Live Skype broadcast on iPad hits Belfast deadline

is a reporter for BBC Northern Ireland

There have been five weeks of tension in Belfast linked to a city council decision to restrict the flying of the Union Flag to 18 days a year, not all year round as previously.

Mark Devenport broadcasts via Skype on iPad

Monday night saw the first council meeting since the decision had been taken by local politicians in December. That meeting had been marred by disorder and disruption to proceedings by protesters who’d reached the back door of the building.

Due to concerns over a repeat of the trouble, the decision was taken not to deploy a satellite truck, but instead to cover the meeting live for BBC Newsline using the Skype app on an iPad. We used a MiFi dongle on the Three network which was supplied to our political editor Mark Devenport. It was the first time we’d tried it. A separate radio cam outside supplied live shots to supplement the report.

Here Mark describes what it was like:

“With Belfast City Council not meeting until 6pm and councillors likely to raise rates and other issues first, it was always going to be touch and go getting their comments on flags onto BBC Newsline at 6.30pm.

The only option was to broadcast from the Rotunda area immediately outside the council chamber. I've broadcast live from the Rotunda before - during council elections - but that's required a broadcast truck parked directly outside the City Hall. Given last night's security concerns around the building, that wasn't an option.

So instead the newsroom suggested a Skype call via an iPad. With the iPad held firmly on a tripod and presenter Donna Traynor's questions in my ear courtesy of my mobile phone, I was able to scurry out of the chamber at 6.30 sharp and give a sense of the debate to our viewers.

The picture quality was a bit grainy - one viewer thought I was in Outer Mongolia - but the sound was good. The director superimposed me in a box hovering over City Hall not far from where the flag once fluttered.

Producer Phillip Coulter - who mastered the technology - took a snap of me and my iPad. An eagle-eyed tweeter spotted what was in the background: an antique Union Flag still on display constantly inside City Hall even though its appearance outside the building is more limited these days.”

BBC Newsline is BBC Northern Ireland’s flagship nightly news programme.

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