Live coverage of news events is an important part of television news broadcasts. Traditionally, live coverage required the use of satellite news gathering (SNG) technology. Today, digital technologies like those provided by LiveU present new opportunities for live transmission of news on television and non-linear (online and social) platforms. They may even “threaten” to change televised journalism altogether.
This week’s paper looks at the intersection of liveness with new digital technologies like those by LiveU and news media. All findings are based on interviews with nine Israeli TV news and LiveU professionals.
LiveU sells a portable video-over-cellular-based technology that is designed for any camera and works through various web-based portals. A common problem with cellular connections is that they’re not always reliable. To compensate for the possible loss of connection to the internet, which would result in disruption of the transmission or quality of video content, LiveU has designed a small device that bonds together connections from up to eight different cellular networks, Wi-Fi networks and/or ethernet to create one single reliable connection. In theory, this should ensure that live transmissions are never dropped.
Cellular-based technologies have had a democratising effect on the production of live broadcasts. In the past, live news broadcasts had to happen via satellite, which is expensive enough that only more financially stable news broadcasters could afford it. Not only does it cost money to own or rent a satellite truck, one must also pay the organisation that owns the satellite, and engineers who crew the truck. Therefore, traditional broadcasters in Israel could only afford a few satellite trucks, and often even had to settle for a single truck.
LiveU’s hardware and services are much cheaper. Organisations can either buy or rent devices, and decide whether they want to pay LiveU for data usage or supply their own SIM cards. Operating a LiveU LU600 only requires a reporter and a camera person (or even just a single operator). The cost of ten LiveU devices is reportedly lower than that of a single satellite truck. These lower costs mean that even smaller news organisations are now able to afford live broadcasts anywhere.
Cellular-based technologies are also more flexible than satellite-based technologies.
A live broadcast via satellite requires skilled operators who need to arrive at the scene on time, find a parking spot suitable for a heavy truck and a power source, and locate the right satellite. This process takes about 30 minutes, after which high-quality transmissions are possible. However, once the truck is parked it cannot be moved and the camera person cannot move too far away from the truck. This limits the broadcast to a particular area.
Something like a LiveU LU600 only requires a power supply and a camera person, and takes only a few minutes to set up. Simpler alternatives, like the LiveU Solo and LiveU app take even less effort to set up. However, transmitted signals are weaker, which leads to a reduced-quality image that is less satisfying to see on big television screens. This is especially a problem in areas with bad or no reception, e.g. events with more than 10,000 people in a small area.
The affordability and reliability of LiveU’s (and similar) technologies allow professional television news broadcasters to cover more events live. This is indeed what is done in practice. There are many reasons for this. Live broadcasts tend to bring in more money via advertisers or subscribers. Also, because live broadcasts are more affordable, traditional news broadcasters face more competition from smaller players and thus are strongly incentivised to go live more often.
This has adverse effects on the product and those producing it. Broadcasters nowadays often want to show “something” from the scene of events even when there’s nothing actually worth seeing. Going live also adds a certain drama to a report. Overly extended live coverage may thus give a sense of over-dramatisation. This blurs the differentiation between the more important hard news stories, which used to be shot live, and less important news items which were often pre-recorded. When everything is “important”, nothing is important.
The lower-cost cellular-based solutions are good news for broadcasters. However, this comes at a steep price for camera persons and reporters, who now have to juggle multiple roles (driver, producer, researcher, reporter, technician) that were previously done by different people. Work has become more demanding, extremely exhausting even.
Cellular-based live broadcasting technologies…
are affordable enough that even small news organisations can use them
are more flexible than satellite-based technologies, but not always as reliable
lead to a higher number of live broadcasts and increased workloads for camera persons and reporters