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A new story-centric workflow at Al Jazeera

Despite being one of the world’s premiere news organisations, Al Jazeera knew it had to upgrade newsroom. Avid SVP of global sales Tom Cordiner tells how they did it

Creating synergies or even unifying the content creation process for distribution over multiple platforms has been a growing concern for news broadcasters, leading many to re-examine the behind-the-scenes process required to efficiently generate content.

Avid’s next-generation newsroom system is based around a story-centric workflow, putting the story at the centre of news operations. This holistic approach provides tools to news teams for planning, creating, collaborating and delivering news to a wider range of viewers across multiple platforms, allowing for more dynamic and organic storytelling and greater workflow agility – both inside and outside the newsroom.

Al Jazeera is among the world’s leading television news broadcasters and has been using Avid iNEWS since 2003, rolling it out for various channels and international offices as the network grew. Over the last five years, Al Jazeera has implemented a program of iNEWS upgrades and new installations, working towards the ultimate goal of facilitating greater networking and sharing of material between its headquarters in Doha, Qatar and its other newsrooms worldwide.

Leveraging the Avid platform consistently across its global news operations has helped Al Jazeera achieve several business and operational objectives, increasing its production of compelling content at lower costs, while extending its audience reach. Al Jazeera upgraded its newsroom technology at its London and Balkans bureaus in 2014 and 2011, respectively. The last phase of the project was Al Jazeera’s Doha headquarters, which is the most complex of its news centres. Not only is it live, there are multiple languages, including English and Arabic.

The legacy iNEWS system at Al Jazeera Arabic’s (AJA) newsroom in Doha was reaching end of life and limiting growth and access to modern newsgathering technologies. There was no real potential for expansion to include new services and functionality, and many tasks had to be carried out manually, taking up the time of creative operational staff. AJA had reached the point where they had to make a change so as not to compromise quality.

“Our industry is increasingly competitive, complex and is changing rapidly,” said Mohamed Abuagla, executive director of technology and operations, Al Jazeera Media Network. “Despite our success, we knew we had to overhaul our global newsgathering and delivery platforms to remain an industry leader. We needed a partner that understood the industry, could deliver innovative technology solutions to solve our strategic needs and could work collaboratively over the long term.”

Production chain

AJA knew that it needed an entirely new file-based HD workflow, which would be an enormous and disruptive task. To stay on air in the interim, it decided to create a transitional system that would be an upgrade to its old version of iNEWS, and would also help it build an infrastructure able to cope with the heavy flow of media and information now involved in modern TV journalism.

Al Jazeera created a complete production chain based on the Avid MediaCentral Platform, the industry’s most open, tightly integrated and efficient platform designed for media. The workflow comprises Avid’s comprehensive tools and solutions for creating, distributing and optimising media: Avid iNEWS with Interplay | Production for production asset management, Avid shared storage, AirSpeed 5500 servers, Media Composer editing workstations, the Avid MediaCentral | UX web-based cloud interface, Interplay Capture scheduling and control, and Interplay media services.

We knew we had to overhaul our global newsgathering and delivery platforms to remain an industry leader

While Al Jazeera’s journalists are highly experienced in using iNEWS, they needed training in the end-to-end video workflow, allowing them to edit video on the fly and search for clips. Avid’s Professional Services team delivered over 160 days of workflow and training services, supporting AJA throughout the transition from workflow design to project management and end user training support from both English and Arabic speakers.

The transitional installation was about 20% larger 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 approximately 30% bigger again, with greater bandwidth and storage. Now that the new installation has been completed, the legacy system continues to serve an important purpose as part of Al Jazeera’s newsgathering training facilities.

The future of cloud-based newsrooms

In January 2017, Al Jazeera decided to embark on the next phase of its technology strategy, which will see it introduce cloud-based capabilities into its workflows and new hybrid cloud deployment models for its global news production infrastructure, helping to drive even greater global collaboration and operational efficiency across the enterprise.

Al Jazeera is currently working with Avid to pioneer cloud-based newsroom workflows, developing and testing cloud-based technology deployments of the end-to-end Avid newsroom solution. The end result will be the first ever hybrid cloud deployment of MediaCentral across a large, global newsroom operation. As well as helping Al Jazeera realise its own cloud strategy, the project will help shape the future of cloud-based newsrooms across the industry.

To support this infrastructure around the world, Al Jazeera has signed a multi-year, multimillion-dollar enterprise-wide Global Services Agreement with Avid. Avid will supply services including system support, software maintenance and an array of professional services tailored to the needs of Al Jazeera’s global operations to help optimise its significant investment.

MediaCentral | UX is now the hub and catalyst in the story-centric workflow at Al Jazeera, allowing the teams to manage every facet of a news story from a single user interface. Several new panes within MediaCentral | UX facilitate this workflow and integrate with other platform-connected solutions such as iNEWS and Interplay | Production. These new panes include the Assignment Pane, Elements Pane, Calendar Pane, and Trending Pane. MediaCentral | UX now has integrated panes for Maestro and Social Media Hub, providing seamlessly integrated graphics management and social media interaction.

“With Avid Everywhere and the MediaCentral Platform, Avid has delivered comprehensive innovations across the media workflow using an open and extensible centralised platform to help drive efficiency,” said Abuagla. “As we have embraced the Avid Everywhere solution to drive business results, over the past several years Avid has consistently shown that we made the right choice in a partner. As we move towards a cloud-based future across our global newsroom operations, we are pleased to have Avid at our side to help us navigate this important journey.”