EXCLUSIVE: NBC Skypes Live Shots to Air

The Peacock Net is using a video-over-IP service to transmit live shots from the field. Network sources confirm that Skype has been used to send material back to the studio.

“We are just playing with the technology,” one station source said. “We covered the entire World Cup from Germany and never spent a penny on satellite time. All of the stories were shot to hard drive and edited on laptops, then we would feed over conventional Internet. We never missed a deadline and we saved a ton of dough versus the previous year.”

Skype is a five-year-old, voice-over-IP software service provider started by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, two Euro software gurus who sold it to eBay three years ago for $2.6 billion. Videoconferencing capabilities were launched on the service that same year.

Another NBC affiliate did its first Skype ENG transmission a couple of weeks ago.

“We wanted to try it,” said Mike Zimmer, chief photographer at WTVJ-TV in Miami, Fla. “We did a live shot at the airport. It’s sat phone type quality, but Skype is free.”

Satellite phones typically have a four or five second delay, he said, while the Skype transmission “had little or no delay.”

That’s not to say that VoIP could replace sat phones or microwave trucks.

“Satellite phones can go anywhere,” Zimmer said. “You have to have wireless connectivity for this. We couldn’t have done this from Fort Jefferson,” a historic site 70 miles beyond Key West, Fla. in the Gulf of Mexico. (Zimmer’s colleague Hank Tester provides a first-person account of doing a remote live from Fort Jefferson in the May issue of Television Broadcast).

Skype shots don’t portend the end of microwave ENG vehicles, particularly as stations extend hi-def technology into the field.

“But think of a big scene… a big fire in downtown Miami, and I can’t get a truck down there,” Zimmer said. “I need a reporter down there and I need someone on the air… “We have seven or eight trucks, but 38 news cars and we could have 38 live news crews.”

“That’s what’s appealing to news organizations,” he said. “How do we get this on the air now? And it’s three clicks of a mouse. It’s not a monumental process. If I have a 30-foot cable, I can turn on the computer in the car and I can give you a live shot.”