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The Future of the OB Truck

The Future of the OB Truck

Are OB trucks too expensive to survive in a world that is moving toward digital news delivery and mobile, small-screen news consumption? As Broadcasters shift to 4K UHD live broadcasting and adopt IP for experimenting with more immersive consumer-facing formats, does this pronounce the death of the OB trucks?

With the live production scenario evolving every day, many believe IP production and broadcast will phase out OB trucks in the future. Adam Cox[1] lists the cost of cabling, equipment, and production, scalability, and emergence of the 4K camera as some reasons why IP will overpower OB trucks.

But are these challenges so empowering? Let’s explore.

Outside broadcasting is broadcasting live from the event using make-shift studio equipment like a camera linked to a van to transmit the signals back to the network center. Typically, broadcasters station huge OB trucks spanning more than 10 meters on-site, having production, engineering, and sound units to cover events live from the place of occurrence.

However, with broadcasters experimenting on formats and tools, as reporting live on social media like Facebook and Instagram gains popularity, will OB trucks cease to exist? While we look for the answer, let us explore the challenges that the OB trucks face in present times and the alternatives:

The changing face of content consumption

As social media, IPTV, and OTT have evolved as a primary means of content consumption, the definition of experience has changed. Now better experience does not mean a bigger TV on the wall, but a connected device which enables users to watch their preferred content across devices as per their convenience.

This new connected world has blurred the need of having a separate facility and technology for a new form of content – be it a studio, OB truck, or a broadcast center. As a mobile camera replaces high-end cameras and live TV replaces broadcast, the technology, and facilities that primarily defined the boundaries of SDI are blurred.

Result? On-the-go/live content creation is no longer solely dependent on having OB trucks on site.

Remote production

The way broadcasters consume content has changed drastically. Multiple onsite cameras capture events and feed into the central hub of assets, from which the stakeholders can pick and choose content to suit their requirement. Content is a shared asset, and no longer has a definite start and end.

While OB trucks remain at the front line of covering live events, connectivity-focused tools promote collaboration between broadcasters. Hence, although remote productions become more popular, mobile units (or OB trucks) will be broadcaster-specific than event-specific.

New content formats

With the popularity of IP TV, content providers are now focusing on providing an immersive experience. As VR content and 360-degree videos gain popularity, OB trucks need to evolve to facilitate the production of these formats.

Moreover, with contents being consumed across platforms, OB trucks (or any production units) need to cater to the demand of content in varied formats. As production units use artificial intelligence for post-production, OB trucks need to rise from being a mere technical production facility to producing OTT and IPTV-native content.

Will mobile journalism sunset OB trucks?

Legacy broadcasters like BBC and CNN are experimenting with online video news to reach younger audiences in this changing environment. Digital players like NowThis and BuzzFeed are focusing on building an audience for platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Recently, NDTV 24X7 shot their stories on a Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone.

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.

The future

While many might argue that mobile journalism essentially does the job of OB tasks – report live from ground zero, OB trucks has much more to offer than what mobile will ever do. With its advanced facilities allowing for editing on-the-go, switch between multiple cameras, and advanced graphics among others, OB trucks have the potential to deliver high-quality broadcast live.

OB trucks are here to stay. However, to be future-ready, broadcasters need to ramp up the technology to support 4K and 8K broadcast across multiple platforms. With the Internet of Things, OB trucks need to be more integrated and advanced to deliver a world-class experience to the viewers, irrespective of the platform they choose to watch.

[1] http://hometownnetworks.tv/future-of-outside-broadcasting-ob-vans/

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/