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Online TV Interview Technology

I have a whole series of posts on what I’m doing now in development. I need to back to blogging, it’s kind of therapuetic and I really feel we’re doing something nobody else is, so there’s some learning and sharing that can be had in all this madness. This post though is going to focus on online TV interview tech…or the lack thereof. I’ll try and structure this so it makes sense.


To set some context, here’s what we are and what we’re doing in this realm. Dead Reckoning TV is an online TV show, we stream through a unique 24hr clock-based platform on our website and offer episode downloads through Reelhouse.org. We have no intention of going terrestrial or cable or satellite, we have ultimate freedom on the web. More on this in my other series that’s in development. On our show, we do interviews with experts and guests on various topics. On our end, I have my ZBook that handles the audio record from our studio cameras, connects to the guest via video chat software and then runs a screen capture software to grab the guest’s end of the interview.

On the guest’s end, we’re simply conncting to their device (iDevice, laptop, other device) via to date, Skype.

Challenges: Historically Technological

This is where things get complicated. Our basic challenge is built around the history of traditional broadcasting. Traditional TV broadcasting is built on the assumption that there is at least one studio involved with traditional outboard hardware like video swtichers and satellite uplink technology. Then, a guest would either be interviewed on location by a reporter with a hardware-based system utizing satellite uplink or over fiber and now, moving into VoIP. If the guest was by themselves, the studio would source another local studio, hire or send a crew or send over lots of hard to use equipment with instructions.

We don’t have those options. Our first challenge is that we’re entirely digital. None of this studio hardware. Our second (ironically) challenge is that we’re not produced live. We have about one or two days delay from when we film to when we post online. We do this for two primary reasons: control and cost.

Control: We have much finer control over the final product because we can take our time in the interview, and then in post fine-tuning edits and adding additional support material as needed.

Cost: We are a 3-man operation. We can neither afford to produce something live or invest in tens of thousands of dollars in studio equipment. I am also entirely convinced we don’t NEED to either. We have to date, produced 4 seasons of the show on a laptop with only certain frustrations like the one I’m talking about here.

Consequently, our resulting challenge becomes realiabilty and ease. I’ll tell you why in the next section.

Current Options

If you’re doing anything on the web, it’s in the context of podcasting (audio) or Youtube (not feature/short film, video-based material). We’re doing neither. Podcasting is typically thought of as audio-only and Youtube is not fit for our type of content (although we use it heavily but again, for another series). We’re doing a web-based “television” talk and variety show. Although I still struggle with what to call it. The term “Television” is still very tied to traditional cable, satellite and terrestrial broadcast. We’re entirely internet-based which poses both descriptive, developmental and other problems (more posts later as well).

Technology for internet-based video person to person talking, to-date is built around the consumer who would rather talk face to face over a computer than a chat window or a phone call. Increasingly, broadcasters are moving to some of these as a matter of ease but I won’t get into that here.

The primary options we have are Skype and Google Hangouts:

Skype: 300m users, almost everyone has an account and it’s easy to use. Our problem is reliability. Our studio has 30up/down sustained. It’s fast. The internet connection on the other end is always questionable but for the most part, we have had reasonable success with Skype. But we’ve been increasingly struggling with reliability issues. Skype will just randomly shut down, drop calls, or not connect at all. It’s become a crap-shoot on whether or not we’ll actually get the connection. When you’re interviewing high-level people with extremely limited time constraints, this is not ideal.

Google Hangouts: Confusing much? I’ve been testing it for the last few weeks and have watched several how-to videos but man, it’s confusing. You have to be on Google Plus, you have to be in the hosts’ circles and half the time, a user can’t connect or doesn’t get an invite or whatever. WAY too dodgy. And yes, I know Huffpost Live uses it and the New York Times “adopted it.” But I find its confusion and unreliability unuseable. Google Hangouts on Air is designed around doing things live. I don’t want to do things live. Thusly, any features that are attractive aren’t a great fit and add to the confusion.

Again, I’ll reiterate, that for audio-podcasting, these uses are okay. The bandwidth isn’t as necessary. For short YouTube stuff or MSNBC 3 minute deals? Seems reasonable. For a long-form 20 minute segment? Not so much. Huffpost seems to do okay with Hangouts but I don’t know how they’re set up and and I have yet to get it to work realiably. It’d be nice if I could get it to work well because I wouldn’t have to use screen capture software to grab the interview, I could record straight to YouTube and download.

Potential Solutions

I have found an interesting option I’m testing now. It’s an uber-small startup called ipDTL out of the UK. Again though, built as an ISDN replacement (broadcast radio) but has video beta that’s interesting. It’s certainly not perfect but the technology behind it (something built in to the Chrome browser) is intriguing. They don’t have much info but check it out if you’re curious.

And Skype for Media (Skype TX) is intriguing but not relased or demoable and again, built around the traditional studio with video switches and again, intended for a live studio application.

What I Want

I’ve spent countless hours in the last few weeks looking at options. There’s nothing so far that fits the bill perfectly or in some cases, doesn’t even come close. So here’s what I want.

  1. Encoding/Decoding (can be proprietary compression) that minimizes bandwith needs and increases quality and does something awesome to automatically define internet traffic priority at least locally.

  2. Software based (if necessary, studio-based hardware) direct peer-to-peer connection. On the guest’s end, they can download an app (or login in to a website) to their specific device that connects directly to my computer at the studio.

  3. Cloud-based or local recording built-in. So I don’t need external screen capture adding an extra step and complication. It records only the interview cleanly with no branding little windows with our studio in it (obviously, there’s a sync feature via internal mic audio or something)

  4. Output full-screen to secondary display option.

Pretty straight forward huh? Simple even. So far the closest I’ve found is ipDTL but it lacks any sort of internal recording and I don’t have the budget to afford it in the long term ($500/yr). My other hesitations with it are that it’s built around a Google product (Chrome) and at the rate Google changes things on a whim, that makes me nervous. The other hesitation is how small they are. They could disappear in a flash (although the same could be said for Dead Reckoning. LOL!)

There are trade-offs everywhere I look. If you have experience with something, please hit me up on Twitter: @jayfriesen and let me know what you’ve seen or like that could fit the bill. Maybe Skype for Media will come out with a software-only option but until then, it’s going to be a frustrating ride.


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