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Real News in the Times of Virtual Reality

Real News in the Times of Virtual Reality

Broadcasters around the world are exploring augmented reality ranging from stand-alone storytelling experiences to immersive broadcasts, and behind the scene, tours to enhance the viewing experience.

HoloLens[1] defines augmented reality as an offshoot of virtual reality that allows computer-generated graphics to be inserted into a real environment. With Facebook acquiring Oculus Rift and Google investing over $500 million in Magic Leap in 2014, the interest in virtual reality has fueled further.

Broadcasters are using products like Vizrt, Chyron, Brainstorm Virtual Set, WASP3D, Pixelpower, and Orad to make news and storytelling more interesting. For example, Al Arabiya used floating virtual 3D models of the Capitol and White House over an outdoor space to cover U.S. 2016 elections. The Washington Post covered the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore in 2016 by creating an augmented reality story.

Pic Credit: BT Sports
Pic Credit: BT Sports

In a series of firsts, BT Sport made UEFA Champions League finals available in 360° virtual reality on TV and online, 4K UHD on YouTube, and 4K UHD with Dolby Atmos. In 2017, the New York Times produced “Life on Mars” – a 360 video series chronicling the lives of NASA astronauts living on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, which had a Mars-like condition.

NBC made VR replays, highlight packages, and 50 hours of live 360-degree video coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics available on a wide variety of devices via the NBC Sports VR app.

Pic Credit: BBC.CO.UK
Pic Credit: BBC.CO.UK

BBC experimented with traditional CGI-based VR, 360-video, and AR. Both ‘Easter Rising’ and ‘We Wait’ are fully interactive VR experiences, which makes the viewer participate in the action. BBC also has an app with a range of productions for 360-degree video.

UK-based Sky partnered with Jaunt – a white-label VR distribution platform to launch a smartphone VR app to offer 360-degree videos covering material from film, sport, and the arts. Sky also used AR for their marketing campaigns, where passers-by at London’s Waterloo Station could take photos with virtual characters like Spiderman and SpongeBob Squarepants.

All the examples above highlight the fact that VR is gradually becoming an integrated part of many newsrooms. With technological advancements and cheaper options like cardboard headsets, 360-videos is becoming more accessible to viewers.

However compelling it might be, media brands are still holding off from making substantial investments in VR because of the following reasons:

  • Producers are still figuring out ‘what works for VR.’ Though news VR has expanded beyond documentary, there is still not enough content to drive the audience.
  • News VR is still not immersive. Viewable on mobile or a browser, consumers do not get the immersive experience that comes with a high-end headset.
  • Though some broadcasters are partnering with organizations like Samsung and Google for VR operations, monetization is still a challenge. News broadcasters are yet to figure out a way to earn revenue out of the technology.

The news industry needs to work together to deliver on the promise of VR. Though what lies ahead is still not clear, the future of VR in news broadcast looks promising.

[1] https://www.ibc.org/consumption/virtual-reality-and-augmented-reality-in-broadcasting-/2807.article

Trends reshaping the future of news stations

Trends reshaping the future of news stations

2017 witnessed Israel’s Channel 1[1] nightly news ending its 49-year old journey abruptly. Closer home, NDTV took its English business news channel NDTV Profit[2] off the air in June. Regional (Kannada) news channel Udaya News[3] also shut down operations in 2017 due to losses.

In countries like the UK and the US, television viewership has declined on an average by 3 to 4% annually since 2012. When compared with the decline in newspaper circulation, there is a steep decline of 25 – 30% since the 2000s in the traditional consumption of news.

Though traditional television formats like 24-hour news channel and evening bulletins still cater to a large audience, with news being easily accessible in the age of digital media, television news providers are facing aging and eroding audience on traditional platforms.

Legacy broadcasters like PSB, BBC, CNN, RTL, ARD/ZDF, TF1, France Télévisions, ITV, etc. are experimenting with online video news to reach younger audiences in this changing environment. Print media, both in India and abroad, like the Daily Telegraph, Vice, Economic Times, Times of India, and New York Times, have started incorporating video as part of their digital strategy. The industry also has some pure digital players like NowThis, WatchUp, Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed is focused on building an audience for distributed viewing via platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

While these are still on experimental stage, we list four key trends below that will reshape the face of news channels:

Mobile Journalism

Thanks to social media, even an ordinary man is a broadcaster today. The newsroom has evolved from being linear to circular. People know what is happening in the blink of an eye. With social media channels becoming a valuable tool to reach out to the potential viewers, news broadcasters are in a rat race to deliver news first across all available platforms. This has led to the emergence of mobile journalism.

Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report indicate a steady growth in mobile use for news. From newsgathering to production, distribution, and consumption, mobile affects every stage of news. Newscasters have started reporting live from the venue using applications like Skype, Hangout, Google’s Duo, etc. Mobile phone cameras are replacing DSLRs to capture superior quality images and videos to be telecasted directly. There is no time lag from ground zero to the living rooms of the viewers, as the production control room (PCR) patches the audio/video of the reporter with the anchor and he is live on-air in practically no time with his news report.

However, broadcasters need to realize that ‘mobile first’ journalism does not only mean rearranging the newsroom or having a responsive website, but about having hyper-relevant, short, and visual stories to tell. Content management system needs to accommodate new and varied formats to cater to multiple devices and platforms.

Distributed Content

Both digital start-ups and legacy broadcasters have started pursuing distributed video strategies. Broadcasters are offering content on third-party platforms without dragging users away from the platform they choose to be on. Analytics company Tubular Labs report BuzzFeed, NowThis News, and AJ+ among the top ten most viewed ‘creators’ across Vine, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

Tubular Labs estimate that CNN generated 214 million views in January 2016 and Fox News about 172 million[4]. CNN’s ‘Great Big Story’ initiative is an example of how some legacy broadcasters have embraced distributed viewing, and one clear takeaway is that socially distributed videos should be different not only from television clips, but also from website content[5].

However, broadcasters need to address the challenges around monetization and the risk of losing a direct relationship with the audience while pursuing distributed video strategies.

Live Streaming News

Live streaming news is still in its infancy. While some breaking news like terror attacks and events like Olympics do see a spike in the audience, the regular news is yet to catch up. However, news agencies and broadcasters do realize the demand for content around live events.

Apps like Twitter’s Periscope, Meerkat, and Facebook LiveStream are offering live streaming to witness events, where much of the content is offered by ‘citizen journalists.’ Broadcasters like BBC is developing its mobile aggregated content and live video stream – Newstream – that would offer both in-depth analysis and immediate stories. CBS News runs a 24/7 online live stream running content from the news division and affiliates.

However, broadcasters need to address the editorial challenges and the business prospects around live streaming to explore this trend completely.

Long Form

Broadcasters are also experimenting with a longer form of content, mostly interactive videos and documentaries to stand out in the competition. News agencies like Sky News and New York Times are experimenting with virtual reality, allowing users to have an immersive experience of major events from their smartphone. Vice, which started as a print magazine has built an online presence among the younger audience with its documentaries. Although the long form of content is yet to have mass adoption, producers foresee it developing into a mainstream application helping brands carve out a distinct identity.

However, the challenge is to find an approach that adds value to the longer form of content and stays beyond 24 hours – be it by being compelling, having a background, novelty or an angle to the story.

To survive the rat race and remain profitable, news broadcasters need to devise new strategies to reach out to the masses effectively. The news is no longer only about what is happening, but about how the common man wants to view and interpret what has happened and predict the future outcome.

[1] https://www.timesofisrael.com/with-two-hours-notice-and-after-49-years-channel-1-news-goes-off-the-air/
[2]http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/ndtv-to-bring-down-curtains-on-ndtv-profit-117060101597_1.html
[3] https://tvnews4u.com/sun-tv-network-mulls-closing-operations-udaya-news-gemini-news/
[4] https://tubularlabs.com/yt/cnn, https://tubularlabs.com/fb/foxnews
[5] http://www.gulfcoasthurricanecenter.com/many-people-turning-away-local-news/
Top six trends that are shaping the future of television

Top six trends that are shaping the future of television

We don’t know how, when and why Television has always been called an Idiot Box world over. On the contrary, it is a smart device which has encapsulated our attention unabashedly over the longest period of time since its inception and the first television service by British Broadcasting Corporation in 1936. Today, even after 80 years, it rules our heart and is still a major source of entertainment and global information.

The television industry in the last few decades has grown extensively and the wave continues. Whether in terms of technology, state-of-the-art looks or content, many key players in a highly competitive market keep up with the pace of development. Advancements in terms of knowledge, exposure, urbanization, increased buying power and a continuous shift in user preferences keep the innovators on their toes to think beyond the edge.

In terms of technology, the end users might think that now the peak has arrived, and there is nothing more that innovators can come up with. But we also agree with the mystic power of human brain who, if one can anticipate the current trends, is surely preparing for something which will take television technology to an altogether another level of viewing.

Some of the trends that are shaping the future of Television include:

  1. Holographic TV

BBC has always been a front-runner as far as anything concerned with TV goes. It has trialed for a technology and content wherein a fairly big size TV is laid flat and simple, old Victorian theatre techniques are used to create 3D images which seem to float in the air.1

Though a Holographic TV is still at its nascent stage the initiation is applaudable.

  1. Data Analytics

The revolution, “Big Data Analytics” aids smart viewership. Early adopters like Netflix have used it extensively to create a niche and specialize in the domain as creative as content production. We hope to see it being widely adopted, more hands-on to optimize produced or acquired content. The steps are simple; behavioral data is collected from various sources, classified and judged to help identify end-user preferences.

  1. Virtual Reality

In terms of technology, Virtual Reality predictably is the next big thing which aims at completely revolutionizing the concept of TV watching. It’s an ever-growing popular culture wherein a consumer after wearing a VR headset can explore virtual, computer-generated worlds. It replicates an environment and simulates user’s real-time presence and allows full interaction. VR, when integrated with TV shows can help a user be a part of that show. Looks a bit far-fetched at the moment, but not too far also. In fact, Director Steven Soderbergh’s new ambitious project Mosaic, an interactive narrative app is a perfect example of this concoction. It is due to release soon where the audience becomes a part of the narration and gets the leverage to decide how the story should unfold. It’s a new way of storytelling and irrespective of its response and real-time success paves way for more such experiments.2

  1. Virtualization

Virtualization creates an ecosystem where independent services can share a common platform. It will surely take some time to realize this completely but cloud-based broadcasting wherein the content is put on public clouds for smooth broadcasting and viewing experience, is fast catching up. In fact, coming years will see major investments in cloud solutions. It does away with huge hardware investments and their maintenance and broadcasters benefit in terms of scalability and high levels of efficiency. They are extremely cost-effective with reduced turnaround time and helps manage viewer demands to a large extent. Predictably, a cloud utility model is surely going to turn Broadcasters into Orchestrators whose job would be to deliver aggregated content. The transition is already on its way. Key players like BBC, Disney/ABC Television have started making the shift as the world moves towards Virtualization. 3

  1. Immersive and Interactive Experience-Augmented Reality

Technologists have always aimed for maximum consumer participation. Tools are being developed to involve our sensory powers to blur the line between the real and digital world thereby making the viewer part of the content. A mid-world is created where 3D and 4D images give the brain a real-time perception and the user feels more involved. 3D audio effects surround sound helps manipulate a sound one hears and provides a more real-time effect. One can easily confuse this with Virtual Reality but Augmented Reality deals more with the real world. It enhances the experience by adding drama to it. And Broadcasters are making hands-on use of it by developing more interactive and engaging shows with maximum audience participation.

Plans to introduce Interactive Advertising by Channel 4 on British TV is one step forward to it where watchers would enjoy the liberty to choose different ads, watch different content or even buy the products instantly.4

  1. Humanoids, AI comes to Television Broadcasting

Robots have always fascinated us since time immemorial. Recently, a real-time robot or a Humanoid, Sophia surfaced on BBC television featuring as a spokesperson on BBC’s Earth TV. It is made of frubber (flesh rubber) and is highly sophisticated. It has a human face and also emulates real-time human emotions. It is not functioning in artificial intelligence. Rather it has scripted answers. One can only anticipate the whole experience of television watching in the future with more such humanoid interactions. 5

On the Whole

Above are some of the trends observed that are going to shape the future of TV. And it doesn’t stop here. The list is ever growing. Technologists and innovators are constantly aiming for utmost consumer participation and keep them more involved and engaged. Broadcasters are trying really hard to absorb new technologies and amalgamating them to give their audiences different forms of experiences thereby entertaining them. The game is actually to play with the human mind and show them something which ups their curiosity level. It is a new age fairy tale times which is illusionary and beautiful and forces one to be a part of those moments.

The Rise of Flying Machines: How Drones Are Transforming Broadcast and Media Production 

The Rise of Flying Machines: How Drones Are Transforming Broadcast and Media Production 

If you have watched Planet Earth II (broadcasted in 2016), a follow-up to the nature series aired in 2006 on BBC – the intimate close-ups, chases and kills, and the sweeping vistas might have left you spellbound. While the voice of Sir David Attenborough still gave us goose bumps, the sights added on to the experience – making us feel right in the middle of the action.

If you’re wondering the technology behind this transformation over a decade, read on!

Cinematographers have used the latest in camera technology to create the experience. Drones! To capture those stunning panoramas and actions, drones created the magic that you witness sitting in your living room.

If you watch television with a trained eye, you’ll notice that many series, documentaries, and movies are shot using drones to provide a real-life experience to the viewers. Movies like the Expendables 3, Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Captain America are shot using drones.

Drones are becoming popular among production companies for filming shots that require adrenalin-filled action sequences, literal birds’ eye views, dramatic panoramas or 360-degree views of subjects. In fact, 2015 witnessed the birth of the New York City Drone Film Festival, the world’s first drone film festival to recognize the remarkable usage of drone in cinematography where at least 50% of the footage is shot using a drone.

Ben Sheppard, managing director of Spider Aerial Filming, sums up the advantages of drones over static cranes and expensive helicopters. “No other filming method can start a sequence inside a building and end up at 400 feet altitude in one uncut shot,” says Sheppard. Not only does drones allow the reader to build a better mental picture of the layout of the land, but it can also get down to ground level, with smaller shadows and less air disturbance, unlike helicopters.

Media and broadcast industry, particularly journalism and documentaries witnessed a revolution in 2016 as a result of the increasing capabilities of drones. After the popularity of the New York Times story on the impact of the Syrian Civil War on Aleppo that was captured using drone footage, the newspaper published a list of top stories it covered through drone footage.

CNN uses drones to augment its traditional television coverage and provide improved vantage point. The news network has also launched a team to fly and operate drones as part of expanded news coverage to provide the benefits of planes and helicopters for a fraction of the cost.

“A news story about immigration comes alive to the viewer’s when sweeping shots are taken of the presenter over the white cliffs of Dover. Or a drone flying above a car racing down a mountain road adds to the excitement when the surrounding terrain is visible,” says Sandra Hossack, Director at SkyPower – a supplier of aerial filming platforms.

As the technology matures, using drones has its set of challenges. As the US formulates the framework for legitimizing usage of drones, regulatory barriers still prevent drone adoption. Companies need permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to work with them. For example, in August 2014, during the civil unrest Ferguson, Missouri, police requested the airspace to be closed to prevent media from gathering footage. The authorities also instituted no-fly zones at Standing Rock, North Dakota in 2016 to prevent coverage of the protests and the acts of police.

Using drones is already transforming the media. It will only increase as drones become more technically able and widespread. Drone manufacturers are developing technologies like collision avoidance and geo-fencing to make flying drones safer.

A BI Intelligence report predicts drone sales to go up to $12 billion in 2021[1], from just over $8 billion in 2016. As authorities create regulations to permit more widespread use of drones, this trend will only increase moving forward. Drones are not just toys, but a part of the new media wave.

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-drones-are-transforming-news-media-2017-1?IR=T