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How the BBC used the iPhone in hundreds of locations to cover the UK election

A BBC remote kit using an iPhone [Laura Garcia/TikTok]

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The iPhone was crucial to the BBC's coverage of the 2024 UK general election, with kits including it used to broadcast live from the vote counts.

On July 4, citizens of the UK went to polling stations across the country to cast their vote in the general election. As usual for an election, the broadcasters had wall-to-wall coverage throughout the night as votes were counted and winning members of parliament declared.

In its bid to further its coverage of the election, the BBC decided to stream video from over 370 locations across the country used to count the votes. While it did rely on reporters and crews to handle declarations and interviews, it also had a constant feed from high vantage points, observing the entire area.

A simple kit

Demonstrated by Laura Garcia on TikTok, the "Count Cam" was a simple premade kit with basic instructions that anyone could easily follow and set up.

Shipped in a tube, the live broadcasting kit consists of a tripod with a smartphone mount on the top, an iPhone, a battery pack, instructions, and a warning label informing others of the stream. The iPhone had to be connected to the included battery, mounted to the tripod, and then positioned in the right place to cover the counting area.

An iPhone 12 on a tripod pointed at a voting area
An iPhone 12 streaming station

The iPhone shown in the video has been confirmed to be an iPhone 12. It was able to stream for over 12 hours thanks to the connected battery pack.

Each iPhone was preconfigured to hide or eliminate unneeded apps, since it was only to be used to capture footage and to immediately provide the feed over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. At one point in the video, only icons for TVU Anywhere, Settings, and Safari are visible.

TVU Anywhere is a live streaming app for iPhone and Android that can be used to transmit full HD live video over bonded cellular. Aggregating a SIM card's connection with Wi-Fi for increased bandwidth, it can be used by broadcasters to not only capture video, but also transmit footage to the iPhone, such as if a remote interview is taking place.

The streams were fed to a giant virtual screen in the BBC TV studio. The individual streams were available on iPlayer and as multiviewers on the BBC online constituency pages.

A broadcasting assistant

The kit gives the BBC the means to set up observatory streams practically anywhere. With simple instructions, the kits could feasibly be sent to anyone and quickly used to create a broadcast-quality live feed, without the expense of a full news crew.

The multistream view shown at the BBC TV station
The multistream view shown at the BBC TV station

Geraint Thomas, News on iPlayer Assistant Editor for the BBC provided some additional detail to AppleInsider.

"This was an ambitious project that, due to its scale, would have been challenging to accomplish using traditional broadcasting methods," Thomas advised. "We stripped the iPhone down to include only three apps; Settings and Safari for connecting to WiFi, and TVU Anywhere."

"The TVU Anywhere app was pre-configured so that when the user opened it, it started streaming immediately under its assigned location."

As the iPhone has become more popular over the years, it has also turned into a broadcaster's ally, with it regularly used for news coverage when news crews are not available.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the iPhone became an important part of allowing on-air personalities to continue working from home. In the case of the NBC Today Show, a pair of iPhones and an iPad were used by hosts to film themselves at home, with the setup handling the rigors of remotely hosting a live show.

Update July 8 at 7:30 p.m. EST: Quote and images provided by the BBC added