Why Can’t They Just…

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Red Button Any TV channel can have Interactive Services, such as a Red Button. But, as with everything, this costs money. The content being broadcast by a TV channel isn’t just sent into the air and gracefully received at the other end. They have to go through Content Providers (such as Sky, Virgin and Freeview). These are the people who have the infrastructure and technology in place to deliver that content. They own the satellites above your head and the miles of fibre optic cables running under your house. Imagine buying a car and saying “Alright, we’re driving to France!”. That’s all well and good, but without someone else having provided the roads between you and France, you won’t get very far. Well, then you say “Okay, we’ll use the train then!”. Great, but someone had to dig that Channel Tunnel to get you there. And if you’re thinking of flying, there’s a Landing Fee to pay when you put down onto that runway that isn’t yours (actually true!). See what I’m saying? The system either has to exist already (and you pay for it) or you create the system yourself (and pay for it). Adding a Red Button would mean an increase in bandwidth. This basically means how much information, or data, a channel can broadcast. And Red Button data isn’t the same as video. Content Providers will charge for this additional bandwidth. The more content a Red Button requires, the more bandwidth they need, and therefore more cost. Red Button content is also a different type of data than the actual show you might be watching. Back to my analogies; your car will get from A to B, but if the car only takes petrol and now you’re told to get from A to B by also using electric, then you need a hybrid car. If you don’t already have one, you need to modify the car you have to make it work… That’ll cost you both time and money. see what I’m getting at? You might have your own systems in place. But when something new comes along and you want to use it, you’ll probably need to change a few things to make it happen. Red Button content also requires an army of people to keep it going. There’s the ones who initially test it. It also needs monitored from start to finish to make sure nothing has failed “along the chain”. It might need updating, and or regularly tweaked for new content and styles, etc. Even those with the biggest pockets will feel burning holes. Online Streaming TV channels offering Simulcast is a brilliant idea. It means that whilst a TV show is being broadcast to your TV, it can also be watched simultaneously on an internet ‘stream’, for example on a website or a mobile phone. It means you don’t have to be at a TV screen to see what everyone else is seeing. In terms of difficulty, this is easy to manage and implement. Content for TV broadcast has already been taken care of with regards to checks, or Quality Control (“QC”, in regards of its creation, editing, removing swearing if appropriate, timings, subtitles, etc). The content is ready to go. And in todays “tapeless” environment, that content is probably already in digital form. Translating it from a video file for Broadcast to a video file for Streaming should be straight forward enough. However. Broadcasting a Live event is very different. You never know what’s going to happen in a Live event. Therefore live broadcasts that involve a level of risk tend to implement a delay. This is done to provide extra time between something(*) happening at the Live event, and stopping it being seen by millions of people on TV or on the Simulcast. It’s likely there would be a chain of people between the Live event and the actual delayed broadcast, and all those people would need to go through a protocol in order to modify the delayed broadcast in order to avoid or remove whatever has happened that they don’t want shown. Implementing a delay is one thing. But constantly monitoring and modifying it is another. Lets say, for example, a Live event were to be broadcast 24/7 for 4 weeks. For this to happen you need the staff. So that’s (for arguments sake) 3 members of staff for eight hours per day to do the monitoring and flagging of issues, and I’d suggest another 3 members of staff for any actual realtime editing. You need an engineer at the Delivery end making sure the signal is leaving the building (3 per day), and another at the Transmission end who’s receiving the signals (3 per day). Don’t forget the people responsible for the delay (3 per day)… In absolute basic format, fifteen people per day on minimum wage therefore costs over £2250 per day. That’s over £63’500 for 4 weeks work. And believe me, it’d be a lot more than fifteen people, and all of them would be on much more than minimum wage. So the actual figure would be a lot higher. For arguments sake I’d imagine it can be up to £30 per hour for someone trained in Law to monitor a Live event stream for legal issues (defamatory comments, slander, breaking Court proceedings, etc)., and similarly for a high end engineer trained in television broadcast, and also for that editor…

However, taking the above basic format into account, that four week broadcast with only fifteen staff has cost more than £300’000 alone. There’s all the technology and services to be paid for too.

So on top of staff, you need all the technical equipment to run everything. And you also have to use (as with normal broadcasting) a Provider to get that content from one place to another. For online streaming it’s referred to as a Content Delivery Network (CDN). There’s plenty of online CDN’s, such as UStream.com, Justin.tv, Livestream.com and even YouTube. For streaming Live television events there’s a level of redundancy required, and therefore professional companies are used. One such company is Brightcove. They offer redundancy, so if a piece of equipment fails another one will instantly take over, and therefore there’s no interruption to the broadcast. They’ll supply engineers trained specific to online streaming. Obviously this all costs money too. As does the satellite equipment to get the signal from the Live event to the CDN for online streaming. And that’s expensive… So why can’t they just add a Red Button, or stream a Live event 24/7? Money. Money. Money. Page Divider Edit updates: Via Twitter, @ShellySmi34 suggested charging for a Live stream. Not a bad suggestion. My reply was that it comes down to a balance of Spend and Return. To break even on that (unrealistically low) £300’000 staffing bill, the numbers suggest a monthly charge of £6 per month, if a minimum of 50’000 continued to subscribe. Page Divider * “something”; could be anything from defamatory comments (likely to cause harm and offence), slander (likely to cause legal proceedings), swearing or violence (likely to cause complaints), terrorism (likely to cause panic and fear), etc.

The Messenger

This blog post is my way of expressing more than 140 characters to those who’ve interacted with me regarding Big Brother on Twitter recently. I write it to inform and remind 🙂

I should also point you in the direction of my blog disclaimer, for your consideration.

My job at Big Brother is a technical one. I Direct the cameras within the House to cover people, areas, tasks, etc, to the best of my ability. What happens to that footage once it’s shot isn’t my remit. It disappears into the ether via fibre optic cables and the magic of electronics to other people in other places who do other things with it.

I’m a Director, not a Producer. I have no say over editorial decisions nor have influence over what can and cannot be done. I do my bit on Twitter to support the show completely off my own back, and at risk of being severely bollocked for it with the potential to not being asked back in the future. I don’t want this, and I’m sure you don’t either. This very blog post will be printed out and handed to my boss for consideration.

I appreciate people think I might be one who can flip a switch and turn any Live Feed on or off, or have control over when or how it’s shown, or indeed its contents, or have answers as to why it can’t be 24/7. This simply isn’t the case. I don’t have those answers. But as an original fan, I sometimes ask the same questions you do. If I was able to answer them, I would.

As much as people think “Rubbish. You work for the company so you can do something”, let me give you an analogy:

The guy at the printing press isn’t responsible for the headlines of a newspaper.

I appreciate people reach out to whomever they can for answers, and I understand peoples thoughts. But I can’t answer questions if I don’t have the answer. I’m not in those circles.

Don’t get me wrong. I read all messages I receive, and I genuinely appreciate (most of) them. I try to respond if I can, where appropriate, in a way that’s appropriate. I’m a fan of the show at the end of the day, and I care about it just as much as you do.

Media Streaming To The World

Recently I bought a Netgear ReadyNAS Drive; i.e. Network Attached Storage. It’s a piece of kit containing hard drives that you connect to your home router, giving you a separate place to store all of your media and documents.

My NAS contains four 3TB drives; a total of 12’288GB of space! To complicate things further I have the NAS set up in a RAID configuration. RAID is a ‘first-level redundancy’ safety mechanism. In layman’s terms, hard drive two is a direct copy of hard drive one, hard drive four is a direct copy of hard drive three. If one hard drive fails, the data is still safely stored on the other drive. The downside to this is that it cuts the storage capacity in half because of the duplication.

Slight overkill, I hear you say, but my NAS serves a clear purpose…

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(UPDATE: Just to clarify the above numbers; although in computer terms 1TB is 1024GB, in manufacturing terms 1TB is 1000GB. So 12TB of space is actually 12’000GB, and not 12’228GB. In addition, due to the way restriping occurs and the redundancy effect of RAID, my 12TB of space actually accumulates to 8.2TB. Somehow.)

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The beauty of my NAS system is that it’s a self-contained unit with its own operating system, memory and processor. This means I can install add-on software and the box will do it’s own thing, without needing a computer. It’s possible to run torrent software to automatically read RSS feeds and download the latest TV episodes I’ve missed, or install software which runs a website directly off the NAS without having to pay for hosting, etc.

Today I discovered a piece of software called Plex Media Server. And I have to say, it’s utter genius. Plex is an add-on that will database all your files and play any media file you throw at it. Secondly, it will transcode and stream these files across your network to your TV, laptop, games console or smart phone.

I can store my entire music and video collection on the NAS, and it will stream the audio or video to anywhere in the world. My NAS is a place for me to archive and keep every piece of footage I shoot with my DSLR’s. I keep all my original files as back-up, even after transcoding, editing and final publication. Some of these files are huge. But with Plex, I can watch the footage back without having to copy the files across the network. Technically, I can show the footage to an editor using my iPhone whilst on the go.

Like I say, it’s brilliant. Now I have access to my entire media catalogue from anywhere in the world. It’s like YouTube for all my media stored at home! I’m currently in the process of going through my entire movie collection and archiving it onto my NAS system, which I then have access to from absolutely anywhere.

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UPDATE: I should make is quite clear that transcoding and streaming via Plex depends on your internet connection and what hardware you are operating with. Although my ReadyNAS NVX will stream video via Plex to my MacBook Pro with no problems, the ReadyNAS struggles to transcode video and stream it to my Samsung TV via the Plex smart app on the telly. I currently can’t work out why that is, considering it’s the same hardware in the NAS on both occasions, but I have run into complications there. The Plex FAQ suggests hardware for transcoding should be at least a 2GHz dual core processor. The ReadyNAS NVX uses a single 1GHz Intel processor and 1GB of RAM.