Monday, March 17, 2008

Skype Now Broadcasting on a TV Near You

I use Skype all the time to video chat with my family who live many miles away across the country. It's so much better than a regular telephone call since you can see and hear each other and the video and audio quality is fine for this personal use. The kids love to see their cousins and Grandparents and it's become quite routine to "Skype" each other on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. You know the old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" and although it's cliche, it really applies well when using Skype. I haven't had an opportunity to use Skype in a professional setting but it made the new headlines last week for its emerging use in live broadcasts.

In his March 13th post on TechCrunch, Duncan Reily wrote, "Marked as a first for national TV, CNN used Skype Video to conduct a live interview Monday." According to Paul J. Gough of the Hollywood Reporter, CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who went to Harvard Law School with deposed New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, joined the CNN broadcast via Skype from Maui." When the Spitzer sex scandal broke on Monday Toobin was on a family vacation and had participated in a phone interview. Reuters reported that, "CNN executives wanted to use a video feed but were stymied by the fact that they didn't have the equipment to make it happen."

CNN Senior VP David Bohrman said, "I didn't want to take this guy and his family away from vacation and send him to Oahu (where there would be other facilities) I thought it would have been really annoying."

So Toobin used a laptop and web cam borrowed from the hotel business center the hotel and created a makeshift studio on location. The lighting was one of the only drawbacks but CNN Execs found the video and audio quality to be acceptable. According to Paul J. Gough of the Hollywood Reporter, "Bohrman said he was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the video. It didn't make "The Situation Room," but an interview was featured in CNN's primetime political programming, and Toobin later took part in a roundtable discussion on "Anderson Cooper 360." CNN called Toobin's cell phone with the audio feed, and he used his cell phone earpiece to hear what was going on."

This actually was not the first use of IP Video in TV news as Gough continued, "Other networks use broadband technology and, in some cases, Treo or cell phone video for live reports. Fox News Channel used live video from a cell phone for Spitzer's initial news conference when no one else was able to provide live video. Fox News Channel regularly uses VoIP technology, notably in its mobile election units. MSNBC's campaign embeds and correspondent Lee Cowan use ComVue video technology to file live reports. A Fox TV affiliate, WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Ala., used Skype last year to file live reports from a tornado scene."

Andy Plesser of Beet.TV spoke with CNN U.S. president Jon Klein who commented that use of the Skype videophone is another technology advancement for news reporting. The video below is from his post TV News Breakthrough: CNN Uses Skype Video Chat for Spitzer Scandal React.

Cory Bergman from Lost Remote also has a good technical description of how news station KRCA in Sacramento, California used Skype to go live from a moving vehicle. In his post, Going live on TV via Skype, Joe Rosemeyer, KCRA’s Digital Executive Producer write “Our photog had a little 3CCD DV cam plugged into a Macbook via Firewire; he sent the video back to the station using Skype and a Verizon aircard... Back at the station, we pulled it up fullscreen on a PC that has a scan converter and routed it through the control room... The video quality isn’t perfect, but, that’s really not the point.” Bergman continued, "Rosemeyer sent us a link to a video clip so you can take a look for yourself." There were some good comments on this story and one from mekahlo said, "we, nbc los angeles’ digital channel, use skype nearly dialy to interview bloggers and some guests live on the air. we also used a similiar system to broadcast a new verzion live broadband phone during the LA Mararthon."


Skype is also a sponsor of Oprah's big 10-week web cast event "A New Earth" with Eckhart Tolle. In his post on the Skype blog, Skype "a good thing" for CNN, Villu Arak said, "Things get even better with High Quality Video, which requires Skype, an optimized Logitech webcam, a computer with a dual-core processor, and a reasonably fat internet connection. Nothing extraordinary for 2008, but it’ll deliver up to 30 frames per second at 640x480 pixels. With proper lighting and micing, the experience isn’t too far removed from regular TV. Little wonder, then, that broadcasters are experimenting with Skype. I have a feeling that things won’t end with CNN using Skype to interview a vacationing analyst in Maui."

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