ASBU debuts Winter Games coverage

Although covering the Olympics is nothing new for the Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU), Sochi marks the association’s first plunge into the Winter Games. Despite coordinating production for its Arab nation members at every single Summer Olympics since 1976, the ASBU has never been present at the IBC for a Winter Olympics — until now.

“We have never done the Winter Games because we don’t have many athletes here, and, this year, we only have [athletes] from Lebanon and Morocco,” says ASBU Technical Director Abdelrahim Suleiman. “But, with how much television has grown and our relationship with the IOC growing, we wanted to promote the Winter Olympic Games.”

ASBU’s Bassil Zoubi (keft( and Abdelrahim Suleiman at their IBC office in Sochi

ASBU’s Bassil Zoubi (left) and Abdelrahim Suleiman at their IBC office in Sochi

Not surprisingly, the ABSU has established an extremely small footprint at the IBC in Sochi with just a 20-person crew. However, thanks to the OBS-provided MDS (Multichannel Distribution Service) and a bit of creativity, ASBU is delivering a daily average of 15 hours of Olympics programming with Arabic commentary and a total of 700 hours with English commentary. Although the number of ASBU member nations taking the programming varies with the day and the event, 14 of the 20 members aired ASBU’s feed of the Opening Ceremony.

“It is a small operation, not very big,” says ASBU Head of Transmission Section Bassil Zoubi. “We are relying on the MDS to deliver the international signal. We have the advantage with MDS in that the signal is backed up on three sources; this provides us [higher] security than if we [transmitted it] alone. We used to do it ourselves with one backup, and we paid the same cost we are paying this year with multiple backups and more channels.”

For the London 2012 Games, the ASBU took the MDS signals for the first time and received positive reviews from its members, so it opted to take on five of the six offered (plus the Olympic News Channel) MDS encrypted satellite feeds in Sochi. Out of the five feeds, the ASBU selects three (focused on cross-country, figure skating, ice hockey, and speed skating) at any given time to send to its broadcast center in Tunis, Tunisia. For the remaining events, the ASBU delivers only highlights packages.

In addition, the ABSU has an ENG team on-site, shooting on Panasonic P2, and two Grass Valley Edius NLE systems.

In Tunis, the ASBU ingests all feeds into its MAM (media-asset–management) system and makes them available to member countries in HD or downconverted SD via its MENOS (Multimedia Exchange Network Over Satellite) system, to which all members are already connected. Members are provided with a clean and a dirty feed and have the right to take the ASBU-provided commentary (produced in Tunis) or to use their own commentary.

“We never thought that it would be this popular,” says Suleiman. “It is really an [opportunity] for us to do this and plan for future Winter or Summer Games. The cost of producing Games is getting higher and higher. When you take the [MDS] feeds, it is much lower cost. That allows you to expand your product.”

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