Here is a quick guide to setting up an outside broadcast using Skype. These are from my own experiences, and I’d love to receive comments with any additional advice.
First, you need to set up a Skype account. This is done in the same way as setting up any other account, like Facebook or MSN. Just go to www.skype.com and follow the instructions.
Once you’ve done that, it works like a very cheap Pay As You Go phone. You use your credit/debit card to add credit and use it to make voice or video calls. Skype to Skype calls are free (calling a land line or mobile carries a small charge).
You need to have a Skype account on a laptop and someone with Skype in the studio.
Be aware that the microphone attached to your camera doesn’t seem to work with Skype. The cable attached to your camera will only carry picture, not sound. This means you need a separate microphone that will plug into a different port on your laptop, such as one with a 3.5mm jack plug. These are available from the loan counter. Bring an extension for this if you can, as the cables are quite short on these.
The reporter in the field needs to make sure they are able to make the internet connection. Ideally, you will have an ethernet connection. This means plugging you laptop directly into a broadband router on site. This will provide the fastest and most stable connection, but is not always possible. Even if your hosts have an ethernet cable, I would recommend bringing your own cable anyway, in case they can’t find theirs or if it’s too short. Bring your own and make it as long as possible. The longer the cable, the more locations will be available to you to make the best use of background, light and sound. The loan counter’s longest cable is 5 metres.
The next option is connecting to the router wirelessly. This is not always as easy as it sounds, as not many staff at your broadcast site will be aware of the password required to connect to the router.
If neither of these options are available to you (ie. there is no internet commotion, or you are not allowed access), you can use your own broadband dongle. Bear in mind that this is both expensive and unstable. If this is your only option, everyone on the team needs to know so that they have a backup plan if your connection and you have to abandon the broadcast.
It is vital to establish how your connection will be made as far in advance as possible. Arrive as early as possible to assess the site, the day before if possible.
Some things to think about when you are doing this:
Where is the router? It may not be much use having permission to plug in if they keep it in the roof space or a noisy plant room.
Do you know the password? Does it work? Is anyone likely to change it?
Does the site have a member of IT staff available to help you connect and solve any problems?
What could go wrong, and what will you do if (when) something does fail?
Finally, check and test, check and test!