By Rush Beesley, President and CEO, RUSHWORKS
Having the opportunity to participate remotely in the recent virtual conference was very satisfying in many ways. First and foremost, it provided a forum where people can, once again, share ideas and information provided not only through peer interaction, but also from contributing technology vendors like our company, RUSHWORKS.
Constructing and executing an agenda which was ambitious and demanding, the JAG organizers did an exceptional job enlisting participants with knowledge of many complementary technologies and opinions on how association members may best embrace and apply them.
For many years technology development has been on an exponentially increasing curve, yielding new means and methods for enhancing communications and improving operational workflows at several levels. And as with all seemingly devastating scenarios like the pandemic, there is often a revelation of new ideas and methodologies that, when properly implemented, open the doors for new and better communications and operations workflows. The distillation of ideas presented at the conference provide a revelatory road map to our collective future in public, educational and government video production. Perhaps the single most impactful trend which must be broadly addressed and accommodated is the rapid transition away from cable channels to Internet (aka OTT) content delivery.
Cable is rapidly mirroring a double-declining popularity based on many factors, but the bottom line is that we all must realize that we’ll reach many more of our citizens through OTT content availability than will ever be possible with the diminishing cable demographic. And the issue is simple and fundamental economics. As cable subscriptions decline, so does the revenue generated by subscriptions in the form of the mandatory percentage paid to the municipalities in support of PEG channel operations.
What has been ‘expected’ revenue will dwindle, and if PEG operations are to survive and thrive it’s imperative that we begin immediately to determine alternate sources of funding. This is not a question of if, but of when. So it’s better to be proactive in defense of our own sustenance than wait until suddenly the funding has dried up.
Like a low power television station, a PEG channel is necessarily focused on a hyperlocal demographic: the citizens of our communities. Our channels should be a deep repository of information derived from as many aspects of our communities’ activities as possible – from public meetings to outside events of all kinds that are unique to each entity. To create this wealth of available information means that the creation of ‘media assets’ must increase, not decrease.
One very effective way to do this is to have citizens contribute videos and pictures from as many different events and venues as possible. At any given time, there are dozens of these events taking place. These may include local car shows, pet adoptions, dance, sports, music and many more. To have all these available on your channel is truly magnetic for your citizens, and this simultaneously drives the interest from local merchants to sponsor and/or advertise on your channel.
Being tethered to the cable model for many years, such external financial participation was discouraged and even disallowed. Our changing times mean we are no longer constrained by those limitations, and it’s time to change the operational models to supplant the dwindling cable revenue. In short, it’s time to think more like a commercial TV station, even a PBS affiliate, than an operation dependent on cable channels.
Using appropriate technology you can certainly stay current with opportunities to enhance your content platform. The ideal scenario is to provide a linear scheduling and playback system that emulates what you’re doing on the cable channel, with the added ability for viewers to download on-demand resources. This is the best of both worlds, and something not available from a cable channel. While some continue to appreciate ‘linear’ programming, ours is an age of a Google search that provides immediate results. “I want it and I want it now … not at 5:30 this evening”.
Our A-LIST Streamster, for example, let’s you schedule and play a 24/7/365 schedule streamed to the provider of your choice. It can also pass “live” input, as NDI, from your studio or even remote video productions. It’s an Internet software/hardware appliance that’s just 7” x 7” x 3”. It’s a small footprint that provides a large impact.
Our VDESK remote production systems, with integrated NDI PTZ cameras, fit in a tiny Pelican case you can toss in your back seat for remote multi-camera productions. It records the program, as well as ISO camera inputs, and streams simultaneously.
So with your citizens encouraged to send volumes of pictures and videos from local activities, coupled with your ability to produce and schedule your own programs using a single operator, you can control your cost and maximize your ability to maintain and sustain your PEG channel operations … far beyond the disappearing constrictions of your cable franchise. The conference was both timely and informative, and it emphasized the need to further our communications on these topics “As The World Turns”.