Why Outside Broadcasts Work

It’s been quite a season of Outside Broadcasts for the national broadcaster.

Between the Pope’s visit, the political parties’ Think-Ins, and the Ploughing Championships, the national broadcaster’s TV and radio programmes have left their familiar studios behind to venture out to the source of their stories, instead of the usual policy of putting contributors or reporters on the phone, or to come into the studio.

 

Having the largest newsroom in the country, and the biggest budget – not to mention a brief of covering the whole country – RTE television and radio has a responsibility to be seen to be out and about, and away from its Dublin 4 base for at least some of the year.

 

So the Outside Broadcast (or OB as it is commonly known) serves a number of purposes, for the listeners as well as the programme teams.

  1. It refreshes your staff – hey ho and here we go: travel expenses and fresh air – a great combination. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael provided the Morning Ireland programme with venues by the sea and the weather wasn’t so bad either. As a journalist or producer getting out and about on an OB offers you opportunities for more stories, and for meeting the people you only usually either email or talk to on the phone. These political gatherings ensure relationships between the politicians and the media, the press offices too, and it’s all about relationships and contacts when you are in the journalism business. Not to mention the gossip; oh that too.

And it looked like half the staff of RTE, including online, Irish language, radio and TV features, were holed up in the Central Hotel in Tullamore for the Ploughing, courtesy of Storm Ali.

 

  1. Good PR for the programme. Anyone who has watched the webcam feed of the Morning Ireland studio will see that despite the new livery and branding of RTE Radio, it’s still a rather predictable picture. So when you put presenter Rachael English, or Dr Gavin Jennings in a hotel room with a table for the mics and laptops, well that’s different – fresh photos for the Twitter feed, for the website page, and even for the political parties.

  1. OBs make RTE seem less Dublin-centric  – emphasis on seem. Whether you like it or not, most of what is covered on RTE’s news programmes, either live in studio or on the phone, comes from Dublin. That’s not surprising, as it’s the capital city and where most of the Irish politics and news happens. But locals notice when RTE comes to town, and often appreciate the exposure. That’s important. We’ll come back in another blog to the contribution of reporter Cian McCormack to the Art of the Single-handed Multimedia live Outside Broadcast another time.

  1. The political parties, and the Ploughing organisers like it, and that’s important too. In fact, both the politicians and the ploughers now expect RTE TV and Radio to be at their events every September. They’ve become as much a part of the event as wellies and mud. RTE and the political parties feed off each other, and while there can be good arguments about time, balance and choice of interviewees, theirs is a state of mutual dependency. It would not be a good idea to ask the party leader to come to the Dublin studio – and not bring the Dublin studio to the leader. While there is a strong argument that RTE overdid the Ploughing coverage this year, it did bring a variety and energy to its live coverage, especially for the non-Dublin audience in the primetime evening TV slot for “Ploughing Live” with Aine Lawlor and the ubiquitous Marty Morrissey.

 

There are some downsides though, for the programme-makers and the contributors, not to mention the Finance Department.

 

  1. NO SOCIALISING If you’re the party leader doing the big set-piece interview, you have to go to bed early the night before and do a fair bit of prepping for a wide-ranging interview early the next morning. Few will forget the Brian Cowen interview when he was Taoiseach and arrived for the set-piece radio interview sounding very hoarse (and yes, he denied he was drunk or hungover – for the record). 

  1. COST. It’s expensive to bring your team on the road – travel, overnights, and technical links all have to be covered. Staying in studio is far less costly. And this year, it seemed that the whole of RTE was at the Ploughing, while the number of camera points at every stop on the Pope’s visit didn’t really seem to warrant the level of public interest it deserved. OBs take a lot of preparation, and the behind-the-scenes technical links require a lot of planning and care.

 

  1. TECHNICAL HITCHES. There is nothing worse than having put the costly OB in place to get the show and its presenter coming from a distant venue only to lose the line and have to revert to the studio. It happens, more often than it should.

 

     4. BEING IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME. All the planning in the world cannot prepare for a story moving on and a programme being abandoned at the last minute. During my time as a producer on the Pat Kenny Show on RTE Radio One we had a planned full programme coming from Belfast. We had just arrived in the city the evening before to get the final parts in place when news  came through that the Government had fallen and a general election had been called.

     So we just turned around and went back to Dublin.

 

But on balance, it’s worth it. It reminds the Dublin-based media that there is a different Ireland out there, beyond the M50. Long may the OBs continue.