PA Media – formerly Press Association – has moved into live video output for the first time helped by new technology and driven by demand from its customers.
In recent months PA has put out live coverage on the passing of the Queen and the formation of two governments.
PA head of video Joe Pickover explained how the agency now has around 100 video cameras around the UK and why it has expanded into live broadcasting.
Why did PA go into live video?
Back in the early 2000s, Pickover told Press Gazette, PA’s video ouput “was obviously a much smaller part of PA than it is now.
“Back then, [on] the PA wire, text and images will have been the two key publication areas. Publishing video back then… you had the huge cameras that had to be carried around on your shoulder.” To transmit footage, “you will have had to have big vans with sat dishes.”
But, he said: “Over the last five years, video has obviously become a big thing within publishing news and media. And our video service has grown significantly alongside that growth that we’ve seen from our clients…
“The one thing that we obviously have noticed a huge trend on is the visualisation of stories. And with that has grown our video department. So we have roughly 100 cameras around the UK and Ireland that we can call on to take footage from any news sports [or] entertainment events that have significance for our customers.”
Pickover said now PA may publish as many as 100 videos in a day.
“One thing that we have wanted to do for quite a long time now is evolve that,” Pickover said. “It has always been [the case that] we file video footage and our customers can download it, and it’s an extremely good – I’d say industry-leading in the UK – service.
“But one thing we haven’t been able to provide up until the last few months is live video.”
Replacing the satellite trucks of yore are “live transmission packs”, Pickover explained.
“You have some that are… no bigger than a lunchbox, that have a number of bonded SIM cards in.
“What it does is it takes data from multiple SIM cards [and] bonds [them] into one super-signal. And then that signal we are able to channel back to our desk and then through all of the various outputs…
“We did an England rugby squad announcement today and we were able to send one video journalist, one camera, one tripod, one small transmission unit, and then have all of that content go live directly into newsrooms around the UK.”
The biggest change so far, Pickover said, was that “we are now a lot more open to broadcasters, who obviously run content live.
“They [already] run video files live, we’ve always had that relationship with broadcasters, but they can now run PA’s live feeds on their channels. And it also enables all of our digital and social clients to run video content as live streams, whether it be on their websites, whether it be on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, wherever.
“So it’s been a bit of a game changer for us, not only in terms of being able to offer that content directly live… but also the ability for us to play things back live to our customers.”
The technical leap was well-timed – its first major test came with the death of the Queen (as well as the elevation of two prime ministers).
“We had a lot of live infrastructure at our fingertips for the first time, around when that happened. And it meant that we were able to provide coverage like the PA’s never provided before on video around this huge event of national importance.
“We were able to do live from Buckingham Palace, inside the palace walls and Biden arriving and that kind of thing.”
“We did a joint feed of work with international agencies, of PA providing procession footage of the Queen’s coffin going in and leaving Westminster Abbey. And the feedback was that the content we were able to provide from that one event is game changing, certainly from broadcasters PA provided to, and its digital clients as well.”
Pickover said the main advantage of the new system was faster delivery times to existing customers – but for any clients who wanted the live footage, they would have to purchase it as an add-on to their contracts.
“The infrastructure upgrade investment is future-proofing the department.”
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