The current COVID-19 pandemic may go down in history as being the most unexpected challenge to broadcasters and mobile teams of all time, both: in its nature and its duration. News crews are striving to continue reporting in lockdown, while respecting social distancing rules and other quarantine measures imposed by governments to contain the spread of the virus.
They may be used to facing all sorts of challenges when reporting live from the field, linked to the remotest of locations, natural disasters or simply the presence of crowds putting pressure on local cellular networks—but these are unprecedented times. Video transport and connectivity are the most crucial elements to address, when striving to protect the critical services provided by broadcasters and public safety organisations during this global health crisis.
As with any challenging reporting scenario however, the success or failure of a broadcast during the COVID-19 pandemic will depend on the ability of reporters, anchors and meteorologists—now reporting from their homes, basements or sheds—to remain in constant, precisely-timed synchronisation with their central production team. The most obvious issue is that these reporters are not sitting in the broadcast studio, which means they don’t have access to all the tools, technology, and resources the broadcast facility team offers. And it’s a well-known fact that crews on location that are disconnected from what’s happening on the live programme feed, would not know what the shot looks like when they are on-air, which makes it difficult to make real-time adjustments as necessary.
The reality is that in the past, it has often been difficult to feed anything more than the IFB audio communications to the field crew without a significant degree of latency. That’s why, technology that delivers low latency return video and teleprompting has become crucial during this COVID-19 crisis. Delivering precisely-timed and captivating live content in these circumstances has become an exercise in ingenuity, creativity and flexibility. Technology has stepped in to make talent cueing, production, confidence monitoring and teleprompting available to the remotest shed or the most cluttered living room.
Some excellent examples of this ingenuity have emerged on social media in recent days, with Sky News’ presenter, Sarah-Jane Mee, CBS/CW San Diego TV news anchor, Marcella Lee, WUSA9 TV news anchor and reporter, Adam Longo, and Toronto’s CP24 anchor and reporters, Nick Dixon and Stephanie Smyth, all sharing how they have set-up their home-based TV studio with the help of technology.
For starters, a clever and easy solution has been to use the Dejero LivePlus app on a smartphone or a notebook, which allows talent to deliver high-quality live video back into their broadcast workflow. This app has been made available to those who need it without charge for a period of time, in a genuine effort to make reporting easier for content contributors including anchors, news reporters and meteorologists. These contributors have been setting a phone up on a cheap and sometimes improvised tripod, figuring out the lighting and the background, and are then ready to go live in minutes.
In addition, these presenters working from home are relying heavily on the ability to view return video and teleprompter feeds from the broadcast facility, using additional devices that are strategically placed around them. Setting up an iPad, phone, or computer monitor at eye-level behind the device acting as a camera, and delivering teleprompter or return video feeds from the platform-agnostic Dejero CuePoint at the broadcast facility, has proved a great way for these reporters to deliver on cue, and make real-time adjustments to their on-camera position by taking into account graphics and overlays. A facility-based standalone device, CuePoint doesn’t require other Dejero products, such as the EnGo mobile transmitter or receivers, to unlock its functionality.
Low latency has been the key to this return video server’s success, making near real-time visual talent cueing and teleprompter feeds a reality. It also allows a broadcaster to scale the number of return feeds that can be seen in the field. In a high-latency environment, real-time teleprompter and return video feeds are not viable, leaving field reporters with limited information, and having to listen to audio instructions from the MCR when they should be focused on their on-air presence.
A low-latency environment for visual cueing offers real-time visual feedback of how talent looks on-air: are their clothes straight? Do they need to look more engaged? Are they standing in the right place? It also lets them see their counterpart in the studio, or their counterparts in other remote locations, so they can have a genuine interaction with their colleagues during in-programme conversation. And when researchers and script writers send updates to the teleprompter feeds in near real-time, low latency allows the on-screen talent to read updated text as it flows, ensuring the audience is receiving the most up to date information.
Latencies as low as 250 milliseconds are now achievable on the ground, to truly guarantee a real-time collaboration between talent working from home and the broadcast centre. And the beauty is that its functionality is accessible through any browser, on any device, from any location, including a couch in a temporary home office born from the current pandemic.
Another fantastic tool at this time of isolation is the remotely accessible ‘Find an Expert’ databases within the Dejero Control cloud-based management system. This specialised online resource is currently helping newsrooms around the world access vetted experts to speak on a variety of topics related to the coronavirus. This facility makes numerous subject matter experts available to broadcasters within minutes, helping them bypass restrictions currently placed around travel. Qualified healthcare, social and economic experts in the database are on ‘high alert’ to provide quick responses to requests from news outlets at a time when the dangers of misinformation and factual inaccuracy pose a potentially devastating impact on society.
In these challenging times, easy access to flexible technology that decreases reliance on expensive production equipment will be the overall key to successful, high quality reporting.
Whether talent cueing, production and confidence monitoring, or accessing a teleprompter, extremely low-latency will be essential to achieving successful reporting. The synchronisation of central production and remote crews is also crucial when creating precisely-timed and captivating live content from their homes or from the field during the COVID-19 pandemic.