The news must go on! How news channels work during lockdown

Latest technology helps news channels stay afloat during the Covid2019 crisis

MUMBAI: A deft usage of virtual technology means is helping news broadcasters to stay afloat and produce the round-the-clock fresh content amid the spectre Covid2019 pandemic. Be it getting a live link from reporters or getting a guest for a live debate show, news channels have taken recourse to various video calling applications or broadcast-friendly video transmission software tools such as TVU and LiveU.

With TV production coming to a halt, news is the only genre that has been generating fresh content for viewers. It has also been placed under the essential services category by the government during the lockdown so as to inform and create awareness.

Tools like TUV indeed have come to the rescue of broadcasters in these unprecedented times. 

The TVU Anywhere mobile app has seen a large increase in global use recently as TV reporters and anchors have migrated from traditional studios to reporting from living rooms, balconies and shared living spaces within their homes and apartments. The app's ease of use and fast set up - requiring just a download to the user’s mobile phone - allows anyone needing to do safe remote reporting to go live instantly. 

TVU Anywhere can also be used remotely for non-live interview reporting. It’s PiP feature supports the use of prerecorded video. A reporter can comment live while the recorded video is playing. TVU has been working with news stations and government offices in different countries. 

“TVU is committed to work with all broadcasters across India to support their efforts to deliver crucial updates and information to their viewers during this unprecedented time. We are providing our cloud and IP based solutions free at this time to help broadcasters transition as seamlessly and as quickly as possible to remote production to minimize disruption,” said Sushant Rai, VP, sales - South Asia, Middle East and Africa, TVU Networks. “In addition, TVU will continue to provide its renowned 24/7 global service and all support personnel are fully mobilized to support customers as well as the larger broadcast community.”

The news channels have started taking the help of technology to keep the business running. And video calling applications have become a saviour for broadcasters along with video transmission software tools that they had already been using, such as TVU and LiveU. Most channels rely on Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp applications to bring panellists on TV screens virtually.

Times NOW’s editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar says: “In the current scenario where social distancing needs to be practised as a norm, connecting with guests and experts via video (calling) applications is the most suitable option. Apart from Whatsapp and Skype, we rely on Microsoft teams.”

“Our producers talk the guests through the procedures well in advance and even offer technical solutions to ensure that they adjust to them,” says Shivshankar. He says that the channel will also continue to largely engage with guests and viewers virtually as a means of practising social distancing.”

Apart from video calling apps, the channel has also been using video transmission software called LiveU. All the reporters of the channel have been given access to the mobile app of the software for either a live reporting or sending a recorded link to maintain the broadcast quality.

Malayalam news channel Mathrubhumi News has also been using the LiveU mobile application to get information from reporters. The channel uses it as per guests’ convenience for connecting them virtually to a live show or debate.

Mathrubhumi News chief executive officer Mohan Nair says: “Each guest has their preference and understanding for a video calling application; hence we have been using the video-calling application as per their choice such as Zoom, Hangout, Google Duo, WhatsApp, etc.”

A source close to a leading Hindi news channel also agrees that the channel is majorly dependent on Skype and LiveU. However, the channel, lately, has also been trying a video calling app called Zoom. “Not just reporters but we have given the access of LiveU application to guests, who join our debate shows. And, if need be we also send a camera crew to the guests’ place while ensuring precautions.”

The reporters are also using the LiveU mobile application to report a story from the field. The application allows the producers to connect the reporter and other panellists without disturbing the broadcast quality.

Echoing a similar view, Nair says: “In pre-pandemic period, the virtual connections used to take place on a smaller scale but lately this crisis has forced everyone to be connected virtually. People watch new channels for information and they do so irrespective of whether a guest comes to the studio or connected from his/her home.”

Asianet News assistant executive editor Sindhu Sooryakumar explains that the current lockdown situation has also forced the reporters to multitask; they not only report the story but also have to fit into the shoes of the cameraman by ensuring proper video frame setting, background, and sound.  

“The reporters and anchors of the channel use TVU mobile application to report and present news stories; a person sitting at the production control room in a newsroom patches everyone to give a flow to the show,” says Sooryakumar, who anchors a show called Cover Story on the news channel.

What about the broadcast quality?

Indeed, the two major issues facing the news channels while connecting guests through video calling applications are: Internet connectivity and video quality. The latter is somehow either adjusted by the producer, but the former has been the major concern of the news broadcasters.

The broadcast quality is somewhat maintained due to the TVU mobile application as compared to other video calling software tools, Sooryakumar adds. News channels are taking extra effort to bring information to the audience and ensure that they give disclaimer about the fact that they are working from home.

“Bandwidth issues and call drops definitely act as deterrents as it does affect the audio and visual experience. However, these challenges are beyond anyone’s control and in the current scenario, video calling is the best way to work with. We are also glad that both our guests and viewers are cognizant and accommodative of intermittent lags,” says Times NOW editor-in-chief.

Echoing the same view, Mathrubhumi News CEO says: “The internet connectivity issue is major hindrance during a live show; however, to be flawless in our programming we do a multiple trail with guests, who are connected through a video call before going live. We ensure video quality is good, bandwidth is uninterrupted as well as the sound and background of the video frame is appropriate.”

Another source close to a leading English news channel says: “All our reporters and guests use LiveU application for video transmission as it helps maintain the broadcast visual quality and the app also helps the producer to patch the call quite quickly and smoothly, be it a single or multi-windows.”

He adds: “Internet being the primary issue for every news channel, we are not much concerned about the video quality as the panellists already occupy meagre space on screen as we, generally, never had less than eight experts for a live debate show on both of our news channels.”

It is likely that the Covid2019 crisis is likely to give birth to advanced virtual connections for guests and reporters joining a show on news channels. Such technological means may become the new normal for broadcasters in the days to come just like the work-from-home phenomenon.

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