Thuraya recently had the opportunity to catch up with industry veteran Dick Tauber, who shared with us his perspective on the evolution of satellite newsgathering (SNG) and how new technologies can co-exist with traditional newsgathering platforms.
In various capacities at the CNN News Group—most recently serving as Vice President of Transmission Systems and New Technology—Tauber has more than 30 years of experience in the news media and broadcasting industry. His groundbreaking efforts in the use of Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) in newsgathering have been widely recognized, and he is a recipient of numerous industry awards, including being honored as a Mobile Satellite Pioneer by the Mobile Satellite Users Association (MSUA) in 2002.
From your extensive industry experience, can you share with us your view on the major impact of mobile satellite technology on news operations?
Tauber: Back when I started at CNN in 1981, MSS didn’t really exist as a newsgathering technology. It would only be at the end of that decade before news organizations were able to begin addressing the needs they required for truly mobile satellite-enabled field gear. From the 1980s up until now, the pace of the technology change—from telex and fax to the rise of mobile and cloud computing today—has been amazing!
For satellite uplinking alone, we’ve gone from 32m and 11m sized dishes, analog C-band to Ku-band digital networks, and now, 60cm Ka-band mobile dishes. Compression technology has enabled faster transmissions with greater efficiency and increased throughput. Once limited to voice traffic, MSS is now routinely used to carry standard definition real-time video. With improved compression technology on the horizon, ‘live’ HD and Ultra HD (4K and 8K) transmission may soon follow.
What are the major trends in news broadcasting today, especially in terms of the key features of satellite equipment that a broadcaster will look for?
Tauber: News producers are constantly looking out for the latest tools that provide significant improvement over what already exist in their inventory. They demand equipment that is compact and lightweight (smaller and lighter than what they’re currently using); simple to operate and compatible with their present tools; and reliable and reasonably priced according to their needs.
Broadcast journalists are also expected to operate in conflict zones and potentially risky situations, where their safety can be compromised. Hence, an important consideration is that the communication devices and MSS equipment utilized cannot be easily hacked or expose the geolocation of the news team. At the same time for security measures, journalists should never attempt to conceal or hide the devices they are using to prevent the equipment from being mistaken as spy or surveillance gadgets.
As the industry continues to evolve, what is the relevance of MSS in fulfilling new market requirements? Will MSS services be replaced?
Tauber: Not at all. With every new advance in technology, there will always be pundits forecasting the demise of existing tools and practices. But it just doesn’t happen that way! The latest and greatest equipment, techniques and services simply expand the toolkit for newsgathering and the variety of choices for entertainment and sports content transmission. All the while, we are striving towards providing improved and superior visual quality for the end-users, and MSS will continue to have a big role to play.
There have been recent discussions about the deployment of fiber networks potentially leading to a decline in the need for capacity for SNG. What are your thoughts on this issue?
Tauber: While the price of fiber infrastructure has dropped considerably, even approaching a level close to being considered as a commodity offering, the use of cellular networks tends to work best in urban areas. Fiber simply does not have the complete reach of satellite. With smaller and smaller uplink transmission equipment packages for Ku- and Ka-band—and lower equipment cost—an increasing number of end-users can now afford to take advantage of satellite, especially for use in more remote locations. Whether doing a pre-packaged or live report, the type of equipment used will depend on the means of connectivity that is most easily available and at the best price for the customer.
Looking ahead, how do you see the role of MSS and L-band based technology changing for newsgathering services?
Tauber: Despite competition from other services, the place for L-band remains secure commercially, and MSS operators can still continue meeting the needs of media customers, especially as equipment on the ground and satellite capabilities keep expanding. For today’s journalists, the smartphone is already widely used to deliver the raw immediacy of “frontline” reporting. As such, MSS operators need to develop new satellite solutions to support journalists who are moving away from the traditional live reporting format to a model where they can easily leverage the latest mobile devices to stay on the forefront of breaking news.
Having recently retired from a 32-year long career in CNN News Group, Tauber is now an independent satellite consultant (under Dick Tauber, LLC). He is known for his vast contributions to the industry, receiving numerous awards over the years. In 2010, he accepted the SSPI Industry Innovator award and was honored with the Technology Industry Leadership Award at the NAB conference in Las Vegas. He went on to receive his third Peabody Award in 2011 for his contributions to CNN’s coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill. Tauber also received three Emmy Awards, and was inducted to the SSPI Hall of Fame in 2013 for his service to the satellite industry and his singular career at CNN.