WebRTC Use Cases – Journalism

At the outset, it might appear that journalists already have all the tools they need to post a story with their newspaper/TV channel/web site, instantly from wherever they are. And there are Outdoor Broadcasting (OB) vans that can do a live stream of a breaking story directly to the TV channel’s office via satellite link.

The mobile revolution and apps such as Twitter have democratized the power of media to some extent, with citizen journalism playing a key role in events like the Arab Spring for example.

Image courtesy:Doha Centre for Media Freedom
Image courtesy:Doha Centre for Media Freedom

So, what can WebRTC  offer in this field? The answer lies in the speed and economics of content production and delivery for media companies, especially TV channels.

Let us take the OB van scenario first.

Most TV channels buy a few OB vans, and rent the remaining. Average cost (rental+service) for an OB van comes to around Rs. 50 lakh (Rs. 5 million) per year. Needless to say, smaller TV studios can at best have 3 or 4 OB vans. In addition to OB vans, TV studios also use 3G connectivity to stream visuals to the studio. A single 3G connection will not suffice and hence they use custom-bundled 3G connections to get faster speeds. However, it still would not go beyond 1 Mbps speed. So, broadcasters are eagerly waiting for 4G LTE connections to be rolled out across the country. But, it may be quite a while till 4G is available in every nook and corner of the country.

v-interview

Using WebRTC, one can deliver high quality audio/video streams on 3G connections in a two-way transmission (as against the one-way streaming used today along with a cell phone for voice communication). The crew can use a single or bundled 3G connection, and use a service like Miljul to stream content directly to the TV studio’s media server, and hold a conversation with the online editor or anchor . And the crew can be in remote places where OB vans can’t go. When 4G gets rolled out, the audio/video quality will be even better, close to HD. Imagine not having any dependency on OB vans ! It is possible for a studio to quickly ramp-up the number of correspondents/stringers covering a particular breaking story, and deliver real time news, at a fraction of the cost of OB vans. At Miljul, we expect the TV industry globally to adopt WebRTC over 3G/4G, and thereby reduce the cost of running a news network significantly. Citizen journalists can use WebRTC services and stream in real time to up to eight TV studios simultaneously.  Who knows, this might even result in syndicated groups of journalists working for themselves, without being on the payroll of any media house.

The other use case relates to panel discussions. Today, the panelists have to visit the studio or the studio has to send a small crew to the panelists’ locations. It is not uncommon to see the connection for a panelist breakdown during the live show. WebRTC based services solve the issue very neatly. The studio needs to ensure that the panelist is in front of a browser and a webcam – could be a PC/laptop or tablet/smartphone. The moderator opens the room and one by one the panelists join the discussion, just as they would join a normal video conference on Miljul. I have not calculated the cost savings and efficiency gain (speedier time to being live actually) in detail, but pretty sure that these are significant enough to warrant full scale adoption.

Real time or recorded video interviews of subject matter experts is another possibility. Video interviews via Skype or similar tools are common on many news and analysis web sites, both general and domain specific. If I am running such a site, and I want to post interviews with experts frequently, I can simply do a Miljul with the experts at their individual locations and post the recording for users. It will save me time, money, and importantly, will make it very convenient for the panelists. One of the predictions in an internal Miljul discussion about this is that in future, we would probably see a completely mobile app based news analysis portal (Mobile Only, no web site), with multiple discussion threads, each having a series of recorded video discussions and a few live discussions as well.

The potential to do file transfer during a WebRTC session creates some additional possibilities for journalism, especially for investigative journalists. I will not go into the detail here though 🙂

In other news, Team Miljul has a new member. We now have Gaurav on board, with all his Node.js skills. If you are wondering what is Node.js,  it is a cross-platform, open source, run time environment for server-side and networking applications . People are doing some cool stuff with it for some time now. But the best is about to come. For some one like me who always thought of JavaScript as a simple front end skill, it has been a real eye-opener to discover the potential of Node.js.

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