MARCH 30, 2022

The Impact of Evolving Mobile Phone Technology on News Gathering

news reporter uses a smartphone to gather media from the field

From cloud-based workflows to remote production, it has been widely observed how much modern technologies have aided broadcasters in recent times. These include mobile phone technology, where higher-resolution capture and improved network connectivity have opened up tremendous new possibilities for news gathering.

Beginning a few years ago with groundbreaking devices from manufacturers the smartphone market has developed to the point where capture in Ultra High Definition (UHD) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) are now standard features. For arguably the first time in recent broadcast history, developments in the professional and consumer markets are almost taking place in parallel. As broadcasters continue to implement UHD and HDR in their production workflows, comparable capabilities are being made available to anyone who can afford a new smartphone.

With price points continuing to fluctuate—especially at the top end of the market—affordability should not be underestimated as a determining factor. But the long history of consumer technology tells us that the average price will always fall over time, and this is sure to be the case even as smartphones evolve to incorporate AR, VR, and other emerging technologies.

Media Production Technology Is Reconstructing the Industry

For broadcasters, this prospect is already necessitating a huge discussion about the future of technology and how it relates to broadcast production. Adde Granberg, chief technology officer of Swedish public broadcaster SVT, ran down some of the key questions confronting the industry during a recent Avid Making the Media podcast: "Are we rebuilding the broadcast industry, or are we reconstructing everything as [if] it was new? That kind of legacy is really, really interesting. [From my perspective] I think we need to reconstruct everything."

Highlighting the democratizing impact of mobile phone technology, Granberg added, "Today, it's so easy to get into the broadcast industry with an iPhone [or other smartphone]. You can start to film in 4K, you can edit, you can put on captions, and you can transmit it on the YouTube platform. Everybody can do it—and especially if you're under 15, it will take you two minutes, then you learn and fix it."

Granberg's combination of excitement and trepidation about the future of technology is surely being felt by many in the industry. In the case of SVT, he noted, "We are in a big transformation inside that legacy discussion—which I love, but I'm a little bit stressed about it."

5 Key Aspects of the Mobile News Gathering Revolution

In this context, it should be helpful to define five aspects of the current news gathering revolution and how they can help broadcasters everywhere, providing they adopt a pragmatic approach to the future of technology.

1. Contribute Anywhere, Any Time

The days of waiting for camera teams and OB trucks to arrive on the scene are fading into the past. With high-quality mobile phones, reports can be captured in a matter of minutes and subjected to preliminary editing before being sent back to the newsroom. And that fast turnaround cycle will only accelerate as 5G connectivity becomes more commonplace.

Meanwhile, it will become increasingly easy to source contributions from members of the public; the amount of user-generated content that made it to broadcast during COVID-19 and the recent series of climate change-related disasters is proof of that.

2. Rising Output Potential, Falling Production Costs

No one is suggesting that there will no longer be a significant requirement for pro-quality cameras and audio equipment out in the field. Coverage of "news calendar" events—from political party conferences to sports gatherings—will continue to rely on detailed planning and high-end production equipment. But in terms of allowing more reporters (and members of the public) to capture stories quickly and cheaply at a time when demand for content is soaring, mobile phone technology is already transformative.

We should not forget that in addition to being a means of delivering content, mobile phone apps can also help keep teams informed about ongoing developments in stories, planning, project tracking, and more to reduce the knowledge gap between those who are in the office and those who are in the field.

3. Seamless Production and Storage Workflows

We are already moving into an era where most broadcasters will standardize upon a primary cloud-based or hybrid platform that makes the entire production process—from ingest to live streaming—more streamlined and manageable. For remote news gathering, 5G will constitute the other major piece of the puzzle, allowing contributions to be captured and uploaded efficiently out in the field.

In fact, leading technology vendors have already anticipated this trend by introducing software-only IP stream ingest solutions that allow multiple compressed IP streams to be ingested into a broadcaster's production environment from anywhere. As well as allowing capture from more sources, this approach enables lower-cost movement of live content between remote locations and time-efficient remote editing.

4. Exploring New Forms of Live Content

Smartphone-based production is one vital attribute of a technology transformation that will continue to create exciting new opportunities for content. As the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) stated in its recent report, Going Live and Remote: The Business of Live, "This combination of changing attitudes, lower-cost technologies, the flexibility offered by IP and cloud, new revenue channels and, of course, a consumer passion for live content, has led to an explosion in opportunity. And that explosion is leading in turn to completely new forms of content." That can surely apply to news as much as any other type of media.

5. Mobile Technology Can Encourage a More Level Playing Field

There is no reason that greater access to the means of production shouldn't mean that everyone inside an organization can feel more invested in the news gathering process. But it will require heads of production and other senior team members to ensure that the transition reaches all staff members. As Granberg remarked of his colleagues, "They need to adapt to new technology. They need to understand what the technology in an iPhone can do for the television industry—not what the television industry can do for an iPhone."

This is a period of profound change for the industry, both on a technology and business level—and it's entirely reasonable to feel daunted at times. But while the implications of some developments are yet to become clear, the creative possibilities of mobile phone technology are already expanding and enriching the news gathering process.

  • David Davies headshot

    David Davies is a journalist, editor, and copywriter specializing in audio and broadcast technology, music production, and professional AV.

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