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Live TV vs. Pre-Recorded: How to Take Advantage of Both

January 19, 2016 by Allan Tépper

by Allan Tépper

Producing a TV show strictly for a live TV or Internet audience has both advantages and disadvantages. The same applies to doing a pre-recorded show for one-time later broadcast or on-demand consumption. In this article, you’ll learn the pros, cons and guidelines for each, plus the recommendations for hybrid production, where you can have your cake and eat it too: live and on-demand later. Finally, you’ll learn the best practices to follow if you also want to extract an audio-only on-demand version to be distributed as a podcast, or have it simulcast live on a traditional radio station.

Traditional Guidelines For Evergreen Pre-Recorded Shows

The traditional guidelines for evergreen (i.e. virtually eternal or everlasting) pre-recorded shows include avoiding mentions of the current date, day, time of day, or sayings like “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”. The reason to avoid the date is to avoid it sounding dated. The reason to avoid mentioning the current day, time of day, or expressions like “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” is because by avoiding them, to the viewer or listener, it actually feels live. The purpose is not to deceive the viewer or listener, but just to make her or him feel more closely connected to the content, as if it were being presented at the same time it’s consumed. That live illusion remains valid at some levels even when the viewer or listener has the capability to pause or rewind.

Fig 2

One evergreen program that simulates the live feeling even though it was always pre-recorded and edited is the Peabody Award-winning talk show Car Talk. The show —which traditionally airs on weekends— appears to include live callers, since the announcers mention the phone number and then immediately say something like: “We have Sue from Wisconsin on the line”, but in reality, Sue called the week before, left a message on their voicemail, and was called back to record her question and get her answer during a pre-recorded interview session during the week. To those who tune in every weekend, it appears as if Sue or any other caller is live. Only the best callers who are called back and recorded during the week are actually used in the final show, but those who tune in but never call get the illusion that the callers are being taken live. I love that Car Talk technique and consider it to be completely valid. Although the actual recordings of Car Talk stopped in 2012, the show is still being repeated on air and via on-demand podcast, and many will never realize that it is no longer in production.

Certainly, there are many content producers who don’t follow these guidelines with their pre-recorded shows, either because they aren’t aware of them or because they have a specific reason to break them. As the saying goes: “You have to know the rules to break them.”

One other important guideline that applies to all television and video production is: If you additionally plan to distribute your show as audio only (to be covered in more detail ahead in this article), the presenters should always respect the audio-only audience. Don’t ever say: “…as you see here.” Describe everything as if it were a radio show. If your co-host has a strange shirt on and you want to comment about it, don’t just say: “That’s a crazy shirt…” Describe the shirt in detail. The video/TV audience won’t be bothered by that detailed description at all, but the audio-only audience will know what’s happening or being discussed.

Traditional Guidelines For A Live TV Show

One of the benefits of live TV productions is to cover events that take place at the same time as they are viewed. Examples include political elections and debates, the time and temperature, sporting events, and product launches from popular electronic manufacturers like Apple and Google. From personal experience with both pre-recorded and live productions, I can assure you that there is certainly much more of an adrenaline rush when you broadcast live, and there can be no retakes. Live broadcasts also allow for true instant interaction with the audience, not the delayed, but implied instant one covered in the prior section. As a result, live productions should feel no remorse about stating the date and time, or saying “Good morning” or “Afternoon.” Although it is okay to state the time, if you are live webcasting, you should avoid displaying the seconds due to the natural delay of the Internet. Stick to the date, hours, and minutes and you’ll be fine.

Of course, live shows can include pre-recorded material, which in live news shows are often called packages. In addition to those, you can also have a pre-recorded intro (opening sequence), bumpers, commercial spots, and a closing segment. All of these can be played from the DDRs (digital disk recorders) built into all TriCaster models.

Have Your Cake And Eat It Too With Hybrid Live & On-Demand Production

Nowadays, it is common to re-broadcast or offer an on demand version of a live show. This is a way of combining the best of both worlds between live and pre-recorded shows. Sometimes, the live show is edited prior to the re-broadcast or before posting it for on-demand retrieval, but that is optional. Sometimes, a graphic is added to that version stating “pre-recorded”, but I believe that’s much more important when a show takes true live calls and it is on over-the-air or cable TV, but much less important with on demand material, where it is quite obvious that you can’t call live, at least to the person who first downloads it or clicks play. However, anyone who joins that person might assume that it is live.

Premium Bonus Content

In order to augment the monetization of their productions, some Internet and traditional broadcasters have added bonus content that is available only either to the live audience or to those who pay for the extras. One of the ways to do that is to broadcast the pre-show and post-show live, but not include it with the standard on-demand version. Then, the full version, including pre-show and post-show can be behind a paywall, either on a Patreon tier (explained ahead) or on a membership-only section of your website. Obviously, this requires either editing the complete recording you make during the live broadcast, or using a separate recorder which is started at the beginning of the official show, and stopped just before the post-show.

Fig 3

Patreon is a multi-tiered crowdfunding platform popular among content creators. It allows them to obtain funding from their fans or patrons, on a recurring basis, or per published show.

Live Audio Simulcast On A Traditional Radio Station

Although you may have a physical audio mixer feeding the input of your TriCaster, if you are playing back any material with the TriCaster’s DDRs (digital disk recorders) that includes audio, i.e. an intro (opening sequence), bumpers, commercial spots, sound effects or a closing, the audio signal that should be fed the live traditional radio station should be sourced from the TriCaster’s audio output, not from the audio mixer’s. Otherwise, the radio audience would be missing those sounds.

Depending upon your TriCaster model, you may have a consumer unbalanced line level signal audio output, or a broadcast balanced line level output. If the encoder’s input from the radio station already matches the output of your TriCaster, you can connect it directly. Otherwise, you can acquire an audio device that will compensate for the difference in level, impedance, and balanced or unbalanced of each.

Fig 4

Fig 5

One good example of such a converter is the Matchbox HD from Henry Engineering, shown above.

Best Practices For Handling On-Demand Video

In my recent article What you need to know for live streaming from your multicam studio, I clarified the live bandwidth requirements and recommendations for live webcasting based upon the current encoding with H.264, and that the ideal compression setting for on-demand video is a much higher bitrate, i.e. higher quality. I also clarified that if and when the popular hardware, software, and services eventually switch to the more efficient HEVC/H.265 códec, then the bandwidth requirements will drop substantially. As of publication time of both that and this newer article you’re reading right now, NewTek and the popular CDNs are using H.264.

If you are going to take a 1080p show that you previously webcast live in H.264 at a low bitrate and potentially at 720p (but made a high-quality 1080p local recording too, like “QuickTime 4:2:2”, the highest quality offered by the TriCaster and is more specifically MPEG2 4:2:2 High Profile 8-bit in a QuickTime wrapper), I recommend re-encoding in H.264 at a minimum of 20,000 kb/s, knowing that services like Vimeo (Pro) and YouTube are going to recompress it again for each size. Although those two services officially don’t accept heavier files like ProRes, in practice they do, although your upload time will be much longer if you choose to upload in that type of a file. I would only consider that when you have a very short file to upload, or when you have plenty of time to wait.

Best Practices For Extracting Audio-Only For Distribution As A Podcast

Fig 6

As stated earlier in this article, a key guideline that applies to all television and video production is: If you plan to distribute your show as audio only too, the presenters should always respect the audio-only audience by describing what they see. Don’t say: “…as you see here.” Describe everything as if it were a radio show. If your co-host has a strange hat on and you want to comment about it, don’t just say: “That’s a crazy hat…” Describe the hat in detail. The video/TV audience won’t be bothered by that detailed description at all, but the audio-only audience will know what’s happening or being discussed.

If you simply want to extract the audio and encode an MP3 for standard audio podcast distribution, many simple applications can do that. However, if you are interested in optimizing the sound level to the new loudness standards, I would recommend using an audio program that can not only import audio from a video file and encode a standard MP3 file, but one that also allows you to set that output to match the new recommended loudness level for audio podcasts: -16 LUFS. Perceived loudness is the characteristic of sound that is primarily a psychological correlation of physical strength (amplitude). There is an evolving set of standards to measure perceived loudness, and to determine maximum settings. For more information about LU, LUFS and LKFS, see the related sidebar on page 2 of this article. Three such audio applications that are available for both Mac and Windows to accomplish that are the latest version of Adobe Audition CC, Hindenburg Journalist, and Hindenburg Journalist Pro.

Fig 7

Of those, only the two Hindenburg programs can additionally create enhanced audio podcasts if desired. Ahead I’ll describe the differences between standard and enhanced audio podcasts.

Standard audio podcasts are subscribable via RSS and consist of an audio file which may (or may not) have a single embedded graphic. Standard audio podcasts are most often distributed as an MP3 file. On the other hand, enhanced audio podcasts are distributed as AAC (M4A) audio files which may contain multiple selectable chapters (so the listener can go directly to a certain section of your show), and (optionally) multiple embedded graphic files. Although I recognize that enhanced podcasts are absolutely superior in flexibility in the final product, most audio podcasts to which I am subscribed (including my own) have switched to standard, both due to the time consumed in production, as well as the extremely wide compatibility of the MP3. I believe that it was after the first or second episode of the enhanced version of my TecnoTur podcast (which is currently dormant but could wake up any second now), a potential listener wrote to me from Spain saying that his devices couldn’t play AAC (M4A) files, and that he wasn’t allowed to download iTunes or even QuickTime onto his computer. That’s when I switched to standard/MP3 and have distributed all episodes of CapicúaFM to date in standard/MP3 also.

Now that I have clarified that difference, I will state that I am very glad that both Hindenburg Journalist and Hindenburg Journalist Pro support producing enhanced podcasts, with chapters and multiple graphics. Whenever we again want to create enhanced podcasts (or whatever they might be called in the future), we’ll be ready to create them with Hindenburg Journalist or Hindenburg Journalist Pro. They can export either standard MP3 for a standard audio podcast, or AAC for an enhanced podcast.

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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is a bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional audio and video since the early eighties. Since 1994, Tépper has been consulting both end-users and manufacturers through his Florida company. Via TecnoTur, Tépper has been giving video tech seminars in several South Florida’s universities and training centers, and in a half-dozen Latin American countries, in their native language. Tépper has been a frequent radio/TV guest on several South Florida, Guatemalan, and Venezuelan radio and TV stations, and he currently conducts the CapicúaFM radio program. As a certified ATA (American Translators Association) translator, Tépper has translated and localized dozens of advertisements, catalogs, software, and technical manuals for the Spanish and Latin American markets. He has also written contracted white papers for manufacturers. Over the past 18 years, Tépper’s articles have been published or quoted in more than a dozen magazines, newspapers, and electronic media in Latin America. Since 2008, Allan Tépper’s articles have been published frequently —in English— in ProVideo Coalition magazine. More info at AllanTépper.com

FTC Disclosure

NewTek sponsored this article after receiving Allan Tépper’s proposal. As of the publishing date of this article, Allan Tépper has no commercial connection with Henry Engineering, Hindenburg Systems, Vimeo or YouTube other than that some of them have sent him review units or have contracted him to do consulting, technical writing or translations in the past. The words and opinions of Allan Tépper expressed herein are his own.

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