MBC expands production capability with new state-of-the-art studio facility at Dubai Studio City, maintaining full connectivity with remote HQ

The Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), the first private free-to-air satellite broadcasting company in the Arab World, is headquartered in Dubai Media City and provides a mix of film, music, entertainment, sports and news content via its 17 television channels. The broadcaster also has two radio stations and owns and operates O3 drama production, a specialised production unit. MBC has production and playout facilities at its Dubai Media City HQ as well as in Beirut, Cairo and Saudi Arabia.

MBC’s strategy is to be the market leader, enriching the region’s viewers with ever newer and better content. The broadcaster is also very focused on its constant drive towards higher and higher production values. In 2016, MBC decided to give its flagship MBC1 channel a facelift and at the same time create a new studio facility for it. MBC’s facility at Dubai Media City was already at capacity with no room for further expansion, so the broadcaster needed additional space in which to expand its production capability.

 

As O3 production was already located at Dubai Studio City, MBC decided to locate its additional production facilities there, taking over O3’s facility with a view to expanding it with new production capabilities to support both current and future requirements.

The design for the new Studio City facility included three studios (one for MBC1, one for MBC Kids and a third for sports and other programming), two main galleries (one serving MBC1 and sports and the second allocated to MBC Kids) which were fully redundant to each other, two audio control rooms, ten edit suites, three CARs and a Master Control Room.

The aim was to create a state-of-the-art facility featuring the latest technology and hi-tech equipment, including LED screens and touch screen functionality, that would put the new facility on a par with the world’s top studios. While the new facility was intended to work independently of MBC’s HQ at Dubai Media City, it also had to have full connectivity between the facilities.

As Raed Bacho, Broadcast Manager at MBC Group, explains, “The O3 building wasn’t up to MBC’s standards. It was an empty shell, well-engineered and isolated for a sound stage, but our concept was to build proper studios with all the relevant facilities, and we wanted to design the facility so we could benefit from the overall space.”

With plans to produce around seven or eight shows at the new facility, the idea was to ensure a dynamic set up that could be adapted to suit different programme requirements, support live audiences and be reconfigured as production needs dictated.

MBC issued a tender for the system design aspect of the project in January 2016 and selected TSL Systems as the main systems integrator, the first time the two organisations had worked together. TSL Systems won the project based on its vast experience of building complex broadcast infrastructures, and the presence of a highly knowledgeable and experienced local projects team located in Studio City.

“The reputation that TSL has is one of the main reasons we selected them. They showed a very high level of commitment and flexibility during the project discussions and system design phase and throughout,” Bacho says, while Durdana Farid, Category Manager, MBC, adds, “They were a delight to work with when it came to commercial negotiations, they were extremely co-operative.”

A project of many parts

The challenges of the project were manifold. First, MBC had set an extremely aggressive timeline for the project in line with its planned roll out of a new look for MBC1. A series of immovable milestones had been laid out that needed to be hit in order to keep the project on schedule.

Second, the new production infrastructure and facilities had to be built in parallel to the considerable construction work that was needed to adapt the space to suits MBC’s requirements. As Bacho explains, because of the aggressive nature of the timeline for the whole project, there was no time to include TSL from the very start and building work had already commenced by the time the system design phase began.

Third, the MBC production team would have to transition from being spread over five floors in the same building to being split across two locations. Technically splitting the infrastructure and operationally splitting the team between two sites 15 km away from each other meant it was critical that connectivity between the two was seamless and the workflow and infrastructure at both MBC sites were compatible. 

Finally, due to the sheer size of the new facility, factors such as the baseband capabilities of coax cabling also had to be taken into account during the system build – due to the tight timeline, fibre was not an option for this particular project.

Added to this, ad hoc requests from the production team had to be worked into the project as they cropped up.

The system designed by TSL Systems comprised approximately 30 percent existing technology and 70 percent new systems, including equipment from vendors such as Avid, Axon, Sony, Evertz, Clear-Com, Sennheiser, Vizrt and TSL Products.

“With up to ten vendors all working on the same site, there were a lot of challenges. TSL was very proactive in helping us to face these challenges,” says MBC Group Project Manager Niveen Samra.

The diverse and extensive experience of TSL Systems’ project team, all based in Studio City as a result of TSL’s ongoing investment in engineering talent in the region, meant that they had MAM, audio and civil engineering experts on hand throughout the project. There was also close collaboration with MBC’s own engineering team from start to finish to ensure that the system build met the broadcaster’s operational requirements. This enabled the teams to address any issues immediately – whether making adjustments due to space or ensuring cabling trays were run in the right direction. 

In order to protect the broadcast equipment from the ongoing building work and meet the project targets, TSL built the entire system offsite and then rebuilt it on location once the construction work was completed. This is where TSL’s three decades of experience in building systems off-site really came to the fore, setting them up as they would be in situ at the customer’s premises both physically and in terms of operational usability. 

“TSL was really flexible with us and they also helped us set up the [system] design. Although we doubled the work, with asking them to build the system off-site then re-build it once the civil work was completed, in the end we had a really solid set up,” adds Bacho. “TSL built the system offsite in great conditions – the first impression was that you were entering a hospital – it was clean, calm and everyone was doing their jobs.”

On the connectivity side, Avid Interplay Delivery was chosen to connect the two MBC locations in Dubai – the first such deployment in the region – and it was critical that the file-based workflow was properly connected to ensure that the production team could continue to work seamlessly across both sites.

“TSL really played an amazing role in ensuring the connectivity and they had a very high level of commitment and really worked around the clock to make sure the project happened,” Bacho explains.

TSL Systems also implemented the Dante audio networking protocol at the MBC Studio City facility – the first project where this was used by TSL – providing the production team with a variety of audio and integrated control of the audio network. TSL’s senior network architect and audio architect were on hand to configure the switches, ensuring that the new audio set-up was ready to go live once on site.

As part of the project, TSL Systems also delivered training to MBC staff where needed.

Exceeding expectations

The MBC Studio City site went live on 5 March 2017, with no disruption to MBC’s live channels.

Thanks to the extensive experience of TSL Systems’ local team, they delivered a system that incorporated the best-of-breed technology that MBC wanted and was able to suggest alternative ways of implementation that made the same system more flexible.

The Avid Interplay Delivery enables fast file transfer between two Avid servers, allowing seamless workflows across the two MBC sites with teams being able to easily access sequences and shot lists regardless of location.

With the newly installed Dante audio network, MBC’s audio engineers are now able to share the resources between the two galleries over a standard IP network, giving them a more dynamic way of working compared to traditional patching or routing.

“The support we had from TSL was really amazing, and they were extremely flexible when it came to changing the scope during the project as the production team came up with different requirements and ideas – even if it meant having to make changes to the infrastructure,” adds Bacho. “TSL met our expectations and they delivered on the quality, design and infrastructure needs of MBC.”

Armando Ramos, Senior Broadcast Engineer, says, “The level of the knowledge and experience TSL performed added an extreme value and flavour to this project. I was in charge of commissioning the offsite build, where I noted TSL’s commitment to implementing the design and configuration we asked for in a very professional way that showed great effort and skills. I also want to mention the team spirit of TSL that really speeded up the project, with minimal supervision during the implementation onsite. It was well engineered and it was definitely a great experience with TSL.”

By pre-building the system while the civil works were being carried out meant the TSL project team could test it ahead of time, with just live testing and final deployment to needed on site once the civil works were completed. This allowed TSL Systems to bring the project in within MBC’s aggressive timeline.

Summing up the project, Samra adds: “I’m very proud of this project, and the fact that we delivered the latest technology – including those that were introduced for the first time in the region – and studio facilities on such a tight deadline. The outcome really exceeds our expectations, not only as a project team but for MBC management and sponsors too.”

Ramos concurs: “We drafted the design on paper and we asked for a maestro to implement it. Well done, TSL.”

Kit list:

  • Sony Cameras x 12
  • Sony Vision Mixer x 2
  • Avid Interplay Delivery Production System
  • Vizrt Graphics
  • Axon Glue x 6 Frames
  • Evertz Router and Multiviewers
  • Studer Vista V
  • Yamaha
  • Sennheiser
  • Vislink Wireless Camera System
  • Sony TVLogic Monitors
  • Cisco Switches
  • Lund Hasley Furniture
  • Argosy Racks and Cabling
  • Clear-Com wireless intercom
  • TSL Products Tally Man TM 1 Control System, AMU’s MPA1-BD