User Generated Content Or Reporting In Real Time

We all understand what it means when someone says a video went viral. It typically means a person used a mobile device to record an event and posted it to any number of social media websites. How does that have anything to do with professional broadcast and production?

Well, just watch the news, some newscaster will have seen it online and finding it either relevant to a story, it being the story or just being entertaining, is shown on air directly from the social media location. Maybe it’s downloaded and some of the frame is blurred, but that’s not always the case.

Welcome to UGC or User Generated Content! This is sort of a mashup of home video and real time reporting. ENG or Electronic News Gathering based on microwave connections introduced local live field news reporting, SNG or Satellite News Gathering extended the reach of ENG with satellite live coverage. Moving forward, as mobile bandwidth improved so did the camera capabilities of mobile devices. First, people captured an event to their mobile device as a file and then uploaded when they could, sort of early or pre-ENG. Then the social media portals started enabling live streaming. This means that anyone with a mobile device where there’s mobile service can “broadcast” live. Mobile device manufacturers are claiming their devices are HD, 4K and even 8K capable.

One slightly biased comment is that broadcasters are accepting UGC which is typically not “broadcast” quality. There’s no real quality comparison to content from a phone vs a professional field or studio camera.  That being said, UGC has become a mainstream contributor to on air programming.

In a recent Ericsson report, they estimate the number of smartphone users will increase to 6.1 billion and that 90 percent of the populated globe will have high-speed mobile data coverage by 2020. Wow. This means almost instantaneous global coverage of just about anything. How many recent events were being reported live before any professional news media person arrived? There’s no such thing as off the record anymore!

On a recent project, the president of the network was looking to establish community-based contribution. Rather than sending out his teams or having enough teams to cover a larger number of live events on any given weekend, they would encourage the local community to use their personal devices and using the network custom app, stream their feed back to the broadcast center. Of course, this opens a Pandora’s box of issues, but the general concept was intriguing.

It’s becoming a regular occurrence in most news broadcasts that one of the pieces either includes UGC content or if its breaking news may just be UGC live.

So, it’s only fitting, that there are new production systems to support UGC production. What about a four-phone production instead of a four-camera production? There’s a Studio in a Box product that uses Wi-Fi to connect to the cameras and then bonded cell to transmit back to a broadcast center or mobile unit. The Studio in a Box can add special effects, graphics, titles and mix the audio. This of course takes UGC to a different level. At the recent IBC conference RIST (Reliable Internet Streaming Transport) was getting a lot of attention since its targeting the use of unconditioned Internet connections to send content from the field back to the broadcast center or maybe it goes directly to the OTT or streaming provider and live.

The broad acceptance of UGC has opened the door to a whole new set of accessories and companion products. There are add-on lens, mini-steady hand holders, tripod adapters, even lights and teleprompters. 

Of course, the next obvious statement is, why go to all this when you can get a real camera. Personally, I think that’s a great question, however the multi functionality of the mobile device, tablet or phone becomes a mini production package.

The quality of imaging device in phones continues to improve, on board memory increasing and battery life is also improving, and the new compression codecs make it possible to shoot at higher bitrates. With the deployment of 5G, this improves the ability to send or post the content more practically. We are already seeing next generation phones appearing with three imaging sensors, normal, wide and ultra-wide. From my perception, UGC is the next generation of ENG. It’s almost the first reaction people have at this point, if something happens or they are attending an event of any kind, out comes the phone!

I am anticipating that the production technology support for UGC will continue to increase, particularly as higher Wi-Fi bandwidth and 5G becomes more available and accessible. UGC is bringing a new immediacy and bringing live events to air. Programmers are accepting UGC for all types of productions, news and sports are accepting UGC for on air and on display.

One interesting aspect of UGC that has yet to become main stream is running commentary while the content is being streamed. This comment is more on event based UGC, UGC content produced and submitted to social media or pulled from social media typically does have some amount of commentary.

One interesting note is that professional content producers using mobile devices instead of professional media equipment is NOT UGC. That’s just media professionals using different technology.

I see 5G enabling UGC to grow exponentially and with the improved quality of mobile devices, more UGC content appearing on air. 

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