This article was first published in BroadcastPro Magazine, May 2011 issue
The recent events in various countries across the MENA region have highlighted major concerns for TV broadcasters who have been exposed to unpredictable situations and disruptions to their broadcasting signals and other aspects of their operations. These disruptions created significant difficulties for communications and information gathering, especially for news channels, but have equally affected all types of TV channels. Signals on various satellite platforms were completely cut off or encountered continuous disruptions, forcing millions of viewers across the Arab world to change satellite frequencies on a daily basis.
Broadcasters had to look for alternative production and broadcasting bases in more stable countries within the region to ensure continuity of operations. This situation is another reminder of just how important it is for every broadcaster, regardless of size, to put in place proper business continuity and disaster recovery plans.
In today’s business environment, interruptions increasingly threaten the survival or at least the competitive edge of companies that are unable to recover quickly. Broadcasters strive to provide quality content to their audiences, but a disaster can leave them powerless to communicate with viewers and promote their advertisers. A solution to this is the implementation of a practised, comprehensive disaster recovery plan that will enable a broadcaster to protect its brand, keep services on-air, and get back up and running fast.
Media companies should constantly assess where they are vulnerable and consider man-made and natural disasters and equipment failures. Broadcasters need to Failing to Prepare: Preparing to Fail take appropriate measures to prevent loss of service and expedite rapid recovery ensuring the reliability, security and robustness of the broadcast operations in such situations.
For example, a vulnerability assessment would consider the physical security at key facilities, system redundancies and the diversity of geographic distribution. As satellites are the predominant means of signal distribution for broadcast media in the region, the vulnerability of the satellite infrastructure should also be examined and reinforced. Alternative signal distribution means that commercial communication satellites (e.g. internet and data networks) should be considered as a last-resort backup, even if technical signal quality is degraded under emergency conditions. Redundant communications (with external news services and remote news teams, backup and alternative signal feeds and redundant signal paths to satellite and terrestrial transmission sites) must also be considered.
Most disaster recovery plans are built with the worst-case-scenario in mind. However, the reality is that most interruptions are not force majeure events. A comprehensive recovery plan should also take into consideration “minor” interruptions. There are several critical functions that enable a business to run efficiently; identifying and prioritising these functions is integral to resuming operations following a disaster.
The truth of the matter is that developing continuity and disaster recovery plans is just not sufficient. A few organisations in the region have invested in continuity plans for parts of their operations; however, most of them are not revised or activated. The serious disconnect between developing the plan and failing to execute it is the major issue that most organisations fail to address. For an effective continuity and disaster recovery plan, they need to be continuously maintained, updated, and most importantly regularly practised. Disaster recovery is an operational problem, as much as it is a technology problem and the priorities have to be defined carefully.
Service providers — satellite operators and broadcasters — in the region should work together to develop prevention plans and to improve the redundancies in their interconnections. There will be an extra cost of building continuity and disaster recovery plans including redundant and diverse infrastructures, but the damage to the business and image of the TV channel and the risk of losing viewers at times of crisis and major events may be irreversible.
During a major disaster, everyone will fight for the same resources: when a major power outage occurs everyone will be looking for a generator, in the case of satellite interference, everyone will be looking for “cleaner” space segments, and SNG trucks and flyaways are invaluable sought-after assets in cases of major breaking news events. Forward planning is the key to success for a successful recovery plan and broadcasters should be prepared to handle the worst case scenarios, which usually come when you least expect them. As Winston Churchill once famously said: “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning”.
Hasan Sayed Hasan is the head of twofour54 intaj