Future-Proofed News Trucks Are A Crucial COVID Tool
Efficiently and securely transmitting video remains a top job for mobile news vehicles as broadcasters evaluate fast-evolving technologies.
Trucks with internet protocol (IP) capabilities, the intelligent use of 2 GHz and LTE bandwidth, the potential of low earth orbit satellites and some benefits of 5G networks are all parts of the puzzle. At the same time, broadcasters need to balance information security (infosec) with speed, panelists said during the Reinventing the Live Shot session of TVNewsCheck’s NewsTECHForum conference on Tuesday.
During COVID, Rich Paleski, WCBS New York’s director of operations, said mobile news vehicles were valuable as isolated, powered, climate controlled operating areas for photographers and journalists to use as a mobile editing booth when it was not possible to get them into the studios.
“News vehicles, especially the trucks, became how we produced a lot of the news,” Paleski said.
Ben Ramos, VP for Fox archive, field and emerging technology at Fox News, said Fox added partitions to the vehicles as well as enabling technologies that were a benefit to field work, such as the ability to see the return and the prompter.
Ernie Ensign, senior director for news technology at Sinclair Broadcast Group, said trucks can serve as a production tool and that it’s unlikely the trucks will completely go away. He said Sinclair is considering ways to re-invent them into future-proofed tools.
“Over the last few years, we made the transition to more IP-centric trucks,” Ensign said. An added benefit of the trucks, he said, is that they offer “a great place to camp people out in” at events like inaugurations and other large events.
But during those events, transmission can be iffy due to increased demand on networks. In situations with “saturated bandwidth,” Ensign said, it’s important to have different transmission technologies available. Such options include bonded cellular, satellite, mesh networks, LTE and personal hotspots.
Another option is 2 GHZ, which Ensign said is “reliable, and you get distance out of it.”
Paleski noted that WCBS relies on 2 GHz because “it’s ours” but that “the 2 GHz in your truck is half of the solution. You still need someone back at the studio to receive that signal.”
Sometimes LTE uploads are slower, though, and it could be baster to “just drive content back to the station,” at least early in the pandemic when traffic was light, he said.
And while bonded cellular is a great tool, Paleski said, WCBS is not ignoring other tools. WCBS maintains 2 GHz and radios to ensure they will have cuing so they can do live shots.
Ensign said broadcasters need to leverage 2 GHz. “What happens to a resource that’s not getting used? The FCC takes it or Verizon wants it. It’s something we need to protect.”
Tim Stevens, global leader for strategic innovation for sports, media and entertainment at Verizon Business Group, said the challenge is in figuring out spectrum management because it may be reallocated or repurposed as workflows grow increasingly complex. “We’ll figure out how to re-use the 2 GHz spectrum,” he said.
Another potential transmission tool is the low earth orbit satellite.
Ensign said the Starlink beta tests look very promising with low latency and download speeds of 50 mbps and uploads of 30 to 40 mbps. He said he wants to see “real world and consistent real world” speeds without latency fluctuations day to day.
“There are some promising features there, it’s just not available widely yet,” he said.
The 5G network, still rolling out, is another technology that may help broadcasters with live shots.
“We’re in an upload business and 5G is built as a download spectrum,” Stevens said. “You’re competing for a smaller opportunity than the network was built for.”
Ensign said some of the testing Sinclair has done with 5G is “not that much different” than 4G results.
Stevens said Verizon’s own tests have shown interesting results. One is that a use case for 5G is pushing graphic material out to the edge for computing while newsgathering activities are ongoing, he said. It could change certain workflows, he said.
“There’s a lot happening. It’s early in terms of maturity and development,” Stevens said.
He said he expects a proliferation of new toolsets, and that 5G-enabled technology will be native on equipment like cameras. “We will see the real penetration and usage of those tools in daily production environment,” he said.
Whatever technologies the broadcasters use, however, must be secure.
Finding the balance between remaining operational in the field and stringent policies imposed by IT is challenging, Ensign said.
“We want them to be able to transmit content, and IT wants to keep us protected,” he said.
Ramos said Fox has been testing a lot of technologies, and during one recent test, he said, the info-sec team said it needed to be shut down because of 29 vulnerabilities with it.
“The info-sec team is your friend, and you’ve got to get them involved early and often,” Ramos said.
For more stories on NewsTECHForum 2021, click here.