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The Next Big Thing for Broadcasters: Hybrid Vehicles?


As the news industry evolves, local stations have to compete with online content, specialized apps, national media, and in some cases, larger stations in neighboring regions. In parallel, the costs of certain types of syndicated content have become less economic for stations to buy, while audiences look to local stations to provide content that they cannot find elsewhere.

Ken Zamkow

Ken Zamkow

So, how can local stations compete in a very crowded media market, while budgets are stagnant, if not declining? One way that stations have found to help them compete is by producing greater amounts of local news and sports content, which other media can’t always provide, and is more profitable for the station than certain syndicated programs. New technologies like cellular bonding video uplink backpacks have been helping broadcasters keep the costs of video uplink lower, while offering greater flexibility in live coverage, resulting in more engaging local news and sports content – much more of it – and for less money.

While cellular bonding has originally positioned itself as an alternative to ENG trucks, there were in fact several stages in the adoption of the technology. In the early days, around 2009, the technology was considered as a novelty or backup. It was just something you would only use if a satellite or microwave truck wasn’t available, or if you wanted to get a unique live shot, such as motion shots, or inside buildings where there is no line of sight.

With the maturation of the technology – including the development of specialized multi-directional cellular antenna arrays, smarter algorithms for managing traffic and predicting network behavior, improved video encoding, much smaller bonding devices, enhanced remote control and fleet management via the cloud, and longer battery life – and of course, improvements in LTE speeds and overall cellular coverage, the technology has indeed accomplished what it has originally set out to do: today, at major breaking news events, and large sporting events like the Super Bowl, World Cup, or Olympics, more field crews rely on cellular bonding as their primary method of uplink than those deploying traditional trucks for these types of events.

And now, it seems like our industry has completed a full circle: increasingly, broadcasters are turning to a new type of solution – hybrid news vehicles that rely on a combination of cellular bonding, KA-Band satellite, and IP microwave, in smaller and more nimble vehicles than traditional news vans. The technology saves on costs, and allows crews to be more flexible, report on the move, in any type of weather, from any location, and with fewer people on the ground.

What are the benefits?

  • Cost and Coverage: Cellular and KA-Band satellite, even when deployed together, are significantly lower in cost than KU-band satellite. By joining together both cellular and KA technologies, stations get nearly perfect coverage. Cellular operates in most areas, including where there is no KA-coverage or during bad weather, and KA can take over in areas where cellular coverage is limited.

The vehicle itself, typically an SUV or a mini-van, is also lower in cost than traditional news vehicles. In addition, these new vehicles can be fully operated by as little as one person, further reducing the amount of resources needed in the field.

  • Accessibility: In addition to being able to cover stories in rough terrain, being able to physically follow a story is becoming easier with hybrid news vehicles. An SUV makes it easier to move around in bad weather or rough road conditions. By using cellular during severe weather, there is no risk of wind damage to masts and satellite dishes. SUVs can get closer to the story when the terrain is challenging, and more easily park in more places than the traditional news van.

But even some traditional vehicles are getting a facelift: more stations are starting to remove old KU satellite equipment from their existing vans and retrofitting them with cellular+KA band satellite, to save of transmission costs.

In Summary

Over the last couple of years we have seen cellular bonding technology come of age, and become a trusted resource for the broadcast industry. We find that more live field reports at breaking news situations are now coming from cellular bonding than from traditional vehicles, and the trend will only continue with the new types of flexible hybrid news vehicles. Traditional uplink methods will not disappear altogether, though. For certain events, like high profile games, State of the Union addresses, and more, broadcasters will still rely on traditional uplink for years to come. But for the remaining 90% of news content, new IP-based technologies like cellular and KA will be the main source over the next few years.

As the media market continues reshaping, these technologies will be key in ensuring high-quality yet cost-effective and easier content production across the board, with the hybrid news vehicles becoming increasingly deployed by local stations and networks.

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