How SPH conducted livestream reporting during recent election

By Fred Lai

Singapore Press Holdings

Singapore

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Singapore recently concluded a watershed general election. As it was held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, physical rallies where thousands gathered to hear campaign speeches were no longer an option due to the safe-distancing measures in place.

With the rise in penetration of Internet and social media usage as compared to our previous general elections in 2015, the online media space was set to be an important playing field for this election, regardless of the ongoing pandemic.

Chinese Media Group’s studio live broadcast (left) and video conference livestream (right) during the elections.
Chinese Media Group’s studio live broadcast (left) and video conference livestream (right) during the elections.

Over the years, the newsrooms under Singapore Press Holdings have been enhancing their capabilities to produce live programming.

The Straits Times had ventured into live broadcasting many months before the elections happened in July. The team broadcasted daily live shows and grew a following for its brand of live news reporting. Thanks to a well-equipped studio and the capability to create on-screen graphics and news tickers, these programmes had a polished look with production quality that was on par with traditional broadcasters.

Apart from broadcasting from the studio, the teams also developed capabilities to broadcast live from the field, allowing journalists to do live-crosses and cover breaking events while on location.

All this culminated in a live broadcast hosted by the newsrooms that lasted for seven hours on polling night. Here are some lessons we picked up from the experience.

Broadcast-quality cameras were deployed to enable field reporting (left) and doorstop interviews (right).
Broadcast-quality cameras were deployed to enable field reporting (left) and doorstop interviews (right).

Share resources between newsrooms to do more.

Live broadcasts, especially with both studio and on-location feeds, are highly reliant on manpower and equipment to ensure the quality of the transmission. So instead of each newsroom under SPH attempting to go at it alone, we pooled manpower and backend infrastructure to reduce the resources required to pull it off.

For example, the team found innovative ways of patching the Chinese Media Group (CMG) team into the same virtual local area network (VLAN) as The Straits Times. This, combined with sharing cloud-streaming servers, allowed colleagues running the Mandarin election programme that night to tap into the feeds from The Straits Times and use them for their own live broadcast.

An example of field reporting done using a mobile phone, with graphics superimposed from the studio’s mixer.
An example of field reporting done using a mobile phone, with graphics superimposed from the studio’s mixer.

It doesn’t always have to be swanky.

Your field coverage need not be limited by the lack of broadcast-quality cameras you can deploy. Our teams have increased the mobility of our journalists by using mobile phones equipped with custom streaming apps that allow footage to be transmitted back to the studio, and processed using the mixer in the studio.

It doesn’t have to be in a studio.

Offering engaging livestreamed content does not always require a studio. While the CMG team had one livestreamed show using a multi-camera studio setup, it also hosted another livestream using a simple video conferencing setup. Editors and journalists got on the video conference either from home or in the office every morning to talk about what happened on the election campaign trail the previous day. Done in a chat show format, it was livestreamed on social media.

Livestreaming going forward

As there are many ways publishers can choose to enter the video livestreaming space, it will be salient to consider the following two points.

First, huge challenges still remain today in transmitting and receiving video feeds from the field with low-latency. Broadcasters and production companies have long overcome this with the use of tailored solutions such as satellite news gathering (SNG) or electronic SNG vehicles, as well as transmission over a cloud service (normally available through a subscription). With all the available solutions in the market, non-broadcast media organisations will have to decide which is the best way forward for them.

Fortunately, the proliferation of 5G technology increases, coupled with the ever-increasing quality of our mobile phone cameras, will allow us to see more high-resolution and low-latency livestreaming options publishers can turn to at a lower cost. This will help reduce the barriers of entry into livestreaming in both cost and expertise, allowing more emphasis to be placed on how best to keep the audience engaged within the livestream.

In deciding which route to take (broadcast-quality cameras or mobile phone cameras), it is also useful to weigh the costs involved versus what your audience expects in terms of the content and quality of your livestreams. They may be perfectly happy with the quality of mobile phone cameras if the content is engaging.

Second, while it is important for publishers to find meaningful ways to extract value from video livestreaming, it’s equally important to achieve economies of scale while being in the game. Organisations with multiple publications and products still looking to set up a workflow in operating live video streaming may find it useful to build infrastructure and a scalable workflow, allowing different publications to share resources so they benefit teams across the organisation.

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