Why terrestrial TV broadcasting is crucial in times of crisis
by Yukihiro Nishida (Chair, ITU-R Study Group 6 – Broadcasting), Amir Nafez (Chair, Working Party 6A), Paul Gardiner (Chair, WP 6B), Andy Quested (Chair, WP 6C) and Ruoting Chang (Counsellor, ITU-R Study Group 6)
When disaster strikes, our first instinct as humans is to get informed.
We want to know what’s happening – or about to happen – and understand how we and our loved ones can stay safe.
To mark World Television Day, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is paying tribute to the vital role of TV broadcasting in disseminating life-saving information during crisis situations.
Wide coverage and reach – about 1.72 billion households worldwide have access to free-to-air TV – make television broadcasting an especially reliable and trusted information source in an emergency.
TV plays an important role in conveying emergency alerts, which communicate critical facts like the nature and location of a hazard, as well as shelter and safety advice.
TV also supports uniquely informative visual assets, from maps that give viewers context to on-scene videos that reinforce safety messages.
Updated report on disaster broadcasting
The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) recently updated a key report, Broadcasting for public warning, disaster mitigation and relief (BT.2299).
The publication highlights the resilience of television distribution networks, which are less susceptible than other communication systems to failure at a single distribution point, especially as they are comprised of high-power terrestrial TV broadcasting transmitters with the large coverage areas.
Examples of disaster planning and preparedness from broadcasters around the world show how broadcast television transmission infrastructure can support first responders, governments, and the public at large.
Major broadcasting facilities often include their own power-generation capacity, enabling them to maintain communications even when utility supplies are disrupted.
Increasingly, broadcast reception capabilities are available via mobile devices. Even where electricity and mobile base stations are out of service, mobile phones equipped with TV receivers can capture broadcast signals.
Enhanced accessibility and immersion
To ensure no one is left behind, emergency broadcasts must be accessible to persons with disabilities and specific needs.
Along with closed-captioning systems, accessibility requirements include full-screen graphical displays, news “tickers” and lower-third screen text feeds, and audio description services.
All these are needed in crisis situations, just as in normal operations.
The next edition of ITU-R Report BT.2207 Accessibility to broadcasting services for persons with disabilities will explore new examples of accessible broadcast media, such as automated multi-lingual captioning for live content; advanced immersive audio systems to provide clearer dialogue, and haptic sensory enhancements to create more immersive experiences for hearing-impaired viewers.
Technologies that capture facial expressions, body language and sign language can generate “virtual signers” for TV programmes, allowing broadcasters and distributors to use a wider pool of signers and sign-language interpreters working remotely, in the same way remote captioners are used now.
With this expanded technical framework, broadcasters can offer a 24/7 signing that would be indispensable in relaying emergency alerts to hearing-impaired viewers.
What’s next for TV
Soon, a revised ITU-R Recommendation with the addition of two 5G broadcasting systems is expected to be approved by ITU Member States.
5G broadcasting could provide critical early warning, disaster preparedness, and response information, disseminated securely via international mobile technology (IMT) receiving terminals regardless of whether IMT infrastructure – cell towers, for example – are intact.
The rapid evolution of television programming is evident in another ITU-R Report: Collection of usage scenarios of advanced immersive sensory media systems (BT.2420).
Volumetric capture technologies and light-field cameras, still at the experimental stage, can reproduce images from different perspectives, letting the user move between different viewing points in a three-dimensional space.
Virtual cameras, already for two-dimensional replays in sports programmes, can also work in real time, enabling the viewer to “walk” through a three-dimensional space without constraints such as gravity or dangers from surrounding hazards. Such technologies could help create realistic, fully immersive training programmes for first responders, disaster relief professionals, and other emergency service providers.
Giving everyone advanced television services will hinge on the availability of sufficient spectrum – the naturally limited resource that underpins all broadcasting and radiocommunications.
The upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) , taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, late next year, will consider fixed, mobile, and broadcasting issues with a view to reviewing spectrum use and the needs of existing services.
Those discussions will encompass broadcasting in the 470–960 megahertz (MHz) frequency band in ITU Region 1, which includes Africa, Europe, and parts of the Middle East and northern Asia.
WRC-23 will also consider possible regulatory actions in the frequency band 470-694 MHz in Region 1, based on an ITU-R studies.
Download the WRC-23 booklet to learn more about the agenda and relevant resolutions.
In the meantime, ITU-R Study Group 6 will continue working towards the seamless integration of TV services to provide the optimal experience for TV viewers using any device on any platform, in any situation – including amid a crisis, emergency or disaster.
Header image credit: Pipe Loyola M. via Flickr