General Elections 2019: How news channels handled the broadcast - Part I

Broadcast, NDTV, News, Technology, LiveU, Grass Valley, Aws, Amazon Web Services, Elections, Studio, Newsroom, Akamai, Google

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THE PILLAR OF TECHNOLOGY

For news broadcasting, technology is the bedrock of everything since times eternal. It is practically impossible to churn out news effectively until the technology is in place, and this spells the difference between a good channel and a great channel. “As much as content is king, if it is not put out to the viewers well – it is of no use. For broadcast, the equipment and workflow is commoditised now and hence, relatively expensive when compared to digital news platforms. For example, Grass Valley has
some standardised and simple workflows for the broadcast vertical,” compared Kawaljit Singh Bedi, group CTO and product officer, NDTV.


When asked about the digital platforms, Bedi said that online it’s a dynamic game. “It scales quickly, changes by the hour, and to cater to the large masses which generate traffic. We jumped from 130 million unique visitors last year, to 200 million unique visitors this year - which is a huge number. We have to be prepared to scale accordingly and curate content specific to every user’s need and in different languages. It allows us to keep building up on the existing format, to accommodate for all age groups and curate tailor-made immersive experiences. The same cannot be replicated in the broadcast domain of news. If it is an English channel, one cannot experiment with different languages or add new elements instantly. It is very generic, hence there’s little room for experimentation,” said Bedi. Over the years, NDTV broadcast has extensively used MOJO (Mobile Journalism) for its newsgathering. “In studios, we use smartphones as well as cameras. However, for our journalists, journalism has completely shifted to phones. They just carry their phones, a selfie stick, a battery pack – and they are sorted. We generally use LiveU’s solutions for live newsgathering. This has resulted in a big change in the reduction of manpower, equipment, and time. Phones, nowadays, are extremely powerful, with excellent cameras; all of these coupled with high-speed internet. No need for large OB vans, satellite transmissions, and huge costs. News is available real-time, with minimum lag,” explained Bedi.

GENERAL ELECTIONS 2019


India is home to the world’s largest elections; the elections this year had appx. 900 million eligible voters, with polling held across 29 states and 7 union territories. The ‘counting day’ was a highly anticipated event across the country, in turn demanding live news feeds and trend analysis from media broadcasters and publishers. The news had to be accurate, instant, satiating the expectations of the country’s audience across mobile, web, and TV mediums.


Addressing the needs of a news-hungry audience during an event of this scale and importance, is a challenging situationfor any media company. NDTV needed to publish results in real-time and update trend analysis on their OTT platforms by the second, to ensure that the audience gets what it wants – all whilst managing the overwhelming traffic. The team had to be prepared to scale according to the surge in the number of visitors and web sessions ranging from 2x to 10x (as compared to their average regular traffic). It was an opportunity for NDTV to retain its visitors by providing insightful data like comparisons with the past results, permutations and combinations of different constituencies and politicians, comparison of actual results with exit polls, and other predictive results.


For Bedi, the advent of cloud computing has transitioned the way news is broadcasted online. “What has changed over the last decade, is the way cloud computing has completely changed the way digital companies operate. We have been using Amazon Web Services (AWS) for around ten years now. We have also looked at Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft’s Azure. We use a mix of platforms and technologies to drive NDTV’s digital offerings – primarily AWS for cloud computing and Akamai for content delivery (CDN). We also experimented with advanced AI/ML stuff with both Google and AWS,” said Bedi.

For NDTV, this year’s the success criteria for this event meant having a seamless event without any glitches in news and content delivery across their OTT platforms, being able to continuously livestream, and build their respective audience base. When asked about the technicalities of how the server handled multiple requests, Bedi elaborated, “Whenever a page is loaded, the server gets multiple requests from the various elements on that page. Say, the page has ten images.
Every time the page is loaded, the server gets ten hits/requests. And this just an example, imagine the infrastructure required to support a website with umpteen elements working simultaneously, like pictures, pie charts, graphs, etc.; with many hundred thousands of users using them!”

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