A media channel, from the inside.

Recently I had the opportunity to see two news’ channels from the inside. Both these channels have their offices in the same building. In just three days, I got a very good overview of how a news channel works. Let me share this with you.

Gathering News:

News is gathered by reporters on the streets covering anything that seems of national interest. They can be employed by a third-party, freelancers or employed by the channel itself. They have the advantage of the wide network of their newspaper reporters.

These reporters call or email the news to people at the center called editors. They decide what news is important and meaningful for national broadcast. All this is fed into a software deployed over the entire office. Its like you have email deployed over the entire office. It is essentially a central database, to collect all the news in one place.

Reporters usually have camera-men with them to record them speaking and this video can be sent live to the channel using a satellite link. This is made possible using vans that have a dish on top. Less important videos are simply uploaded to a common server. The ID of these videos is shared, so everything is linked and easy to find.

Compositing:

We are talking video here. It needs to be edited. So there are groups of people who convert these videos into packages. They add background audio as needed. Clip the relevant portions of the videos and add titles over the video. The final video is again sent to the central server and accessed via its ID. Older videos are extracted from the archives. Again a digital process.

Production:

The awesome part. This is done in a room called PCR — production control room. There is much to read on Wikipedia, but I got to see it myself. There is a big wall with lots of screens on it. People operate different equipment in the room. There is an audio mixer who controls which audio streams are actually broadcast out of the tens of inputs. Again there is a video switcher, who switches incoming video from different sources and controls what is on-air. A CAO — computer-aided ordering operator queues all the necessary videos and subtitles for broadcast. The director co-ordinates all of them. There are also panels to control lighting in the studio, the color balance of the video and other technical things.

The studio:

TV anchors have a boring and lonely job. They have to sit in a studio with around 3 cameras pointing at them. The lens of the camera is covered with a screen on which text appears so they know what to say. This is know as the prompter. The director tells them which camera to look at and when to start speaking via a talkback, something like a walkie-talkie but with many-to-many instead of one-to-one communication.

Master control:

When it is time for the advertisements, the PCR hands over control to the MCR — master control room. Here again, a computer is used to queue advertisements and any other final changes that may be necessary. A server adds in the news ticker to this final video.

Ticker:

The news ticker is quite an independant process. A group of people feed a computer with data to be shown, and this text is rendered, animated and mixed onto the final video.

Broadcast:

Now we have the final video ready for broadcast. This video is encoded, processed and the required frequency changes are done. Then the modulated signal is amplified and sent to a dish. The data is now sent to a satellite that sends it back to earth where it can be decoded and seen. In the case of satellite television though, the satellite company on earth picks up these signals, sends them again to its own satellite, and we receive our signals from their satellite. Hence usually satellite TV is a few seconds delayed compared to cable TV.

This is the chain of how news is collected and broadcast over national television. Actually there is a tremendous amount of investment, licensing and technicalities into starting and operating a television channel, but broadly this is how a news channel operates.


Originally published at paramaggarwal.com.

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