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Here is the news… from home

How Sky News is enabling its presenters to work from home and still be on air

One of the biggest changes viewers of TV news channels have seen during the coronavirus pandemic has been presenters and correspondents appearing on screen from their homes.

TV news presenters have been adhering to the social distancing guidelines set out by the government. But that means a whole swathe of technology has been employed to deliver the news from a presenter’s lounge/bedroom/study.

Sky News’ tech team, made up of Richard Pattison and Chris Smith, has been hard at work behind the scenes ensuring the channel’s presenters and correspondents in the UK and around the world have been ready to meet the challenge.

We had about two or three weeks where we could see the writing on the wall and concentrated on getting our News Operations Centre (NOC) set up with some remote capability – they are responsible for bringing all live content into News, so it was imperative that they could continue to operate with remote or restricted teams,” Pattison tells TVBEurope. “Now that we’re also working remotely, we’re helping to roll out the same capabilities to other teams in Sky News and the larger Sky family.”

Studio automation means that much of the gallery staff are still working in situ, but as the lockdown continues the team at Sky News are working on alternative solutions to making programmes and ensuring flexibility and options. “We’re in the process of doing some initial tests of Cloud-based production/mixing with Easylive, that gives us the potential to produce whole programmes without touching the studio infrastructure, if needs be,” explains Pattison. “Our presenters are well used to outside broadcasts so to a certain extent, it’s business as usual, it’s just they normally have a bit more help to set up the technical side of things.”

Sarah-Jane Mee presents from home

In terms of how Sky News is getting presenters and correspondents who are working remotely to air, the broadcaster is employing a variety of tech. “We managed to get the Riedel app working across the internet allowing people to run virtual talkback panels on iPads at home,” says Pattison. “We’ve made good use of our Techex MWEdge SRT gateway and partner app/software client, MWPlay, to push encrypted AutoCue, return vision and monitoring feeds to the internet so colleagues at home can have visibility of what’s going in the Studio.

“In conjunction with VPNs, remote access software is allowing us to access equipment in the studio, whether for command and control, or to let remote machines do the heavy lifting that a laptop might struggle with, such as craft editing. And of course, we’re continuing to make use of LiveU LU Smart and Dejero Live+ apps, to enable our presenters and correspondents to make live contributions either from home or if social distancing is forcing them to work autonomously.”

Sky is using domestic broadband for those working at home to feed content back to its base in Osterley, but for broadcast, the teams are using both LU Smart and Live+ bond cellular and WiFi connectivity to maximise the available bandwidth and offer some resilience – key when many domestic lines are experiencing much more traffic than normal. “Everything we do is tuned for the lowest possible latency – LiveU streams, SRT return streams etc,” adds Pattison. “In many respects, working from home is similar to delivering an OB, so it’s familiar territory. It’s not always ideal but we’re used to operating within these tolerances.”

All of the technology being deployed at home has been put together by the Sky News team. “Neil Morris built several high-quality correspondent kits, which were shipped to the individuals in question along with instructions on how to set up and use,” explains Pattison. “The presenter kits, which are more complex, were delivered to the outside of the home, set up and cleaned down, so that the presenters could simply pick them up and take them inside, without breaking their self-isolation.”

It’s not just presenters based in the UK who have been working remotely during the lockdown. Correspondents based in Washington DC have also been reporting from their homes. “The home studios in DC were set up by Duncan Sharp, one of our DC bureau camera operators. Like Neil in London, Duncan built and tested the set ups and we supported with advice and return feeds. In terms of latency, the US teams utilise LiveUs every single day and are used to operating with the latency that involves, so using the LiveU LU Smart app isn’t really any different, it just happens to be running on an iPhone.”

US correspondent Amanda Walker

It’s in the DNA of any news organisation to be flexible and reactive, we often do our best work under pressure and this situation is no different,” Pattison concludes. “There has been a real coming together of teams across Sky News to pool experience and ideas to make sure we can continue to deliver accurate and informative content under these difficult circumstances.”