SNG is still the most reliable way for transmitting live news, says Dutch broadcaster

Hilversum, April 2014: RTL Nieuws in the Netherlands has experimented with a variety of new cellular technologies for transmitting live video reports from the field but it has decided for now to stick with the traditional SNG truck because it’s the most dependable.

“At this point we are not using 3G/4G cellular transmissions for live coverage,” said Roeland Awick, the broadcaster’s Technical Project Manager, “because the technology is just not reliable enough. We depend fully on SNG trucks and satellite or fibre transmissions.”

Roeland Awick
The broadcaster has had several companies demonstrate their cellular bonding products at the RTL Nieuws headquarters in Hilversum. But none of the demonstrations has been sufficiently persuasive in order for RTL Nieuws to invest.

Roeland told TVZ: “The companies all promised us very good quality using the public internet but of course you can only guarantee bandwidth on your own local end and possibly the transmitting local end. Once the video data goes into the cloud, you have no control. During the tests we got blocks in the video and we decided it was not good enough for us.”

For RTL Nieuws the video quality of live reports is paramount. To achieve that, it needs guaranteed bandwidth which is hard to obtain on cellular networks. Roeland said, “The cellular networks are not robust. For example, we have an online department which sent a reporter to a courthouse with a laptop and a webcam. But when the court verdict was announced all the Press correspondents and photographers started to upload their text and photos – big sized pictures – and the bandwidth collapsed. That was the exact moment our reporter wanted to do his live report!”

Roeland said that, in some circumstances, cellular technology could be very advantageous: “I see a lot of opportunity for using these technologies on stories where not many people are around. For example, here in the Netherlands we have a story every year when all the new herring is brought to shore and that comes by fishing boat of course. So I could imagine that a reporter on board a boat – once it comes in distance of a network – he could then go live. This is something you couldn’t do with an SNG. Likewise, driving on a train. You cannot have an SNG on a boat or a train!”

Hans van Koesveld, MCR manager, explained that RTL Nieuws had tried to overcome the cellular bandwidth problem: “When 4G was introduced we tried to get an agreement with the network service provider to offer us a Quality of Service but they’re not
Hans van Koesveld
interested. This is because maybe in one month we might only need the service for one day and then it might be used only for half an hour, so for the service providers it’s not an interesting business proposal.”

RTL Nieuws has also been investigating whether to use Ka-band satellite transmissions but has yet to adopt the system. One of the news production companies it employs had purchased a Ka-band transmitter and had asked RTL Nieuws to invest in a server to be housed in the mcr. Hans said the broadcaster is following developments in the Ka industry but it was unlikely to invest in the large antenna required for receiving signals.

For transmitting Store & Forward reports RTL Nieuws’ journalists have been using software supplied by Livewire installed on a laptop which has been very successful. They also use Livewire for the occasional live feed using a BGAN terminal.

But for the most part, live transmissions arrive via SNG trucks. RTL Nieuws owns none of its own vehicles and, indeed, has none of its own staff cameramen. All are hired on a daily basis depending on where the news happens. Across the Netherlands, RTL Nieuws has a network of news production companies and freelance operators who are regular contributors and this gives the broadcaster a big advantage when there’s a breaking story. Roeland explains: “When there’s breaking news – say, in the northern part of Holland – our competitors at NOS will send their teams from their base in the central part of Holland but for us, we’ll have a local team who can reach the story in ten minutes and have the live video first. We are very fast.”

As in every other country, the news industry in the Netherlands has been transformed by the internet and RTL Nieuws places much emphasis on its web presence and trying to get the news out first. In having both a broadcasting news channel and a website to service, the role of its correspondents has altered dramatically. Roeland said: “When we had just a few bulletins, the correspondent had quite an easy job: reading up on the story first, going out on location, being given a microphone and then he went for a cup of coffee in the back of the SNG truck while video editors cut his story. But now they have to edit themselves, go live every hour, offer their vision of the story online as well as reporting on Twitter and Facebook.”

Hans believes that despite the fierce competition in the news industry, RTL Nieuws has the upper hand over its competitors: “We have the advantage that we have two media - we have the internet and we have television. They are pointing to each other. On the television, we say ‘For more information, please go to the internet’, while our website can show what we’re doing on the television. Yes, anyone can be a journalist on the internet but we have the RTL brand and so people know we are reliable and very fast. We have to be in order to stay ahead.”
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