Pakistan’s SAMAA TV grows ratings using virtual sets with Viz Virtual Studio

The virtual sets allow the on-air presenters to interact with the 3D environment and tell their stories using interactive charts and other enriched graphic elements

In 2014 the management team at SAMAA TV - Pakistan’s leading news channel - was looking for a way to upgrade its on-air look to increase ratings and create more compelling and educational content for its viewers. The timing was right for a new virtual set system that would allow the channel’s growing team of graphics artists and producers to begin developing all types of captivating and fully immersive environments.

The result was an immediate hit with viewers and ratings increased significantly within just a few months.

SAMAA TV’s graphics team, lead by Sikandar Baig, group head creative; and Faraz Qayyum, manager virtual graphics consists of professionals who manage the workflow of high-end software to produce exceptional work.

SAMAA under the supervision of Shahid Ur Rehman, executive director group operations, initially began their virtual graphic setup with the launch of SAMAA TV in 2009 using their production facility in Dubai. This featured of broadcast graphics tools from Vizrt which were used for all of the channel’s virtual graphics production. However, recognizing that, they could further engage viewers by doing more with virtual graphics and immersive 3D sets, the channel moved its virtual set to SAMAA TV’s HQ in Karachi, Pakistan in 2014.

“Virtual Set, especially by VIZRT is a must thing to create value and distinctive competence”, said Rehman.

From a single 13 x 7 meter wide production studio, the SAMAA TV used Viz Virtual Studio to produced thousands of hours of stunning virtual sets. The system is used across multiple genres including sports, elections and financial news.

“Using virtual sets gives our content production a new dimension,” said Qayyum, manager virtual graphics. “It is the best known storytelling tool for our audience.”

In tandem with the Viz Virtual Studio application, SAMAA TV graphics artists create their often complex, immersive environments using Viz Artist (for real-time 3D design), Viz Engine (for real-time compositing) and Viz Pilot (for graphics management and delivering template-based graphics).

“What we believe is unique about the Vizrt virtual set solution is its quality, user-friendly workflow and flexibility,” Qayyum said. “It has a robust template-based environment which is easily programmable to fulfil our complex needs. We have a full green-screen cyclorama backdrop in a medium size studio, but with the virtual set, we are designing hugely detailed sets. It’s really quite amazing what we can accomplish and the viewers have really responded positively.”

Always looking to push the boundaries of what can be done in a virtual environment, the channel’s Technical, Operations, Broadcast Engineering Teams, once again upgraded the virtual set to include a new camera tracking system called "CamTrak," from Motion Analysis Corporation. This system tracks two on-floor cameras with PTZF+XYZ tracking and a third camera mounted on fixed 12-foot reach crane for more extensive coverage.

“Our tracking system uses retro-reflective markers to track the position of any object,” said Jeff Thingvold, animation application engineer at Motion Analysis Corp. “To do this we use a set of custom-built cameras that we design and build in-house. Rigging these in groups of 16 or more, these shine a light off markers which are used to generate tracking data. With the cameras in this high number, we’re able to find the markers’ position with ease and to pin-point accuracy.  Data from these markers - and some attached to a rig - is streamed to the Viz Virtual Studio system in real time which creates a very realistic look.”

Thingvold added that SAMAA TV also makes extensive use of Motion Analysis' object tracking capabilities, making full use of the interactive ability of the Viz Virtual Studio system. The graphics teams have gone so far as to add markers to track presenters and objects they handle to great effect. The Motion Analysis data is streamed in real time to individual Viz Engines and combined with the live footage of the green screen using an Ultimatte keying system.

“The combination of the Motion Analysis tracking system and Viz Virtual Studio gives us a highly efficient virtual studio production environment that we can use in a wide variety of ways,” adds Qayyum. “With very little effort and precise calibration of the real and virtual worlds, it’s become possible for us to meet previously unrealistic deadlines.”

Sikandar Baig, group head creative concluded “At the end of the day the virtual set save us enormous costs associated with set builds and its flexible design side makes it possible for SAMAA TV producers to change the look and feel of any virtual environment or 3D graphic on the fly. And the channel’s lead in broadcast ratings throughout the Pakistan is a proof of the success that, virtual sets can bring to broadcasters.”

“The best part of using the Viz Virtual Studio system is that it can also adjust to work with any tracking solution. So for us, the sky’s the limit. Here at SAMAA TV, the virtual set is not just a value added resource but it’s now an integral part of our daily news transmission.”

About Vizrt

Vizrt provides real-time 3D graphics, studio automation, sports analysis and asset management tools for the media and entertainment industry. This includes interactive and virtual solutions, animations, maps, weather, video editing, compositing, and playout tools. Vizrt has customers in more than 100 countries worldwide including CNN, CBS, Fox, BBC, BSkyB, Al Jazeera, NDR, ITN, ZDF, Star TV, Network 18, TV Today, CCTV, NHK and the list keeps growing. Vizrt has nearly 600 employees and operates in 40 offices worldwide. Vizrt is a privately owned company by Nordic Capital Fund VIII.

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