BBC Replacing Robot News Studio Cameras In Hope Of Consigning Viral Tech Fails To History

EXCLUSIVE: The BBC is set to replace the robot cameras in its news channel studio after a string of viral tech fails over the past decade.

The British broadcaster has begun the process of acquiring new automated cameras as it looks to reboot its news channel next year.

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The BBC is merging its domestic and international rolling news channels into a single station, resulting in 70 job cuts.

Sources at the BBC said existing robot cameras were showing their age in Studio E, situated in the corporation’s New Broadcasting House headquarters.

Clips of the cameras going rogue often generate interest on social media, as they cut to empty chairs, spin away from presenters, or zoom in and out of shots as the autocue is being read.

The robotic cameras were introduced in 2013 as a way of saving money. Shots can be pre-programmed, meaning camera operators are not required.

“They are driven by automation codes,” said a source. “If a human being fails to remove the wrong automation code or fails to insert the correct automation code in the running order then cameras will do the correct thing, which is actually the unintended thing.”

A second person pointed out, however, that the glitches represent a “tiny proportion” of air time and that the 24-hour news channel is mostly gremlin free.

When cameras go rogue

A recent example of a tech mishap featured presenter Victoria Fritz making light of a roving camera last year. “The jitters have returned,” she laughed, before bending down to address viewers as she came back into the shot.

The BBC itself has even shared clips of the tech issues, including one of Martine Croxall in 2014, in which an empty chair welcomed viewers to the 9PM headlines.

A similar problem occurred just last month when host Jane Hill could be heard exclaiming, “Oh.”

New cameras, same glitches

The BBC has not disclosed how much the robot camera refit will cost, but the broadcaster has recent experience of installing new news studio cameras.

Studio B, which is home to BBC1’s flagship 10PM and 6PM bulletins, was revamped earlier this year with new automated cameras from the Norwegian company Electric Friends.

The technology has not been without problems, however. Just last month, a camera swung around to show the wrong part of the studio during BBC News at Ten.

One insider said the cameras had been a “terrible waste of money”, with some speculating that the total studio refit has cost more than £10M ($12M).

“The cameras are meant to recognize individual faces so that they can automatically set the shots on the lighting that each individual presenter needs. This is not working,” the source said.

A second source said automation saves money in the long term. The BBC declined to comment.

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