What do Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jon Hamm, Orange Is the New Black, and Skype have in common?
If you said they’re all Emmy winners, then you probably read the title to this post. That big hint aside, Skype hardly seems the kind of service that would win a television award. After all, it doesn’t even stream media content.
Instead, it owes its golden statuette to the 2017 Technical and Engineering Emmy Awards (what we’re calling, for brevity, the Technical Emmy Awards 2017), where the Microsoft product was honored for Development of Integrated Consumer Video Conferencing Service into Broadcast Production Environments and Workflows (imagine Warren Beatty trying to read that title off the teleprompter).
The award was given to Skype for its ability to link live TV recordings with stars and guests on location outside the studio. Skype’s tech can take the live video conferencing stream from a typical webcam, the same one you have sitting beside your desktop, and turn it into broadcast visuals. It is the first Emmy winner that could make the viewer at home a part of the big show.
Skype TX Wins at the Technical Emmy Awards 2017
The version of Skype that won this award isn’t the same as the one you use to call your extended family during the holidays. It’s an advanced version, called Skype TX, designed specifically for broadcast use, free from ads and notifications, and offering greater control over a web stream.
Chances are you’ve seen it in use quite frequently, without ever realizing you were watching Emmy Award-winning technology in action. It’s been used by 1,200 broadcasters worldwide, and has put 20 million minutes of Skype calls on screen. It’s the tech behind those live crosses used on Jimmy Kimmel Live or The Late Late Show, where a viewer at home or a stranger on the street gets to answer awkward questions from the host in exchange for their 15 minutes of fame.
It lets James Corden chat live with an audience member’s mom without sending an entire film crew around to her house, and perhaps most famously, it was responsible for this priceless moment from BBC News:
Seldom has the flimsy facade of those very serious interviews with very serious experts been so hilariously ripped apart. Which is part of the point. The people being beamed into your home on major broadcast networks are sitting in front of the same webcams you use to call a friend on their birthday. And those webcams are getting more and more TV-ready by the moment.
The Best Webcams Are Broadcast Quality
Part of the reason we don’t see more of the average viewer on our TV screens is the quality of the image. At least, that was a good excuse a few years ago. Nowadays there are high-quality webcams available that can transmit in clarity the match of any TV network, though they aren’t popular enough to be in everyone’s homes just yet.
Logitech recently released the first 4K video conferencing webcam targeted at the casual video caller, the Brio. It has the capacity to broadcast in HD strength, which is equaled by only a few specialized services, such as Netflix’s premium streams. It’s so powerful it goes beyond the broadband capabilities of the average internet user, but the specialized hardware and software of Skype TX should be able to make the most of its four-times-stronger-than-HD capabilities.
Once products like the Brio become more common, and the strength of the average internet connection becomes stronger–and it is improving every year in the U.S.–there’s nothing to prevent total viewer participation, perhaps even to the point of Jimmy Kimmel replacing his studio audience with an entirely online one.
Video Calling Audience Participation
VC Daily has argued before that the two-way nature of video calling should be embraced by broadcast TV. We put forward the nation’s ever-expanding list of reality shows as ideal candidates for audience participation, but there’s really no limit to the type of program that could incorporate live, two-way audience interaction.
As I mentioned earlier, Jimmy Kimmel Live is already using the Skype TX tech to stage outside broadcasts, so embracing video conferencing more fully as part of live talk shows seems like a good place to start. The host could have at his disposal a bank of screens, each populated with a home viewer that he could speak with directly. He could get their response to jokes and guest anecdotes, and even let them pose a question to the A-lister on the couch.
The same bank of “everyday” screens and cameras could be used to gauge public opinion during political debates or election coverage. The remote audience would be able to pose questions, and the in-studio hosts could quickly get a response to live events.
These remote guests could also provide a cheaper pool of quiz show contestants who don’t need to be flown to the studio and provided with hotels. The studio could film a week’s worth of Q&A shows in an afternoon by selecting from a Skype lineup of thousands.
Skype’s technical Emmy win may not have grabbed the attention that a glittering red carpet gown receives, but the award-winning tech could change the nature of broadcast television.