Flash in the broadcast world

Some of you may know that I used to work in the broadcast world. I used to work at one of Belgium’s biggest commercial broadcasters as one of their “webmasters”. Over the 5 or 6 years I was there I worked on projects like Idols, Big Brother, Miss Belgium, sites for sports events, sites for the different channels, and so much more. I know this is going to sound like I’m bragging but when our team launched a new site everyone took notice.

One of the first big projects I did while I was there was the first Big Brother site in Belgium. It was September 2000… The golden years… The site had 12 (if I remember correctly) live streams from the cameras in the house and the site was made entirely with Flash 4 (Flash 4 didn’t even have ActionScript yet and the cameras were streamed with Windows Media because Flash didn’t have video yet). We also had a team of 3 dedicated writers for the site who documented every single thing that happened in the Big Brother house. Obviously we didn’t want to manually update the site every time a new message was posted. We created a “back-end” system where the content writers could add their own text. Today that would be an obvious thing to do but back then we only had name-value pairs (&title=The title&article=Article goes here). The first night the site went live everything went down. Not because it wasn’t built right (well… That depends on who you ask :D) but because the site was so popular. The whole Belgian Internet world was talking about it. Every single Internet provider blamed the other one. At one point I even had to go and explain the downtime in the evening news. Aaah… those were the days…

Sorry to be reminiscing like that but I was just going through some old files and that brought back a whole lot of memories. I was actually looking for a screenshot of another project I did back then because of a really cool studio graphics system I saw at IBC over the weekend.

Flash makes it extremely easy to load and display data. 10 years ago doing something like that on TV would not be possible with traditional broadcast systems. So what did we do? We used Flash on TV. We used Flash for a bunch of things. From displaying SMS chat messages to displaying weather updates and even a countdown clock for New Year’s Eve. The only problem was keying out the background from the Flash Projector.

We would just use a chroma key. On the left you see the Flash application with the green area and on the right what you would see on your TV. This particular application showed weather updates from the Belgian coast as well as event updates on top of a live video feed. The video feed (traditional video not streamed) would be keyed in.

A few weeks ago my Dutch colleague Klaasjan told me about this Dutch company that was using Flash for broadcast graphics. When I saw the demo at IBC last weekend it felt like I had just stepped out of a time machine and went back in time. This is almost exactly like what we used to do back then only better… a lot better!

Displaying real time data is one of the many strengths of Flash and also one of the things that is (still) notoriously hard to do with traditional broadcast systems. When you mix the two you have endless capabilities. If I were still in the broadcast industry today this would be on the top of my wish list. Watching the VidiGo demo at IBC brought a smile to my face. It reminded me of some really good times and it also proved that Flash is extremely powerful and a lot more than the animation player it was back in the early days. Not that I needed any convincing ;-)

Flash on!

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