Yesterday, I had a macabre experience while visiting the booth of an IP studio vendor offering “simple and reliable” portable production from a smartphone. When I arrived for my scheduled briefing the booth was in chaos. With a live broadcast scheduled to begin in moments, someone had entered the wrong IP address in the iPad’s switching software and the WiFi connection went dead. Also, inexplicably, there was no audio coming through the interviewer’s or talent’s headsets. Maybe due to that, or the stress of the NAB maelstrom in general, the gentleman being interviewed looked especially pale — hardly a glowing endorsement of low- and no-cost television production on the cutting edge of technology.
Amidst the NAB morass this year, the rising tide of low-cost IP broadcasting is unmistakable, with booth after booth of iPhone/iPad rigs and tchotchkes as far as the eye can see. In the face of this new reality, however, it’s still belt-and-suspenders for more traditional high-stakes broadcasters who understand there is no magic cloud in an increasingly mixed environment.
NBC is said to have laid out its Winter Olympics gear complement in a warehouse the size of a football field in order to power up and test the systems that would form the backbone of its PyeongChang coverage. IP gear and low-cost streaming tools were a part of the package, so NBC could leverage IP/cloud sources, say, to provide additional background on an unexpected hero. The informal content could add richness to the story, but the system behind it has to work. And when it doesn’t, a major network has to be prepared to fall back on the tried and true systems, including a break-glass capability, to rescue a segment, if necessary.
The computer world has been fraught with peril since the dawn of the IT era, and now, as this peril enters the broadcast realm, there’s even more reason for the belt-and-suspenders approach. AI will be of some help here, improving the reliability of IP systems while offering additional storytelling options. But will it have a sense of humor? Will it understand the morals of the business, the appropriateness of content and context? That’s another story.