BREAK­ING NEW GROUND: FIRST EVER LIVE TV BROAD­CAST OF CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

Digital Studio - - COVER FEATURE -

Septem­ber 23, 2018, saw Saudi Ara­bia cel­e­brate the na­tion’s 88th na­tional day with a range of events, the cen­ter­piece of which was Cirque du Soleil first Saudi Ara­bia per­for­mance in Riyadh. In what was one of the the­atri­cal per­for­mance com­pany’s largest shows ever, the event or­gan­ised by MBC Group was at­tended by 27,000 guests of the Gen­eral Au­thor­ity for En­ter­tain­ment.

Broad­cast live on MBC1 to an au­di­ence of over 200 mil­lion view­ers, the event put a global spot­light on Saudi Na­tional Day cel­e­bra­tions, and there­fore also on the broad­caster. It was the first time a per­for­mance by the world-fa­mous en­ter­tain­ment troupe was to be broad­cast on live TV. So the chal­lenge in­cluded not just cap­tur­ing the daz­zling colours and spec­tac­u­lar artistry of the Cirque du Soleil show for a live TV au­di­ence, but to also broad­cast and present Na­tional day cel­e­bra­tions tak­ing place at 10 dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions.

Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of 7 Pro­duc­tion, Pierre Ta­bet, took charge of a crew of over 100 team mem­bers re­spon­si­ble for ex­e­cut­ing the broad­cast. A chal­lenge that was com­pleted suc­cess­fully by 7 Pro­duc­tion. Ta­bet says in terms of scale this was eas­ily one of the big­gest events in the MENA re­gion. “It’s the fact that we ac­tu­ally did 10 events at the same time on Saudi na­tional day.”

The num­bers be­hind the broad­cast tell their own story of the mag­ni­tude of the task fac­ing the host broad­cast­ing ser­vice provider. More than 250 cam­eras and 11 OB trucks were de­ployed across 10 dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions around the King­dom to cap­ture and broad­cast the Na­tional Day ac­tion live. Seven en­sured that each of the ten lo­ca­tions were cov­ered with 12-14 cam­eras.

An es­ti­mated 10 km of ca­bling was laid out at the King Fahd sta­dium with setup work start­ing weeks be­fore event day. Eight of their newly ac­quired Panasonic 4K cam­era sys­tems were de­ployed in the VIP ar­eas to en­sure the VIP footage is cap­tured without in­con­ve­nienc­ing the guests viewing the per­for­mance.

“Both HD and 4K cam­eras were used for this event due to dif­fer­ent pro­to­col re­quire­ments and spe­cial film­ing an­gles. OB vans were present at each lo­ca­tion with ENG cam­eras ready to film in­ter­views and lo­ca­tion re­ports. 7 Pro­duc­tion has a va­ri­ety of tech­nocranes and is the only provider to have a Fu­rio S2 by Ross Video, which we uti­lize ex­ten­sively for events across the GCC,” ex­plains Ta­bet.

Seven also de­ployed its lat­est hi-end in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy - the Canon DIGISUPER 95 (XJ95x8.6B) su­per-tele­photo lens. With a 95x zoom ra­tio that’s longer at the tele end and the widest fo­cal length (8.6mm) of any field lens in the in­dus­try, the XJ95x can dra­mat­i­cally cap­ture ev­ery pos­si­ble on-site sen­sa­tion.

“The client had cer­tain spec­i­fi­ca­tions that needed to be ad­hered to and we had to plan many things in de­tail such as the type of equip­ment and lenses that are be­ing used and plans for the on­site crew. We were ready for all kinds of sit­u­a­tions and de­ployed and wire­less sys­tems along with the lat­est re­mote cam­eras in HD and 4K and even hid­den cam­eras,” ex­plains Ta­bet.

“As a tech­ni­cal ser­vice provider we showed our ca­pa­bil­ity of do­ing ten events all in the same day and no other com­pany is able to do that. This is the sec­ond year in a row where we have cov­ered the Saudi Na­tional Day cel­e­bra­tions and that level of sup­port is why we won the Dig­i­tal Stu­dio award for our cov­er­age last year,” he con­cludes.

7 Pro­duc­tion is clearly ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing the tech­nol­ogy, ex­per­tise, and know-how of large scale com­plex events to help their clients de­liver amaz­ing pro­duc­tions.

END-TO-END BROACAST SER­VICES

Seven ini­tially started as an equip­ment rental busi­ness and the CEO says that know­ing what clients want has helped them get a steady stream of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional clients rent­ing out their fleet of OB ve­hi­cles. Work­ing with in­ter­na­tional TV net­works like BBC and CNN has helped them raise the stan­dard of re­gional broad­cast­ing, turn­ing 7 Pro­duc­tion into a full ser­vice pro­fes­sional so­lu­tion provider, which to­day has the project ex­pe­ri­ence, tech­ni­cal know-how, con­sul­tancy skills, and sys­tems knowl­edge to ex­e­cute com­plex live broad­casts and pro­duc­tion work.

“Be­fore we made our base in Dubai, the in­ter­na­tional TV net­works used to bring their own equip­ment and crew here which was quite costly. Work­ing with us, they are able to min­imise ex­penses and bring in the lat­est equip­ment,” he says.

“This was our main in­ten­tion at the start and then we started ex­pand­ing,” Ghanem con­tin­ues. “Be­cause clients wanted end to end ser­vices. You have to give the client the whole pro­duc­tion ser­vice to make their life easy, and you have to of­fer at­trac­tive pack­ages as well. So if they wanted stage de­sign we do it, and if they ask for light­ing or stage de­sign we did that and so on. So all the fa­cil­i­ties we are able to pro­vide.”

Along with ex­pand­ing ser­vice ca­pa­bil­ity, comes the need to in­vest in ex­per­tise and equip­ment and pro­vide so­lu­tions for chang­ing broad­cast needs. The CEO says they con­tinue to do on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. “When­ever it is re­quired to in­crease our fleet, we in­vest. For ex­am­ple in the last 3 months we have ac­quired four OB vans to meet the grow­ing de­mand.”

Ghanem says a lot of re­search goes into get­ting the right equip­ment and work­ing with the right sup­pli­ers in Europe. As a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to the IBC con­fer­ence in Am­s­ter­dam he says it is es­sen­tial to catch up on the lat­est in­no­va­tion and broad­cast tech­nol­ogy trends. “We al­ways visit IBC to look at what’s in the mar­ket and what the ven­dors are cre­at­ing so that we are up to date,” he adds.

Cut­ting edge gear is only one as­pect of pro­duc­tion: “It is not only to have the fa­cil­i­ties – it’s also the knowhow that our team can pro­vide. Live broad­cast is some­thing very se­ri­ous be­cause you can­not af­ford to have any mis­takes. So you can have all the lat­est equip­ment but if you don’t have to have the crew it is a prob­lem. That’s why we have built such a rep­u­ta­tion and got the con­fi­dence of

WHEN WE DO A PROJECT FOR A CLIENT, THEY ARE SO HAPPY WITH THE PRO­DUC­TION THAT WE CAN DE­LIVER THAT THEY KEEP COM­ING BACK AND ITS RE­PEAT BUSI­NESS. AT THE END OF THE DAY WITH ALL TH­ESE COUN­TRIES IN­CLUD­ING THE UAE, THE DE­CI­SION MAKER FOR THE BIG­GEST EVENTS IS THE GOV­ERN­MENT.

in­ter­na­tional clients to do big events here be­cause they know they can de­pend on 7 Pro­duc­tion.”

With build­ing a stu­dio he says the chal­lenge is dif­fer­ent. “You have to do the sound acous­tics right and put the lights and the trusses so that the lights can be moved based on the need of the pro­duc­tions. They want dif­fer­ent stages, colours, light de­signs etc. but it is not as dif­fi­cult as a live pro­duc­tion. The dif­fi­culty when you are broad­cast­ing live is there is in­ter­fer­ence and a lot of things can go wrong.”

Ghanem be­lieves the stan­dard of re­gional pro­duc­tion has im­proved tremen­dously since they started: “There is a big dif­fer­ence and it’s al­ways de­vel­op­ing. It’s a big change in the re­gion. UAE is now much more ad­vanced in this do­main. In Saudi Ara­bia, it’s go­ing to hap­pen fast!”

BUILD­ING PAN-RE­GIONAL SCALE

Seven cur­rently has es­tab­lished of­fices staffed with man­agers and crew in KSA, Le­banon and Dubai, adds Ghanem, which gives them the ca­pa­bil­ity to mo­bilise re­sources for the large scale live events across the Mid­dle East. The equip­ment is avail­able across lo­ca­tions, mak­ing it eas­ier to ser­vice the re­gion.

“When­ever it is re­quired we can mo­bilise – from UAE to Saudi, or from Saudi to Le­banon, or from Le­banon to KSA and UAE, and even to Europe if re­quired,” Ghanem ex­plains. “The main thing is we can mo­bilise re­sources quickly. If there was say a large event which needed very large ca­pac­ity, we could then po­ten­tially move crew across lo­ca­tion. For ex­am­ple the big Saudi na­tional day event that we did that was some­thing we has to put all our re­sources into Saudi Ara­bia so that took a month of mo­bil­i­sa­tion to make it hap­pen. That’s very pos­si­ble for us be­cause we have the staff to do the plan­ning and mo­bil­i­sa­tion.”

The Saudi na­tional day broad­cast was a great ex­am­ple of 7’s abil­ity to man­age in­ter­na­tional scale broad­casts. With a 25 mem­ber crew sta­tioned in the Saudi of­fice and over 100 staff present in Dubai, Ghanem says they have enough tech­ni­cal and cre­ative man­power to ad­dress a project of this scale.

What have been the main rea­sons why Seven has a long list of clients and is con­stantly win­ning new projects? “It’s our re­la­tion­ships. Our work speaks for it­self”, says Lara Ghanem-Cun­ning­ham, Re­gional Di­rec­tor of 7 Pro­duc­tion. “So it is

WITHIN THE GCC, WE CAN MOVE AROUND COUN­TRIES. SO IF NOT MANY EVENTS ARE COM­ING TO DUBAI, AND THEY ARE GO­ING TO LE­BANON, THAT’S WHERE WE ARE. IF THEY GO TO SAUDI WE ARE THERE AS WELL, SO WHER­EVER THERE IS BUSI­NESS WE ARE THERE. THAT’S WHY WE ARE SUS­TAIN­ABLE.

sim­ply word of mouth. Only re­cently have we started work­ing with pub­li­ca­tions and do­ing some mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.”

“When we do a project for a client, they are so happy with the pro­duc­tion that we can de­liver that they keep com­ing back and its re­peat busi­ness. At the end of the day, in our re­gion the de­ci­sion maker for the big­gest events is the gov­ern­ment. So it’s quite a small group of in­di­vid­u­als who make those de­ci­sions and if they are happy with the qual­ity of ser­vice de­liv­ered they will come back or they will give a re­fer­ral.”

Gov­ern­ments are the key de­ci­sion mak­ers she points out: “they say yes or no to bring­ing in celebri­ties and do­ing large scale events in the re­gion.”

“To build such a rep­u­ta­tion is not easy,” adds CEO Hadi Ghanem. “You are deal­ing with the gov­ern­ment and when they are hav­ing such an im­por­tant event such as Saudi na­tional day or the open­ing of the Dubai wa­ter canal which is broad­cast ev­ery­where, you can­not af­ford to make a mis­take es­pe­cially when they know you have the qual­i­fi­ca­tion to do such big jobs. Not to talk about the cost as well, be­cause usu­ally, they used to bring in ser­vice providers from Europe to do such events, and the prices were so high. So now they are do­ing the same qual­ity with less costs and the fa­cil­i­ties avail­able in the re­gion.”

PRE­PAR­ING NEW GROUND

Look­ing ahead, Seven wants to cover as much ground as pos­si­ble in 2019 and the fu­ture tar­gets are not only to get as much busi­ness as pos­si­ble but also to get in­volved in Euro­pean mar­ket. Ghanem speaks about the plans to win more projects in Europe: “We have a head of­fice in Helsinki but it’s a dif­fer­ent op­er­a­tion, more re­lated to stor­age fa­cil­i­ties for now.”

We are pre­par­ing the ground be­cause as I said you have to have a vi­sion of where the busi­ness is go­ing. We opened in Helsinki and we put the base there be­cause the tar­get is Rus­sia. Be­cause they have win­ter sports there and they need HD ready OB vans and live pro­duc­tion ser­vices. How­ever he adds the plan is to move slowly: “Be­cause we are heav­ily com­mit­ted in the Mid­dle East re­gion, we don’t want to go very fast without plan­ning for ev­ery­thing.”

KSA cur­rently is the big­gest growth fo­cus with Europe firmly in their sights in the fu­ture: “I would say the fu­ture is Europe. We al­ready pic­ture it and we are plan­ning for it. Europe is a very big mar­ket and this is my next big vi­sion,” says Ghanem.

We dis­cuss the cur­rent mar­ket con­di­tions in the broad­cast and pro­duc­tion in­dus­try - with quite a few broad­cast­ers fac­ing rev­enue pres­sures, does it have an ef­fect on the de­mand for 7 Pro­duc­tion’s ser­vices? “It doesn’t af­fect our busi­ness be­cause we are able to meet the re­quire­ments. I’m not af­fected by any sit­u­a­tion. Within the GCC we can move around coun­tries. So say if not many events come to Dubai, and they are go­ing to Le­banon, that’s where we are. If they go to Saudi we are there as well so wher­ever there is busi­ness we are there. That’s why we are sus­tain­able.”

Deal­ing with tech­nol­ogy shifts like the move to­wards 4K/ UHD pro­duc­tion, Ghanem says they do have plans to in­crease the 4K ready OB fleet but he adds that “you have to con­sider also the clients. They don’t want to ex­ceed the cost be­cause when you are us­ing 4K it’s not the same price as for HD and there is an in­crease. The price in­crease can be al­most dou­ble. So we pro­vide those op­tions and it’s up to the client whether they want it or not. We were the first com­pany in the re­gion who filmed with 4K for the Dubai Opera event in 2016 with singer Hus­sain Al Jassmi for MBC,” he adds.

“The big­gest chal­lenge we face is to bring the com­pany to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, so that from dif­fer­ent parts of the world peo­ple are ask­ing for your ser­vices.”

With an out­side broad­cast ve­hi­cle fleet un­sur­passed in the re­gion, cus­tom built stu­dio pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties and end-to-end host broad­cast­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, 7 Pro­duc­tion is well on its way to achieve that kind of in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion.

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