By Mark Chertkow, Managing Director of Graphic Image Technologies
Social media usage has penetrated every aspect of our lives. Therefore, it makes sense that social media is fast becoming the platform of choice for users to get their breaking news first. To remain relevant, it is imperative for broadcasters to meet this demand which requires a shift from traditional technologies and mind-sets, to new.
Fortunately, technology today is much simpler and more cost-effective than ever before, meaning that there is now no justifiable reason why broadcasters would choose not to extend their audience reach through social media.
Problems in the past
Previously, broadcasters and journalists in the field struggled to upload content and share links to their social media newsfeeds. Today, this is no longer a problem. However, traditionally broadcasting required dedicated equipment built for purpose, and made up of individual discrete elements that would work together as a system. For an outside broadcast, to get footage from an event venue to the broadcaster it was necessary to have a newsgathering truck equipped with a satellite uplink and encoder. This feed would pass into the truck where it would be encoded and then transmitted via satellite on an ad-hoc basis for which broadcasters would have to purchase satellite time. The connection would have to be capable of transmitting footage at 8mbps, which then dropped down to 4mbps with the development of the MP4 format. A satellite link would terminate at the broadcaster’s studio where they’d then be able to repurpose and transmit that live feed out to subscribers. Standard procedure for events like rugby games and political conventions but could be a costly procedure when one starts adding up the catering, travel and accommodation costs involved in staffing an outside broadcast.
Small changes make a big difference
Later broadcast ‘backpacks’ were introduced into the market, these portable devices were equipped with a handful of GSM SIM cards with modems and would be used to aggregate and compress the content directly on the device. Backpacks made it possible to send content back to studio through SIM cards back to the broadcaster, where there would be a device receiving feed which could then play out a broadcast-quality SDI (Serial Digital Interface) feed. We’ve come even further since the first broadcast backpacks, propelled by developments in video compression technology. Where broadcast footage was once running in MPEG-2 format, and then MPEG-4, we’ve now progressed to HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding). At the forefront of bringing true mobility to broadcast, TVU has produced a device that is capable of delivering six live camera feeds through a single box in an outside broadcast situation to the studio for production and live broadcast dramatically cutting the cost of smaller outdoor productions.
Today’s devices can receive six SDI-quality feeds into a single transmitter and can be linked back to studio either via fibre connectivity or the device’s own transmit capacity over other networks. A similar box is required on-site in the studio to receive the live transmission, but it is now possible to effectively use existing infrastructure without having to invest in trucks and pay for staff off-site. Effectively eliminating the largest costs associated with an outside broadcast, as the equipment downscaled from an outside broadcast van with a satellite, massive price tag and huge manpower requirements right down to a bare minimum.
On top of this there has been a logical evolution from the physical interfaces that were specifically designed for broadcasters toward software-based environments, which is gradually rendering those physical interfaces obsolete. Previously, it was not possible to encode video using a general CPU or computer, simply because these lacked sufficient processing power. Now that computing and networks have grown exponentially it isn’t as cumbersome to transmit and process, it is possible to get up to 20 channels on a single server which reduces the hardware requirement on the broadcaster’s side significantly.
The next frontier
At the forefront of bringing true mobility to broadcast, TVU was the first in the industry to offer integrated social media tools with their transmitting devices to allow reporters and content creators to post directly to Twitter and Facebook during live transmission in 2013. Now, their TVU One transmitter supports direct live video streaming capabilities straight to Facebook Live. It is technology like this that has disrupted the route to the viewer resulting in the commercialisation of broadcasting thereby reducing the relevance of linear television as we know it. It is also this same technology that will enable traditional broadcasters to remain relevant in an increasingly digital world, while enabling a new breed of content service provider that aims to get their content to the viewer as soon as possible on a digital or social platform of their choosing.
Furthermore, by extending to social media broadcasting, content providers are essentially tapping into a market of viewers that are not bound to their television sets. By massively reducing the costs involved in producing content for broadcasting as well as simplifying the processes of transmitting video footage back to studio, technology has opened the doors for niche or local news and content providers to reach relevant audiences around the globe by harnessing the power of social media as the next broadcast frontier.