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Outside broadcasting: all you need to know

How are live events, such as sports games and concerts broadcast in real time? We're covering the basics of OB, its key components, the role of OB engineers, and the setup of an OB truck! 🚚

Thinking outside the box with outside broadcasting

Ever wondered how live events, like sports matches, concerts, or breaking news, get broadcast from different places? It's all thanks to the exciting world of outside broadcasting (OB). In this blog post, we'll take you behind the scenes of OB, delving into its complexities, equipment, and the important role played by OB engineers.

Whether you're a curious viewer or dreaming of a career in broadcasting, come along as we uncover the magic of outside broadcasting and see how it brings the world to your screens in real time.

But before we dive into the technicalities, let's start with the basics.
What exactly is outside broadcasting? Why is it so important in the media industry? And what are the key components that make it all happen? In the next sections, we'll dig into these questions and shine a light on the super cool world of outside broadcasting.

Alright, grab your backstage passes, and let’s step inside an OB truck together!

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Or, simply tag along with Hana! She visited the set of Mediapro's live sports production to find out what equipment they use and what actually happens inside an OB Truck. Watch the video here:

What is outside broadcasting?

Outside broadcasting (OB) is all about producing television or radio programs at a location away from the studio. Instead of broadcasting from a fixed studio, OB involves setting up equipment and facilities on-site to capture and transmit live events. This could be sports events, concerts, news coverage, or any other live events that need to be broadcast immediately.

The key components of OB include mobile production units, which are basically mobile studios equipped with cameras, audio gear, monitors, and other necessary tools for live production. These units are often housed in trucks or trailers and can be quickly deployed to different locations. 🚚🚚🚚

OB truck outside

OB is super important for covering events in real time and giving audiences live and dynamic content. It takes a coordinated effort from a team of professionals, like camera operators, audio engineers, directors, producers, and technical crew members, to make sure the live broadcast goes smoothly and is top-notch.

Outside broadcasting: How it works

The decision-making process regarding what to show and what not to show in outside broadcasting is typically orchestrated by the director in collaboration with the production team. This process involves careful planning, coordination, and real-time decision-making during the live broadcast. Here are some key factors that influence these decisions:

  1. Production plan

    Pre-production meetings:
    Before the event, the production team holds meetings to discuss the overall plan for the broadcast. This includes decisions on camera placements, shot selection, and the overall visual and auditory approach to the event.

  2. Director's vision

    Event narrative: The director works to create a narrative for the live broadcast, determining what elements will be highlighted to tell the story of the event effectively.

  3. Event importance and relevance

    Significance of moments
    : The team prioritizes capturing and showcasing significant moments of the event. This could include key plays in a sports game, critical moments in a concert, or pivotal points in a news conference.

  4. Audience expectations 

    Understanding the audience
    : The production team considers the preferences and expectations of the target audience. For example, sports broadcasts might focus on crucial plays, while music concerts may highlight key performances.

  5. Technical considerations

    Technical feasibility
    : The team considers the technical capabilities and limitations of the equipment, ensuring that the selected shots and transitions can be executed smoothly.

    Signal quality: Technical parameters such as video and audio quality are monitored, and decisions are made to maintain the highest quality possible.

  6. Storytelling and emotion

    Emotional impact:
    The team considers the emotional impact of different shots and sequences. This includes capturing moments that evoke strong emotions or reactions from the audience.

When it comes to what shots are available, there are usually 3 positions, with 4-6 cameras in each position. Within a split second, they need to decide which angle works best. Because when you don't have a replay in, say, 2 seconds, you’re already too late. And we all know that the show - game - must go on. Michael Jordan isn’t waiting on anyone to make that three-pointer!

Camera operator sports event

What is the role of an OB engineer?

An Outside Broadcasting (OB) engineer plays a crucial role in ensuring the technical success of live broadcasts conducted from OB vans or mobile production units. Usually, there is one OB engineer in charge of the whole crew, with a number of engineers working on their team. The number of people depends a lot on the size and complexity of the production, as well as the specific roles and responsibilities required for the event. However, we can generally assume there’s a minimum of eight people and a maximum of 20 people, more or less.

Video team getting ready for production

These are the key roles commonly found in an OB truck during production: OB Engineer, director, producer, vision mixer (video switcher operator), audio engineer, camera operator, graphics operator, replay operator, communications engineer, lighting technician, technical support staff, and utilities and support staff.

So, as you can see, the people working on the OB crew have a range of responsibilities related to the setup, operation, and maintenance of broadcasting equipment during on-location events. Check out these key aspects of what they do:

  • System setup and integration: OB engineers set up and integrate technical equipment in the OB van, such as cameras, audio equipment, video switchers, graphics systems, and other broadcast gear. 🛠
  • Technical troubleshooting: During live broadcasts, OB engineers must quickly identify and resolve technical issues. This requires a strong understanding of the equipment and the ability to troubleshoot problems under time-sensitive and high-pressure situations. 🚨
  • Camera operation and control: OB engineers operate and control cameras for live broadcasts. They adjust camera settings like color balance and exposure to make sure the camera feeds are high-quality. 🤌
  • Audio management: The engineer oversees the audio setup, including configuring microphones, managing audio levels, and troubleshooting sound quality issues. They work closely with audio engineers to achieve optimal audio performance. 🎙️
  • Video switching: OB engineers use a video switcher to smoothly switch between different video sources during live production. They follow the director's instructions and transition between shots. 📹
  • Graphics and replay operation: OB engineers may operate graphics systems for on-screen graphics and manage replay systems for instant replays during sports events. 🔁

It goes without saying that OB engineers play a critical role in the technical execution of live broadcasts and that they actively contribute to the success of on-location productions. But no pressure, guys! 😬

Camera operators getting ready

What equipment is in an OB truck?

The equipment found in an outside broadcasting (OB) van can vary based on the specific requirements of the production, the level of technological sophistication, and the size of the truck or van. However, here's a general list of equipment commonly found in an OB truck:

  • Cameras: High-quality broadcast cameras, which can include various types such as handheld, studio, or robotic cameras. The number of cameras depends on the complexity of the production.
  • Camera Control Units (CCUs): Devices used to control various parameters of the cameras, such as color balance, exposure, and focus.
  • Video switcher: A video production switcher allows for seamless switching between different video sources during live broadcasts.
  • Audio mixer: Equipment for mixing and controlling audio from various sources, including microphones, ambient sound, and other audio inputs.
  • Microphones: Different types of microphones for capturing ambient sound, interviews, and commentary.
  • Intercom system: Communication system for crew members to coordinate during production.
  • Graphics and character generators: Systems for creating and displaying on-screen graphics, including overlays, lower-thirds, and other visual elements.
  • Video monitors: Multiple monitors for crew members to monitor different video feeds, preview graphics, and ensure overall production quality.
  • Video servers and storage: Storage solutions for recorded and archived footage, as well as video servers for instant replay and playback during live broadcasts.

Besides these more ‘obvious’ items, we cannot forget about the power distribution, lighting equipment, transmission equipment (satellite uplink/downlink systems,…, a generator, air conditioning/climate control (to protect sensitive equipment from overheating), and racks and mounts (for organizing and securing equipment)

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Keep in mind the specific configuration of an OB truck can be highly customized based on the needs of the production company or broadcaster. The equipment and technology chosen will also be affected by things like the types of events being covered, the level of production quality wanted, and the budget that's available. That’s why it’s super important to collaborate with experienced systems integrators and broadcast engineers to create an OB van that matches the specific needs of the productions you have in mind.

When you’re dealing with customized setups each time you go on location, it’s essential to keep track of your equipment if you want to reduce costs and avoid miscommunication. An equipment sign-out sheet is then the missing puzzle piece you never knew you needed. Download your equipment sign-out sheet template here!

Need some overall equipment management help? We’ve collected 8 tips for safely transporting AV gear in sports; you can find them here!

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Outside broadcasting: yes or no?

Overall, the decision to use outside broadcasting depends on the nature of the event, the desired level of engagement with the audience, and the logistical considerations involved. While it offers unique advantages, it also presents certain challenges that need to be carefully managed, such as logistical challenges, limited control, technical complexity, and higher costs for specialized equipment.

Lost gear? What now?!

When you’re in the media & broadcasting business, it’s very common to be dealing with frequently moving gear. Unfortunately, this also means having a bigger risk of misplacing, losing, or damaging the equipment… 🥴 Here are 6 tips for dealing with material loss; or go for a permanent solution with Cheqroom, where you’ll always know who’s using what gear and where it is at all times. Here’s how it works.

Creatives all over the world use Cheqroom to manage their equipment. They take gear from the gear vault to different locations across the country and the globe. The best part? They bring it back safely.

Why not try it out yourself? Start a free 7-day trial, or request a demo!

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Written by Elke Swinnen Feb 22, 2024

Elke Swinnen is Cheqroom’s video reporter and event queen. Most of the time, you’ll find her out in the world visiting Cheqroom customers and shows like NAB and IBC. She is passionate about sharing the latest gear updates, film industry insights, and top gear management tips and tricks. Her favorite pieces of gear are the ARRI ALEXA 35 and Aputure MC Pro. She’s also a Content and Social Media Marketer at Cheqroom.