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Autocue at the BBC

What Autocue equipment is used by the BBC?

Autocue have been providing teleprompters and teleprompter operators to the BBC since the 1950s. For the last 20 years or so, Autocue has been the exclusive provider of teleprompting services to all BBC News programmes, including BBC News, World News, Newsnight, Marr on Sunday and The Politics Show. If you watch the start of the 6 or 10 o’clock news for example, you will see the Autocue teleprompters on the front of each camera in the opening studio shot. As well as Autocue equipment in each studio at New Broadcasting House, Autocue provide a team of operators 24/7, 365 days a year to edit and scroll the text for the presenters.

After the recent move from Television Centre to New Broadcasting House, all Autocue equipment was updated to the latest Master Series range. The teleprompters currently used in all the studios are the Master Series 12”. These units have the highest brightness monitors so that the text can still be easily read under bright studio lighting. The units are mounted on robotic cameras which are constantly moving around, so they need to be as lightweight as possible and the whole unit needs to be rigid so that it doesn’t move when the camera moves.

The hoods, which hold the glass in place in front of the camera lens, are “wide angled” so that the cameras can get a wide shot without getting the teleprompter in view. The glass itself sits in a hinged metal frame so that it can easily be cleaned or replaced as needed.

The prompters also have a number of additional accessories mounted to them to help the presenters. Firstly there is a cue light, which displays the camera number and also changes colour when the camera is live on-air, so that the presenter knows which camera to look at. Secondly, there are 9” “talent feedback monitors” mounted beneath the teleprompters. These display an image of the live broadcast output, so that the presenter can see the picture that you see on your television at home.

The teleprompting software that they use is called QMaster/QBox, and it is the most advanced prompting system in the world. The QMaster software runs on a standard PC and receives the script from the newsroom system, where all the journalists prepare the programme (the script, the order of the stories, the video clips etc. etc.). The PC then sends the script over IP to a separate hardware device called the QBox. The QBox then generates the video output of the script and sends the image to the teleprompter monitors.

This offers two huge advantages over any other prompting system. The fact that the scroll device is separate to the PC, and that they connect to each other over IP (rather than a direct cable), means that you can have any distance between the PC, the QBox and the prompters. It also means that any PC in any gallery can connect up to and control any QBox/ prompters in any studio. In the case of the BBC, there are several floors between the galleries and the studios themselves, which means that you don’t need to run long cable runs from the PC to the prompters – you can just connect up to the QBox in the studio and run cable from there. It also means that you have huge flexibility across all the studios because any gallery can connect up to any studio i.e. if there’s a problem in gallery A, you can still connect to the prompters in studio 1 from any of the other galleries. In more traditional prompting systems, each PC/ gallery would be hard wired to an individual studio/ prompter, meaning that they were inextricably linked.

The second huge advantage for a live broadcast such as BBC News, is that the system offers built-in redundancy should anything go wrong. Once you start prompting, the latest script is continually saved to the QBox so that if there is any issue with the newsroom, the PC, or the network, the latest script can still be scrolled directly from the QBox, bypassing the PC altogether. This level of redundancy is completely unique to the QBox and in any other system, if windows crashes, or the newsroom fails, then the presenter is live on air without a script!

Thanks to our longstanding relationship with the BBC, we’re proud to be able to say that our equipment and staff are put through their paces 24/7, 365 days a year in one of the most demanding and prestigious live broadcast environments. Equally, we’re delighted that our equipment has been used by some of the most famous presenters and newsreaders in the world.