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OPINION: A paradigm shift in production

Sky News and LiveU combined to transform how broadcasters cover live events during the UK general election, explains Ronen Artman, VP marketing, LiveU

Covering elections has always presented broadcasters – and now media companies more generally – with a particular set of challenges. Bonding transmission technology is now allowing them to rise to those challenges and has also introduced a whole new level of cost-effectiveness.

2015 saw a paradigm shift in live broadcasting when Sky News partnered with LiveU for its coverage of the UK general elections: the broadcaster delivered 138 live IP feeds from 150 key counts and constituencies countrywide using LiveU’s cellular uplinking technology. This was unprecedented and allowed Sky News to cover closely contested results live in what was predicted to be a very tight election.

Sky News was keen to expand upon its coverage of the Scottish Referendum 2014. There it provided additional coverage from 32 locations, using apps and iPads. During early planning stages for 2015, a demo unit of LiveU’s LU200 ultra-small transmission device arrived at Sky News. After conversations with LiveU, and further internal discussions, it was decided that LiveU units out in the field, providing coverage of 150 constituency declarations at 138 key counts, would give Sky News a unique selling point for its coverage of the election both via broadcast and online.

The 138 LiveU transmission units were paired with Sony PJ620 Handycams, each manned by a team of trained media students and young journalists. This was in addition to 49 traditional OB trucks providing live feeds to the newsroom using capacity on an ad-hoc basis from Globecast, SIS Live and Arqiva.

Purely for practical reasons, Sky News decided to use both LU200s and LU400s. The LU400 has the advantage of accommodating four SIMs and four modems, giving the option to use one SIM from each of the main mobile providers in the UK. The broadcaster used six LU200s to follow each of the main parties out on the campaign trail through the whole pre-election campaign.

An SD proxy of all 138 LiveU feeds was routed to Osterley over IP, via 138 cloud-based LU2000 MMH servers, each cloud server also streaming its feed live to a YouTube Live Event. Sky News customers were able to access these live streams from the Sky News App and website, enabling a greater choice of live viewing. Once a count had finished, the live stream was replaced with a clip of that constituency’s declaration.

Sky News decided to capitalise on the spectacle of 138 simultaneous live feeds and built a brand new studio around the monitoring solution, from where they anchored their election programme. The new studio enabled the production and technical teams, along with the results team, to see what was going on across all incoming feeds at all the critical counts and consistencies, and provide a dynamic backdrop to the election coverage.

Thanks to LiveU Central, LiveU’s unified management platform, the technical team could easily track the status of modems, Ethernet ports, what connectivity was being used, or whether a unit was connected or not. It made technical support very simple as all the relevant info could be seen and adjustments made.

The result? Live election coverage like you’ve never seen before.