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Wed 7 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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LIVE, ADMC's production and facilities company, is aggressively pushing into the live production market with a fleet of HD OB vans and highly-skilled crew.

LIVE, ADMC's production and facilities company, is aggressively pushing into the live production market with a fleet of HD OB vans and highly-skilled crew.

In the last couple of years, the Middle East has become a hotbed for live performances and high-profile sports events. Sadly, the coverage of such events for TV has, thus far, been below par.

Many TV stations across the region have fitted out their studios with the latest equipment and almost every broadcaster has invested in OB vans. But none of that quality has been reflected in their live broadcasts.

Now, however, with Abu Dhabi Media Company's LIVE Broadcast Production and Facilities Company storming onto the scene with four fully equipped, state-of-the-art High Definition outside broadcast trucks and a highly-skilled production team to boot, it is thought that live production will take a turn for the better.

"The UAE is a very events-oriented market and our market analysis and research shows us that a specialised production and facilities company is the right model to pursue at this point," says LIVE's managing director, Abdul Hadi Al Sheikh.

"Very simply put, we are a turnkey provider of OB coverage in terms of productions and facilities. We can provide the entire workflow for the production and broadcast of any live event in this region."

Last year, LIVE invested a whopping US $28 million to put in place a fully-equipped OB fleet, which consists of four trucks, each equipped with the latest High Definition equipment.

In addition to being kitted out with Thomson Grassvalley's LDK 8000 mutli-format cameras, Kayak HD production switchers, EVS NLE systems, the Studer Vista 8 sound mixer and a mix of Panasonic, JVC and Sony monitors, the fleet is also well equipped with specialised kit like the Thomson LDK 6200 high-speed cam, the OmniCam and the Iconix.

Al Sheikh claims LIVE is the only company in the region that has a complete HD OB fleet. "There are other competitors in the market that are touting HD OB vans but we discovered that only some elements of their fleet are actually HD. In our case, all our kit is HD and our production will be entirely in this format," he clarifies.

On the technology front, LIVE has spared no efforts to ensure that it has the best but Al Sheikh says this is not enough. He adds that while most TV channels spent millions of dollars investing in state-of-the-art equipment, they have failed to hire skilled personnel to man these systems.

This is where LIVE has got an upper hand over it competitors, he says.

"Today LIVE also has more than 100 resources including TV directors and cameramen. All of our operators also have very high-end HD competencies. We have sourced some of the best professionals from European markets - people who have worked previously on producing some of the big Leagues. They are now part of our team on a full-time basis. We also have specialised personnel like a SteadiCam operator working with us full time. Having the right kit is only half the battle won. You need to combine this with people who have the right competencies to operate this equipment as well as experience working in such environments. We believe we have scored on both fronts," explains Al Sheikh.LIVE has good reason to be proud of its success. It has barely been a couple of months since its launch and the company has already secured the rights to produce the UAE Football League exclusively for the next five years.

It has also been involved in producing several other high-profile events in Abu Dhabi including the coverage of the Middle East International Film Festival, cricket for Taj TV, rugby as well as many others.

Al Sheikh claims that LIVE is already running at full capacity and will need to expand its fleet further to take on additional jobs in the future. "We plan to invest another $14 million to expand our fleet as well as other resources further. We will continue to use Thomson as our systems integrator but are considering other alternatives for our coach builders and some other elements of the fleet," he explains.

With the formation of Abu Dhabi Media Company, there seems to be a greater desire to ring in change and eliminate the traditional lackadaisical attitude for a more dynamic one. Al Sheikh himself confirms this.

"One of the normal patterns in the previous years has been for the production crew to show up just before the game and go and cover it. Then how do you expect to get it right? For us, we need a minimum of 24 hours if not more, where our crew goes on site, does the rigging, puts in the running order and so on.

"Everything we do is based on prior planning, putting new benchmarks and best practices in place. We have also brought in certain elements into our package that are available for the first time in the region. Usually, if you want to cover a major event here, people ship in an OB van and the crew. But now, it's available locally and that makes it very cost effective. We also have very specialised kit like slow-mo cameras, the OmniCam and the SteadiCam, which are not commonly used here. We also have some other value-added features like TrackVision, which is a graphics enhancement tool that uses a tracking technology to superimpose virtual graphics over the playing field. During live operation, TrackVision can draw a distance indicator for free kicks events, and can precisely measure the distance to goal or the speed of the ball etc. We also use Telestrator for our coverage."

Although LIVE is said to have started out cautiously, this company has now taken off in full gear thanks to the long calendar of events that are scheduled for 2009 and beyond in the UAE.

"We started off with some very conservative estimates prior to the launch but slowly, we hope to take about 80% of the market share for Dubai and Northern Emirates. We are also seeking opportunities beyond the UAE in other GCC countries," he adds.

LIVE, however, as a government-backed organisation is also deeply committed to the cause of ensuring that the next generation of UAE nationals are well placed to carry the LIVE mantle in the years to come.

"One of our main objectives is to have more UAE nationals become part of the operation. We plan to conduct very intensive hands-on programmes and enable these people to go to live events worldwide and learn to use this technology in those environments. We have the know-how and the best resources so why not extract the maximum out of what we have."

LIVE is currently drafting the outlines of the project and plans to roll it out in April.

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