LiveU Readies Support For Trump Inauguration Coverage

Avi Cohen, co-founder and COO of LiveU.

Avi Cohen, co-founder and COO of LiveU.

The inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump is less than a month away and the companies that support the IP newsgathering efforts for broadcasters are at work preparing to make sure wireless congestion isn’t an issue.

Among them is LiveU, which about a month ago celebrated its 10-year anniversary. According to LiveU, the 2016 election season saw a record number of portable transmission units used, as well as new high marks for equipment rentals, hours of streamed content and amount of data managed.

As the company gears up for the inauguration, it is expecting hundreds of international customers to join a large number of existing domestic users in Washington, D.C., for the event.

In this interview, Avi Cohen, LiveU co-founder and COO, discusses the preparations, where IP newsgathering technology stood eight years ago during the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, the evolving role of IP newsgathering in the contribution technology mix available to broadcasters and where IP newsgathering is headed.

(Editor’s note: Phil Kurz is conducting a series of interviews with top management at the various IP newsgathering vendors. The first of these interviews was with TVU Networks founder and CEO Paul Shen.)

LiveU is at work preparing for the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump on Jan. 20. How would you compare what you will do in January to the role you played eight years ago at the first inauguration of President Obama?

In 2008, we had the first inauguration for LiveU with President Obama. LiveU had just arrived in the U.S.

Nobody knew us; nobody knew IP newsgathering. Everyone was using satellite at this time.

NBC decided to gamble and go with LiveU. It was the first time IP newsgathering was used to cover an inauguration, and it was to be used for a specific application: to shoot live video from inside the train carrying Obama from Philly to Washington, D.C.

I remember Chuck Todd, the White House correspondent with NBC, was covering that. And because it was the first time, they asked us to do a lot of preparation.

We went back and forth on that train starting two weeks before. We did it about 10 times, and we shot those live feeds from the Amtrak train to NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center.

Three days before the election, they said, “OK, go one more time we want to see this.” The NBC president requested we do another at night for him, and he gave it the green light.

That was the first live transmission in 2008 from a moving training.

What are you expecting when it comes to demand for IP newsgathering contribution at the Trump inauguration?

We have a lot of international broadcasters, coming from Europe, Asia/Pacific, from the Middle East. There are hundreds of clients internationally on top of the U.S. clients.

They come here, and they already have a LiveU in their country –Germany, Turkey or whatever- and they already have a LiveU decoder plugged into their workflow.

So they come over here, we ship them units, and they will use that unit to cover the inauguration here, send it live from the U.S., through the cloud to their decoder in their country.

So many IP newsgatherers at a heavily attended event like an inauguration must create the potential for wireless bandwidth congestion. As with other big events, LiveU is setting up Wi-Fi hotspot coverage for the inauguration to sidestep the wireless congestion. Can you tell me about that?

As you know we are relying on the cellular networks, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, so it is very difficult to forecast what the bandwidth will be in those hours [of the inauguration]. This is why we decided at the big events to provide LiveU hotspots in the area.

So we send our team a few days in advance to set up the Wi-Fi hotspot. If you are a LiveU client, you will have dedicated Wi-Fi.

This will make up for the cellular. Sometimes, AT&T and others are doing a great job providing bandwidth from their towers, and the LiveU Wi-Fi is a backup. And then if they have a failure, our LiveU customers can switch to the Wi-Fi network.

Ten years into this, where are broadcasters with IP newsgathering versus their use of more traditional ways to contribute a signal from the field?

In general, we see the trend in the market is that people are rely more and more on LiveU and less and less on satellite trucks.

If a satellite truck breaks down, Fox and NBC will not fix it. They just put it to the side and will just use whatever truck is available and the rest is done with LiveU.

Today, I think 80 to 90% of breaking news is done with LiveU and only 10 percent is done with this [type of] truck.

This is why at a big event when we expect congestion we do our best to provide extra service with Wi-Fi and people in the field.

How does security and its need for bandwidth play into the use of IP newsgathering at a big event like the inauguration?

Like any other member of the news media, we have credentials to go inside the secure area. The only limitation we have is sometimes inside the White House.

But for the rest of the event, they [security personnel] are aware of the bonding.

I think for emergency cases, if there is some terrorism, God forbid, or something happens, they [the Secret Service or other security details] switch to their special frequencies. They are not using the regular cellular network. But there are limitations in this regard for LiveU in public areas.

You mentioned SNG trucks going by the way. How would you compare IP newsgathering at this point to traditional point-to-point microwave?

It all depends. In the big markets, I think it is taking over microwave. Microwave is still used in the smaller markets. But in general we are taking over both satellite and microwave transmitters.

It is much easier. You don’t need line of sight. You don’t need to position the truck. It’s not different in quality.

Getting back to the inaugural preparations, can you tell me what you do prior to the event?  

Over the last year, we hired a professional to do this [special event coverage preparation]. He has done this many times, and he knows the drill.

Then we built a team with him and a few from engineering who are working with him. The team also includes a coordinator and another person who do the planning for the event.

When we have a large event [like the inauguration] we have a Media Day to do a walkthrough of the event and the parade route.

They will work with the municipalities to get the blueprint so they can start to coordinate it.

In addition to the media walkthrough, we talk to our [media] partners –the affiliates of Fox and NBC and CNN. So we talk with the guys in the field. We do not talk with the network.

We more often talk with the O&Os and the stations in the area. They know all about the area, and we talk with the frequency coordinator. We talk to Time Warner to have the 100Mb/s backbone drop.

Then we send someone to do the planning and walkthrough a week ahead of time. A few days before, we send our equipment, and we build out a local Wi Fi network.

Look into your crystal ball and tell me where this technology will be four years from now at the next inauguration.

That’s difficult, but in general, I think there will be more LiveUs. I think you will see more and more large event support. We are planning for a tripling of large event support. We are also working to get more bandwidth from the carrier.

So a combination of more bandwidth, more Wi-Fi and the H.265 [compression] technology we have which provides for high quality with low bandwidth, which will allow us much more success in this area.