How technology has democratised news production

Covid2019 was only the catalyst for bigger changes in news production, say industry experts

MUMBAI: The newsrooms of today are much evolved than what they were a decade ago. They are spending millions of dollars every year to make systems and processes more efficient so that the news churn out rate is faster and more mobile. Technology is being leveraged in unexpected ways to cater to a dynamic audience.

On day one of the NT Awards 2020 Summit, industry experts came together to examine these unprecedented changes taking place in the news business, and discussed how news organisations are navigating the Covid2019 crisis and strengthening their operations for a better tomorrow.

The panellists were Network18 group chief technology officer Rajat Nigam; India Today group chief technology officer Piyush Gupta; NDTV Ltd chief technology officer Dinesh Singh; TV9 technical head S Badari Prasad; TVU Networks VP - sales South Asia, Middle East & Africa Sushant Rai. The session was moderated by founder, CEO & editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari.

Badari stated that while challenges exist in the industry, the pandemic has given them an opportunity to learn and experiment with new things, which they never did or thought of before. "We tried remote production, remote graphics, remote editing and luckily many of us have become successful in achieving the output on television,” he said.

Rai mentioned that the transition to moving beyond legacy devices had started a while ago, and Covid2019 was only the catalyst for bigger changes. “We have been busy through the pandemic addressing these requirements of the clients. For example, we had clients who came back and said we want to reduce costs of going out on the field and using phones. We came up with something called the dual camera capability on the device on the phone rather than carrying two phones to do an interview, two chargers, two batteries, two tripods, etc. We now have the capability to simultaneously record with the front and back cam of a phone. For instance, while conducting an interview, you get the DVE output to get a picture in picture and that output can go with GSM and Wi-Fi to the station. So you reduce your cost and maintain your quality of content while using only a mobile phone on the field.”

Breakthroughs in technology have led to democratisation of news production, in the sense that reporters and camerapersons no longer need to lug around heavy, expensive equipment, for mobile devices, can serve the same purpose equally well, explained Rai.

“Look at the iPhone 12, the sensor they have is equivalent to studio cameras. Incidentally, we also do Dolby vision recording in the phone with HDR. You no longer need OB vans to go and cover a story, just take a backpack, connect it with a drone and send it to shoot from a different perspective altogether. have film cameras and video cameras and now you have mobile phones doing it that’s where the news is going,” he said.

This has resulted in drastic cost reduction: instead of sending a big crew in a van and paying for VSAT connectivity and bandwidth even during non-live hours, the production unit is equipped with mobile phones and directed to the site of coverage. Besides being cost-effective, it has also considerably sped up the production process.

“Using mobile phones and cloud technology, you get the footage in a minute or two and can immediately push it on social media platforms. This is what's happening increasingly, rather than waiting for the nine o’clock bulletin, which is the legacy way of doing things on the television,” Rai outlined.

He went on to explain how, in this age of breaking news and viral sensations, latency between acquisition and distribution can make or break a news outlet. Consequently, media groups have stepped up their digital expansion on a war footing.

India Today group chief technology officer Piyush Gupta said, “Social media is not a competition, it is a distribution channel. Yes, the challenges have gone up because of the opening of this easy medium."

Rai echoed the view and described social media as an augmentation of a big monetization model. "I think the Aaj Tak digital team has four channels on satellite television, with 17 or 18 digital properties, similarly News18 also has multiple digital properties out there. Everybody is getting their digital properties faster than their regular satellite properties. This is no longer limited to English or Hindi, but extends to various regional languages as well. News has changed now, earlier families used to sit down and watch the 9 o’ clock bulletin to get updates but now you can get the updates at any time you want,” said Rai.

Gone are the days when editorially controlled content was the domain of TV news, now it’s equally accessible on social media and the digital property of a particular news channel.

Badari added, “People are not just relying on television for news but also on social media, which is overtaking television. TV has to compete with social media equally and all TV channels are diversifying into online platforms."

Gupta acknowledged that the competition has increased now, but news organisations are adapting to new technologies through new mediums to generate, produce and distribute content. "The face of news production is changing, news consumption is increasing a lot and social media is one of the very largest mediums for consumers,” he concluded.

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