mix of cold and warm lights and a Thomson Kayak 1 ME Vision Mixer. “This area was being used by Music Plus (another music channel in DMC) before and they had a one-camera studio but they have now shifted to larger premises. We broke down a wall here to build a bigger studio for Hawas. We also recommended the Thomson vision mixer because Sony is discontinuing a lot of products in this range. So we were hesitant to recommend discontinued products to our clients,” says Shafi.
||**||IV|~||~||~|Both projects were handled by a team of six people from Salam. “Staff at both facilities have been trained to use the equipment we have installed for them. Our engineers can also reach any of these sites within 30 minutes to resolve any problems,” says Shafi.

Working behind the scenes of these two channels are 22-year-old Nahla, who is fresh out of the Higher Colleges of Technology while Fatima Mohammed of Al Dana TV has the advantage of five years of experience, directing and producing several live shows for Dubai TV. Mohammed has also been responsible for covering the opening ceremonies of the Dubai Shopping Festival and the Dubai Summer Surprises for Dubai TV. She is certain that she has a good strategy up her sleeve but she doesn’t divulge more.

Mohammed says using SMS to generate revenue is only an initial strategy and cannot really be the main source of revenue for any music channel. “For now, we are relying on SMS but that is not a long term strategy. We need to have programmes that will attract advertisers and sponsors. We have a couple of plans that we are certain will help Al Dana TV become one of the most watched music channels in the Arab world,” she says with confidence. “It’s what will differentiate us from the other music channels but it will take us a couple of months to get our feet off the ground so I prefer to keep our plans confidential for now,” she says.

Al Dana also has plans to launch another channel but again, details are under wraps.
The broadcast space is already crowded with several free-to-air music channels. Two more music channels are rumoured to begin operating from DMC as soon as the space becomes available.

In the meanwhile, most are relying on interactive services such as SMS to generate revenue and it is said that a significant portion of the revenue for these channels comes from Saudi Arabia. However, we will need to stand by for at least another few years to see how many of these channels will stand the test of time. In the meanwhile, suffice to say that Rotana TV is feeling the heat well enough to now open an office in Dubai Media City so that it can stay close to the competition.

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