GE2020 : How SPH conducted livestream reporting during the elections

By Fred Lai

Innovation Manager
Singapore Press Holdings

28 July 2020

Singapore held the General Elections in July amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With physical rallies no longer an option due to safe-distancing measures, the online media space became an important playing field for the elections, and allowed the SPH Media Group to showcase its live programming capabilities.

With the rise in penetration of Internet and social media usage as compared to our previous general elections in 2015, the online media space was set to be an important playing field for this election, regardless of the ongoing pandemic.

Over the years, the newsrooms under Singapore Press Holdings have been enhancing their capabilities in producing live programming.

The Straits Times had ventured into live broadcasting many months before the elections happened in July. The team broadcast daily live shows and grew a following for its brand of live news reporting. Thanks to a well-equipped studio and the capability to create on-screen graphics and news tickers, these programmes had a polished look with production quality that was on par with traditional broadcasters.

Apart from broadcasting from the studio, the teams have also been developing capabilities to broadcast live from the field, allowing journalists to do live-crosses and cover breaking events while on location.

All this culminated in a live broadcast hosted by the newsrooms that lasted for 7 hours on polling night. And here are some lessons we picked up from the experience.

Sharing Resources Between Newsrooms To Do More

Live broadcasts, especially with both studio and on-location feeds, are highly reliant on manpower and equipment to ensure the quality of the transmission. Instead of having each newsroom attempting to go at it alone, SPH put together the manpower and backend infrastructure to reduce the resources required to pull off the campaign successfully.

For example, the newsrooms found innovative ways of patching the Chinese Media Group (CMG) team into the same virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) as The Straits Times. This - combined with sharing of cloud streaming servers - meant that the journalists running the Mandarin election programmes could tap into The Straits Times' feeds and use them for their own live broadcast.

Keeping It Simple

Field coverage does not have to be limited by the lack of broadcast-quality cameras the newsroom can deploy.

The news teams increased the mobility of their journalists by using mobile phones equipped with custom streaming apps that allowed footage to be transmitted back to the studio, and processed using the mixer in the studios.

It Doesn't Have To Be In A Studio

Offering engaging live streamed content does not always require a studio.

While the CMG team had one live streamed show using a multi-camera studio setup, it also hosted another live stream using a simple video conferencing setup. Editors and journalists got on the video conference either from home or in the office every morning to talk about what had happened on the election campaign trail the previous day. Done in a chat show format, it was live-streamed on social media.

The Future of Live Streaming 

As there are many ways publishers can choose to enter the video live streaming space, it will be salient to consider the following two points.

Firstly, huge challenges still remain today in transmitting and receiving video feeds from the field with low-latency. Broadcasters and production companies have long overcome this with the use of tailored solutions such as Satellite News Gathering (SNG) or Electronic SNG vehicles, as well as transmission over a cloud service (normally available through a subscription). With all the available solutions in the market, non-broadcast media organisations will have to decide which is the best way forward for them.

Fortunately, as the proliferation of 5G technology increases, coupled with the ever-increasing quality of our mobile phone cameras, we will see more high-resolution and low-latency live streaming options publishers can turn to at a lower cost. This will help to reduce the barriers of entry into live streaming in both cost and expertise, allowing more emphasis to be placed on how best to keep the audience engaged within the live stream.

In deciding which route to take (broadcast-quality cameras vs mobile phone cameras), it is also useful to weigh the costs involved versus what your audience expects in terms of the content and quality of your live streams. They may be perfectly happy with the quality of mobile phone cameras if the content is engaging.

Second, while it is important for publishers to find meaningful ways to extract value from video live streaming, it’s equally important to be able to achieve economies of scale while being in the game. This is why for organisations with multiple publications and products and are still looking to set up a workflow in operating live video streaming, it may be useful to build infrastructure and a scalable workflow that allows different publications to share the resources so that it benefits teams across the organisation.

This article was first featured as an INMA blog.