In addition to providing the world’s media with editorial copy in its capacity as a news agency, Associated Press (AP) is also heavily involved in the behind the scenes logistics of the world’s TV newscasters. Digital Broadcast gets the scoop with AP’s Global Media Services (GMS) division.
AP’s GMS division provides coverage of special events and breaking news coverage for hundreds of broadcasters simultaneously saving them the expense – and the headache – of doing so themselves, a service with growing appeal in the current economic climate.
“A lot of broadcasters – especially in this day and age – are looking to outsource to us,” says Alla Salehian, director of AP’s GMS.
“We have seen a rise in the past two years, but especially since the middle of last year the demand for these services has grown to the point where we are now fielding so many requests from broadcasters it is difficult to fit them all in,” he admits.
The alternative for broadcasters is to use a feed from a rival network or a station local to the event in question. This feed may include the original channel’s branding, graphics and unwanted foreign language commentary.
“The benefit of the GMS service is that we don’t interfere in the client’s editorial,” says Salehian. “Each can maintain its own output and the quality of that editorial without the expense of camera crews, uplinking units on the ground, satellite capacity and so on.”
Salehian attributes the combination of cost-cutting with the ability to retain individual editorial control and creativity for the company’s good fortunes during a period of economic instability.
So from which regions in particular has Salehian seen this heightened interest in GMS’s services?
“I would say that the US and Europe have been the source of the greatest number of enquiries. There has been interest too from the Middle East and some from the Far East but the emerging markets don’t seem to be as exposed to the recession. The media is not as reliant on the advertising market in these territories, which is why the bulk of interest at the moment is mainly from US and Europe,” says Salehian.
The GMS client list effectively includes to different extents every news station.
“The scope of our involvement varies from broadcaster to broadcaster but we pretty much do something with every broadcaster in the world,” claims Salehian.
“At President Obama’s speech in Cairo last month we were working with more or less all the US networks, in addition to Canal+, BBC, France24, ZDF, CCTV and from the Middle East Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. We have major contracts with Saudi TV Channel One, we do a lot with the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) – the work today in Cairo is in collaboration with the ERTU – and all of the Gulf countries take services from us on a regular basis. Ensuring all these signals go to the right place is a bit like air traffic control. Last year we helped produce 5500 news reports from Iraq alone, just for Middle East-based broadcasters,” he says.
With content delivery infrastructure increasingly incorporating fibre networks and portable satellite broadband-based methods some might consider that the traditional satellite methods used by AP’s various divisions could be viewed as outdated. Salehian is confident that the satellite delivery has a long future ahead of it.
“About ten years ago and again five years ago, people in the industry were talking about the demise of satellite as a means of distributing content. Satellite phones and the rise of FTP were gaining attention. You still see some of these tools used now. CNN will regularly use these in live situations but you can see that the quality is not there. Everyone was saying that this was going to be the end of traditional broadcasting methods but that hasn’t transpired. We saw a slight dip as people got excited by the new technology but we have come out the other end and now there is more demand than ever,” claims Salehian and he is certain about the cause for this increase in demand.
“I put it down to the massive rise in the number of 24-hour news channels during the last five years. You simply can’t afford to keep your channel updated on a regular basis using FTP only. Generally we have found that in locations where it is very hard to physically get equipment into or if it is an area that we can not access for political reasons – such as Burma – then that’s where BGAN and sat phones can be very useful. We tend to only resort to these in situations where we cannot use satellite. When our clients call and ask if we are going to be in a particular location, the next question is always ‘are you going to have a satellite?’”
While the volume of clients has increased so too has the quality of the signals that they wish to broadcast with demand for HD on the rise.
“We have actually seen the interest in traditional satellite delivery increase but this has happened at a time when capacity has levelled out. The result of course, is that the prices have gone up.”
Although Salehian cites South Africa as one region in particular where prices have risen, partly due to the upcoming World Cup in 2010, talk of more widespread price increases are doing the rounds within the industry.
“We have been told as we come up to the renewal of our Eutelsat lease that there will be a price hike. There are scare stories in the industry that these increases will be as much as 30 percent.
“It would be very expensive for us to move but if it is too costly to stay then we would have to look at all the options,” he admits.
“The way the market is at the moment, if you have some capacity to sell you can effectively name your own price.”