IT IN MEDIA

AN INTERVIEW WITH RIFAT ULLAH BAJWA, DIRECTOR TECHNICAL & IT, DAWN NEWS TV

SADAF AURANGZAIB
Dec 10 - 16, 2007

PAGE: Tell me a bit about yourself and your association with the Media Industry?

RB: Basically, my background is from IT industry. I did my masters from Karachi University in 1992 and later worked with few garment companies and CAT companies which used to supply automated systems. I also got the chance to do specializations from US regarding the garment field industry. I then joined World Call where my profile got changed. I worked for their Hybrid Fiber Coaxial (HFC) cable network that was basically related to internet and cable operations. We first launched the system in Lahore and then in Karachi. While working on the system we encountered problems like how to accommodate advertisements while running a program, how to ingest it inside the screen. We then transfigure the following with the help of few computer programmers and evolve a new system which can be used from computers as a customized in-house system. Today it is a very common system and almost every cable operator is using that sort of system. When the World Call started their first Satellite TV channel "Business Plus" they asked me to shift there and look after the transmission and play out network, it was then onwards I worked within the field of Media.

PAGE: How much the Media Boom has influenced the IT and Telecom sector?

RB: Well, in the Media we are producing the back end thing like we normally produce content which the telecom industry can use on their IP broadcast. The IP broadcast is the live stream telecast that you can either receive on mobile phones or on internet.

PAGE: Is there any link between those companies and media organizations?

RB: Normally we are doing our separate transmission and separately we are providing a live stream beam for them. Sometime they can receive our signal on their own and convert it to the live stream otherwise we can also provide them. We already have our live stream beam for internet just like Geo TV etc.

PAGE: What is the best technology that the media organizations have adopted so far and how many channels are using it?

RB: Well, here in Pakistan many channels are working with the old traditional technology that is VTR for broadcast but few channels are using the automation technology as well. There is a difference as mostly the new channels are using computers because today the broadcast is an application of IT. The channels which don't have the vision are still using the most cumbersome and tiring system of VTR and they feel comfortable with that tape system. However, we can easily use computers for the same purposes and can save a lot of manpower in that effort.

PAGE: Do you think the improper education is the main reason behind this lack of awareness?

RB: Well, that is the main problem. We don't have trained manpower. There is no subject in our media industry that caters to the requirement of broadcast and its technicality. The difference between the old technology and the new technology is that in the old one you need to play different things like a drama, advertisements, program promo etc then you need to have separate kinds of play out which you can switch manually and very attentively to get the task done efficiently. In an automated system, if you need to run an ad during a program, the system knows that the ad is coming up so it adjust and automatically switch itself to the ad hence today one person can run the whole TV channel from Master Control Room.

PAGE: Many educational institutes like Karachi University, Szabist, and MAJU are offering courses on Broadcast and Media, do you think that there graduates are well equipped to understand the technical aspect of the broadcast?

RB: Well, they are mostly offering few courses in Radio Frequency (i.e. RF), we need RF engineers but we need separate engineers of broadcast too.

PAGE: How do you think this gap can be bridged that is there between the real practices of the media organizations and the syllabus preference of the educational institutes?

RB: This gap can only be bridged with the help of a proper educational policy. We would like to advise them on their course selection. We need trained engineers to start up immediately with any project; what we are doing today is giving the training in house to the professional engineers that we hire.

PAGE: What are the latest technologies that the Media is using specially with reference to Dawn News TV regarding the production, streaming, broadcast etc?

RB: There are some popular and not so popular names in this case. Normally good channels are working with D-55 cameras which are a very popular device to shoot in Pakistan. We in Dawn TV have tried something different; we are using BRC-300 cameras which are robotic cameras. It is a robotic camera which you can control from inside the Control Room. It is not up to that standard that the industry is using but it functions very well. Right now, we are experimenting with it inside the studio; however we are also willing to use it on outside locations where there is a threat to the life of the reporter or on any critical condition where we can control it remotely from any location. The result is very reasonable.

For Play out, we in Dawn TV are having a Rush Works brand that is an American Band. It is a normal play out. It is also being used by us for the very first time in Pakistan; it gives us all required tasks. We are also using an Indian Graphics system "Beehive" system.

Our system is flexible and user friendly and we can easily over right the automation system to a manual system during a live program telecast. With the help of the automated system, the producer has all his files aligned on a computer and he can easily switch and run the files from the system during the program.

PAGE: Any suggestions to the new channels that are coming up but are not using the best of the technology?

RB: Basically there are two problems; one is that people are not aware of the technology, another is the people don't want to adopt the latest technologies as they are fearsome of taking risks. Hence they are using the typical system which is not that efficient and which is expensive as well, for e.g. if you are using VTR system, you need to do a major expense on tapes, here at Dawn TV, we are not using any tapes in-house.

PAGE: What do you think, how many years will we need to become completely automated?

RB: We are in a Media Boom but in the coming two years, this boom will desaturate and only those organizations will survive which are having long term commitment and planning. The Media organizations need to select the technology to their own requirements. We need to know how to use the computers for the best result. There are few channels which are having state of the art equipment but they are not using it and if you not using it, then it is of no use, it is just a waste of money. For telecom companies we are live streaming our beam like for example, we have three major offices in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and we have remote offices in Multan, Peshawar etc. as well, what we do is that we convert video/ audio (AV) as a live steam on internet and get it here. The benefit for doing it with this method is to save bandwidth. The bandwidth is very expensive; you can save the bandwidth by using the new technology of video compression like MPEG-4 compression. There are two major compressions which we use in Broadcast. One is MPEG-2 and the other is MPEG 4. People use MPEG 4 for High Definition (HD) Transmission. In Pakistan we have Standard Definition (SD) transmission so we are using MPEG 2 for our main transmission from Karachi but we are using MPEG 4 for our area connectivity so that we can have the best of the quality on the minimum bandwidth.

We are also having the distribution problem through cable operators where the real problem in transmission is from the cable operators but people complain the channel for their less efficiency.

PAGE: Why can't the cable operators transmit it properly?

RB: First of all is that they have an analog setup except World Call where they are using both analog and digital set up. You can't get a good reception on every different frequency on analog set up. Most cable operators can only accommodate 80 90 channels and 80% of the cable operators in Pakistan are not showing more than 60 channels.

PAGE: What is the possibility that Pakistan will have a proper Media and Cable broadcast?

RB: There are many things need to launch very soon like Direct to Home (DTH) platform which is very important for the Pakistani market. With the help of the DTH, you can receive 250-300 channels on a small dish at your home. It will take at least five years to break the monopoly of the cable operators and is also depends how cable operators will react to DTH whenever it will be launched.

PAGE: Any suggestions for the field people?

RB: We need to upgrade our educational set up so to produce effective manpower to get accommodated in this expanding field of Media and Broadcast. The media industry can only survive and sustain with the proficient manpower.