How a power outage affects broadcasters — and how they are prepared

After a blackout struck a portion of New York City that just happened to be home to many prominent broadcasters, the networks were forced to get creative to make the show go on — but why are broadcasters affected so much by power outages and what do they do to prepare for them?

  • Television broadcasting, by definition, requires electricity to produce and broadcast, so TV networks and stations are highly likely to experience issues stemming from power outages.
  • Nearly all major broadcast facilities have backup generators installed that are designed to kick on in the event of a power outage.
  • Though the transition from grid to generator power is supposed to be seamless for broadcasters, it often isn’t — since normal electrical fixtures along with more advanced broadcasting equipment still detect the interruption of power and “reset.”
  • This can be especially problematic in today’s broadcast environments with, for example, the use of robotic camera systems that often return all cameras to a set location if the system is restarted.
  • Video walls, a popular element in broadcast news today, obviously use electricity as well and may reset themselves — as can the graphics computers and systems that are feeding them.
  • Power to lighting and cameras, which are essential parts of broadcasting video images from a studio, can also be affected.
  • Many broadcast facilities backup systems are designed to focus emergency power to “mission critical” areas — with either no or minimal power being fed to select areas of the facility in order to reserve electricity to the areas needed to stay on the air.

Another area that can be affected is master control, the nerve center of most networks that beams feeds across the country and world.

  • Like the studios, master control facilities are typically linked to backup generators.
  • However, they can still be subject to technical glitches after power interruptions.
  • Most networks also maintain separate backup master control and production facilities that are geographically disparate from each other.
  • For example, NBC, CBS and ABC all have significant alternate master control and studio facilities on the west coast that can be used in the event of a major outage or technical issue.