Why do live TV hosts experience delays when talking to reporters on the scene?



Like, it’s the current year, if I fire up Discord, Skype or even FaceTime I can talk to or video message people on the other side of the country with close to zero lag, as if they’re right here with me. Still, when I watch TV sometimes I see that there’s a delay in the communication between the host and the reporter on the scene, even if they’re in the same city.

– So, we have Jim on the scene to bring us the newest news
– [camera focuses on Jim, 3 weird seconds passes]
– Oh yeah, John, we’re here with Ms. Davis who lost all her belongings on the Godzilla attack…

In: Technology

All the apps you mention have the benefit of being able to use existing ground infrastructure; wifi is within a few hundred feet at the most and cellular a few miles before it is onto ground lines. Those are great if you can get them, but the field reporters want to be able to ensure they can speak without interruption which means they need to control every step of the network.

To do this they typically use satellite communications, only needing to have a clear view of the sky from their van to form a video link no matter where they are. The penalty is that the much longer round trip distance causes a slight delay in the communications.

One reason is that the director in the control room is talking to the reporter on an earwig. The audio link is typically over cellular phone or it could be on an audio channel on the van’s microwave transmitter. The reporter is generally not only listening to the tv host. The director counts down the reporter, then the reporter starts talking.

The reporter could be in a noisy location and not hear the control room (holding one hand up to one ear to hear the cue or host questions), the reporter could be gathering their thoughts and miss the cue.
Also, cellular telephones have a different amount of delay versus the mpeg digital encoders the remote van uses to encode the video to be sent back to the station.

They’re communicating via satellite because it’s reliable from anywhere. If you’re ever near a TV reporting van you’ll see the dishes on the roof. There’s some delay from the signal bouncing off a satellite and back to a ground station near the studio.

any Internet chat/conference system I have ever used has had weird issues – latency, echo, dropped connections, stutter, etc – that are annoying for a small meeting but would be horribly embarrassing when broadcast to millions of people on the national nightly news

a satellite truck, where both ends of the connection are controlled by highly trained engineers and technicians, is more reliable, as well as being the better solution when reporting from a war zone, natural disaster, etc where the normal communications infrastructure may be down or not exist at all

>Ms. Davis who lost all her belongings on the Godzilla attack

how is Ms Davis supposed to use Skype when Godzilla has destroyed her town?

Depending on the situation, reporters in the field will be using something like a Teradek or Dejero Gobox these days. These devices work on the cellular data network to stream video from remote locations. Some areas don’t have a good reception or the network can be congested. So the receiver can be set to buffer the signal for a certain amount of time, in order to maintain an clear, uninterrupted stream. Just like a YouTube video buffers before it starts playing. It’ll create a slight delay. Anywhere from 0.5 to 8 seconds on average, depending on the situation, up to 20 seconds if the signal is really poor.

White services like Discord or Skype do work instantaneously, you’ll notice they do occasionally “go digital” (look blocky), cut out on occasion, or drop resolution, due to a bad signal. Which isn’t acceptable for a television broadcast.

In the case of really remote reporters, they’re using satellite trucks. In that case, the signal has to bounce of a signal from a satellite orbiting tens of thousands of kilometers above the earth. So that generates a delay as well, since the signal can only travel so fast.

Could some broadcasters have a little delay built in for editing purposes in some cases just in case something happens that they need to blip out??? Like in an interview or after the Super Bowl “costume malfunction “ with Justin and Janet. Didn’t some bigwig guy say they were going to go back to some 8 second delay since that happened??? Or did I just dream that?? Now I’m going to have to google it. Lol

Edit: Okay … I didn’t dream it. Haha!! For halftime and pregame shows, NFL has implemented a five second delay. I know this isn’t exactly what you were referring to. I apologize for the bunny trail.