How (and why) to live broadcast from rural Malawi

How to set up a portable live TV station in extreme environments

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Cheap and readily available technology has been disrupting creative industries for decades. And broadcast is no different.

When Fieldcraft Studios launched the Medical Innovation Bill via the first live Google+ Hangout from the House of Lords for Lord Maurice Saatchi on February 24th 2014, we built a sophisticated portable broadcast quality TV studio in two weeks.

The House of Lords Google Hangout was a truly democratic way to gather public opinion in the heart of the Palace of Westminster.

We worked with key partners, including the Telegraph and our network of social media influencers, to help amplify the content and take it nationwide.

Telling real stories of real people in real time has become much more accessible.

Testing the broadcast box at a district hospital in rural Malawi

 

We’re currently in Malawi producing an epic digital storytelling project for the launch of an ambitious new campaign by charity Sightsavers.

We are going to follow, LIVE, the journey of a patient as they are identified for and receive life-changing cataract surgery. The cataract surgery will be broadcast LIVE via Google hangouts.

We’ll then join the patient LIVE the next day as the bandage is removed and their sight is restored.

The live broadcasts will be hosted by YouTube star Doug Armstrong.

In order to make this all possible, David Carter, chief maker, has reduced the size of our portable TV studio so it fits into a flight case.

The broadcast box in action.

 

The ‘broadcast box’ is fully loaded with a vision mixer, sound mixer, talk-back system, holds the macbook pro and is all powered by an on-board specially designed battery unit (important to avoid those frequent power cuts). It all connects to a state of the art satellite connection allowing us to beam our story direct from rural Malawi to the rest of the world.

Fieldcraft Studios heading into the operating theatre
Heading into the theatre for filming

 

The story will unfold across multiple channels, including social media and heritage media with global participation – all building to a crescendo of the live broadcasts.

Back in 1971, when the founders of Greenpeace wanted to raise awareness of nuclear testing they took a boat to Alaska and were able to make a huge international news splash as the media influence was brokered and controlled by a small circle of broadcasters.

This wouldn’t work in today’s media landscape. The monopoly on publishing and participation has been irreversibly broken.

The Sterile Line ©LizScarff Fieldcraft Studios
Don’t cross the line – you need to get into your theatre gown before crossing this point

 

Sites like Buzzfeed are re-writing the content rules and YouTube, its multi-channel networks and media organisations like VICE are re-wiring broadcast media. Our rapidly changing media landscape has simultaneously empowered and fractured audiences (or fans) into super niches. And the ability to publish and command an audience (or fan base) has moved out of the hands of the few becoming open to anybody with a talent for telling a good story and building an audience.

The lines between news reporter, bystander and NGO have become blurred.

In this new communications paradigm NGOs  (or indeed any brand) should be recalibrating their relationship with both donors and beneficiaries to design stories that both unfold over multiple channels and encourage participation that connects and builds a community/fanbase they can then mobilise to take action or donate.

Read: The Future of Humanitarian Reporting – Liz Scarff writes paper for City University.