Saturday, August 15, 2020
Circumventing lock down constraints with technology (DDK Tvm model)
No grand meetings, no great speeches, no partying. Neither were there any hugs or handshakes. That was an unceremonious exit. At Thiruvananthapuram on 31 st May 2020, 14 permanent employees stepped out of DD gates on their retirement from service. Of different cadres and ranks, they belonged to various sections. They grew up with AIR/DD and had seen AIR/DD’s glorious days. They contributed much to AIR/DD and owed much to this organization for whatever they are. Had these retirements happened a few months back, the farewells would have been momentous. But, Covid 19 upsets everything in our daily lives.
No doubt, social distancing is a great weapon to fight the pandemic. However, the way it affects the social fabric is yet to be estimated. Inter-personal relationships get harmed. Masked the way you are, you can’t even smile at a friend, and even if you smile, your friend misses that gesture; that warmth of mutual friendship. To one, every other one becomes a potential corona carrier and probably a threat. The fear of Covid 19 is to prevail over this world for long. A new world order of hand washes and sanitizers has come into existence. This fear minimizes our social life.Man is no longer the proverbial social animal, but a socially distanced animal that lives in stigma and isolation.
The working environment
You get stopped before those massive iron gates at the main gate of DD Tvm. The Security guards promptly measure your body temperature with a thermal scanner.Walk up to the portico and enter the building where you need to sanitize your hands. Once inside the building, you see the lobby calm and deserted. Unlike it in the past, no visitors would be waiting there in front of Duty Room. You could see only a few people in news rooms and in various other sections. All are busy with extra work. As per government instructions, the staff strength allowed at the office is limited. The rest of them are asked to work from home. Naturally, it results in extra workload on those who present.
In fact, DD Tvm had implemented the social distancing protocol even before the first phase of lock down, with taking part in the ‘break the chain’ campaign of the state government. On 17 th March, while answering to a DD News reporter, the Head of Office S Sanjeev, DDG (E) said that the office had already started taking preventive measures. “We began with using special disinfectants on wherever sweeping or mopping was possible. New sprayers were issued to cleaning staff to spray disinfectants on handrails. The spraying is to be done several times a day. One area where special attention was needed is DD Canteen. You know, the interactions take place in canteen is more than elsewhere. Further, all washrooms are kept with sufficient stock of hand washes. Masks and sanitizers are supplied to every room, to ensure easy availability. These activities are supervised by team leaders selected from the staff,” he added.
Meanwhile, the social distancing norms necessitated a drastic reduction of staff strength to 30%. The rest of them were asked to work from home, taking turns. As a result, the activities at Studio 1 of DD Tvm had to be stopped. It was like an optimization puzzle in operations management. The constraints of reduced staff strength and the social distancing norms to be followed were on one side and the station was supposed to produce and telecast more Covid 19 related programs and news bulletins. The operating staff was taken into confidence and was asked to suggest operating patterns. Taking inputs from them, duty charts were prepared. The staff wholeheartedly extended their cooperation. Things began to go smoothly.
Stringing DD studios together
It was in those early days of lock down that DD Tvm started airing Athijeevanam (Survival), a daily live a panel discussion on pandemic management. The program was to include short video clips received from people across the world, describing their experiences; how they felt being amidst the pandemic and how Covid 19 developed around them. When the technical feasibility was discussed with the IT/Video maintenance section, the engineers suggested connecting the other two DD studios in the state with Tvm Studio through ‘point-to-point streaming’. This suggestion was welcomed by the producers and that paved way for a drastic shift or rather, a quantum leap in the technical management.The PGFs in the state, Trichur and Calicut stood far away and those studios together with Tvm in a live discussion had never happened in the past. The live signals from these studios were brought to Tvm through ‘point-to-point streaming’.It was made possible by effectively utilizing available technical resources with DD and involved no expenses. This live program continued for many weeks and gave way to another series, Sahajeevanam (Living with). In fact, this ‘point-to- point streaming’ added further dimensions to such programmes by ensuring regional representation. In a way, DD overcomes the lock down restrictions on travelling, camping etc with this development.
Reaching out to people through Social media
Social media enable people to connect with others. Such connections help them have socialization and emotional support. On social media platforms, people can respond to happenings around them, near and far. Be it during a natural calamity or manmade ones, we see people all over the world reach out to each other through social media. The strength of social media in connecting with others and getting or giving emotional support becomes significant in every crisis. “During the Kerala floods 2018 we could successfully use such potentials of social media when we operated a control room in our MSR.” recollected C Radhakrishna Pillai, (RKP), and Assistant Engineer in charge of IT/NLB operations. “We engineers had been taking care of the social media operations of RNU, since March 2019. We had an experienced team led by Sojan Joseph, and with Anil Mathew, Vineesh Raj etc.Now, by the time the pandemic crisis began, we had already imparted a new vigor and life to these operations” RKP added. “We were running a YouTube channel; a Facebook page and even a twitter handle too, the three social media wings of RNU Tvm”
By this time, RNU had already been telecasting hourly news bulletins and a demand for live streaming news bulletin on YouTube came up. The IT / NLB (Non Linear Broadcasting) section extended their cooperation and special shifts of engineers were arranged exclusively for it. With live streaming of hourly news bulletins with the 3 prime bulletins, the viewership of YouTube channel Kerala DD News rose dramatically. “Of course, we had developed some promotional strategies that had already started bringing the desired results. However, the subscriber count, viewing time, revenue generation and other metrics showed remarkable improvement with this live streaming. The ‘video views count’ of news bulletins’ shot up surprisingly when live streamed on YouTube” said RKP.
The Facebook Page of RNU, DD News Malayalam had been showing steady growth ever since the IT/NLB section took over it in last year. The videos shared on this page went viral, some reached millions of people. “In fact this very team began the social media operations in this Kenrda, way back in 2017, and had developed some strategies that proved successful. We could use that experience very well when we took charge of social media activities of RNU” explained Anil Mathew and Vineesh Raj, Engineering Assistants at NLB section.” Be it YouTube channel or Face book page, the strategy you need to operate differs with the platform, you know. The behavior and response of each segment of audience also varies” they said. This team could make the page popular by giving it the initial push. “The page likes went up, from 2000 to 46000 from previous May to this May. And, they were all organic, no money was spent” they said. Some of the videos clips shared on this page were watched by millions of people.
Moving ahead with technology
R Gopalakrishnan (RGK), Engineering Assistant was seen giving final shapes to some onscreen windows on a PC, at PCR2. It was evening on 20 th June. The news wing of DD Tvm was to air a special live program in connection with the observation of international yoga day on 21 st . RGK and the IT team had been busy throughout the afternoon. The live discussion was to connect 8 video sources originating from various points in the state. The sources included camera outs through network streams from PGFs Calicut and Trichur, video calls, and play back videos with an anchor and guest at Tvm studio. They were to use a software vision mixer. That was another step ahead, that too in sync with technology. RGK had been optimizing the output screens, the various combinations of input sources. These video sources wear to appear as different windows in various permutations and combinations.
This software vision mixer, unlike its hardware predecessors, offers flexibility and compatibility of various types of video sources. “These types of software vision mixers provide more flexibility and they are very compatible too”, said P V Balakrishnan (BKN) Sr. Engineering Assistant. “You can connect as many cameras and other video sources, and it supports all popular formats. Chroma Keying, virtual studio, title editor, video calls, input and output through network streams, you name it, and almost everything is possible. It supports NDI input and output and you can even connect a PZT camera with it “BKN added.Munnott is a live discussion with a pan-Kerala participation of panelists; some from other DD studios and some would be on live video call. This is being aired twice in a week. It succeeds Athijeevanam (Survival), and Sahajeevanam (Living with) of the same genre, which were daily live shows, that lasted for weeks during lock down. As their names suggest these programs concentrate on how to survive, how to live with and how to go past the pandemic times. Munnott (moving ahead) is being produced with the same software vision mixer.
The malaise is still clouding over the world. The threat is not yet over. On the contrary, lock down relaxation adds extra dimensions to its gravity. Though alternatives and stand bys are customary in broadcasting field, the need for them has never turned up in such scales. Anticipating the worst, an emergency studio set up has been installed outside the campus. This stand by studio has news production facilities and a play out server, with which we can manage any contingency. “Our DDG (E), S Sanjeev and Director (E), K Subramonian Iyer, and the whole engineering hierarchy are very vigilant and determined in DD’s mission. They frequently interact with us and give instructions” said RKP, “and the other sections, program, admin and RNU perform remarkably well. Together, we fight this prolonging war” For employees, their work is getting riskier day by day. But they must keep the show on. It demands sacrifices. One may not get any reward; nor will one receive any commendation. It gives a great feeling to be effective and worthy in the times of a disaster. Let’s keep our minds fearless, let us hold our heads high.
Contributed by:-Sojan Joseph, EA,DDK Thiruvananthapuram,firstname.lastname@example.org