Spotlight on Old Bridge TV Addressing New Issues During the Pandemic

by Mary Granahan, Station Manager OBTV

Old Bridge Township has over 65,000 residents and our municipal access station, OBTV, is working to keep them informed and engaged through our programming and social media content. While our local channels OBTV15 (Optimum) and FIOS 22 are only available in Old Bridge, our content is
accessible to everyone on the township’s YouTube channel. Over the years, OBTV’s staff has expanded from a small group of volunteers to a full-time station manager, and through my efforts, a part-time media production tech and a successful internship program. I am eager to continue our growth through reinstating our JAG membership and becoming more involved with the organization.


OBTV studio

I was hired as station manager in January 2016, after almost 10 years of working in the industry on a freelance basis. My vision for the station was to improve the quality and overall look of the channel. Although we broadcast in SD, I upgraded our recordings to HD and created new motion graphics packages and intros for each series. I secured capital funding to build new, versatile studio sets and upgraded the lighting to LED. We now have three stand-alone sets with multiple options that enables us to change the look for each show.


As a municipal access station, we have a responsibility to keep the public informed. Part of that includes covering the township’s three most important board meetings: Township Council, Township Planning Board and Township Zoning Board. While our buildings remain closed to the public, we’ve made adjustments by holding virtual and hybrid meetings with call-in sessions for public comment. All of our meetings air live on OBTV and YouTube. We also have a large social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which is a great tool to instantly reach residents for emergency and non-emergency updates and information.


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Other programs we produce include Old Bridge Outlook, You and Your Health, and our very popular Pet of the Month series where we feature an adoptable pet from the Old Bridge Animal Shelter. We’ve worked with the animal shelter and township council to eliminate adoption fees for featured pets as an extra incentive for adopting – especially senior and long-term shelter pets. This program has been so successful, that we often need to feature more than one animal because they’re adopted so quickly!


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While some of our regular programming has halted during the pandemic, we have created new, dynamic content to keep our residents informed and entertained. Old Bridge Update is a weekly PSA-style program where our Mayor delivers a brief address on COVID-19 and its impact on the community. Department Update is a 10-15 minute interview program that brings focus to the projects, programs and services offered to residents and the adjustments made during the pandemic.

For our younger residents, we’ve worked with our Parks & Recreation Department to record Story Time! and Virtual Recreation.


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And, for our older residents, we’ve collaborated with Silver Linings at Old Bridge, our senior center here in Old Bridge, to produce Silver Strength: Mind & Body. This is a 35-45 minute wellness program featuring classes originally taught live at the center, now virtually. Each week will feature Chair Yoga, Gentle Strength Training or Move 2 the Groove – a more advanced exercise dance class. The feedback on the new programming has been very positive and we’re planning to continue production on these programs post-pandemic. Looking ahead to the future, our goals are to continue to expand programming, to create a stable revenue stream, and to procure funding for projects to upgrade and sustain the growth of our station. This summer, the Old Bridge Township courtroom/council chamber will undergo a complete renovation from a new dais and public seating to improved lighting and an upgraded sound system. I’m working with a vendor to incorporate technology that will give the board president the option to control all microphones, presentations and lighting.


We are going to be installing telephone conferencing technology, which will make it easier for consultants and residents to participate in public meetings during the pandemic. Another current project is the upgrade to our broadcast and community bulletin board server. The new server will have enhanced bulletin board features and increase our audience reach through closed captioning and live streaming for non-cable customers who use Apple TV or similar devices. My plan is to create a steady revenue stream through local sponsorships of our community bulletin board. We have a thriving business community here in Old Bridge who has generously contributed to past township events. This anticipated revenue will not only offset current operation costs, it will help fund future upgrades, projects and equipment.


Old Bridge Television has undergone many upgrades over the past five years and I’m excited to continue the station’s expansion and bring new programming to our residents.

President’s Message – April 2021

Are You Sharing the Wealth?
by Bob Duthaler

Each month I am tasked with writing an article for the newsletter
identifying a specific topic of JAG that should be brought to the attention of our members. This month was no different, other than the fact I was having trouble on what to talk about. Then as I was talking with our board and executive director it hit me. I was not going to talk about one particular item, rather I was going to talk to you about the wealth of knowledge that JAG is.


It starts with our mission statement. “JAG advises, advocates, and educates in the areas of technology, legislation, and regulation impacting multiple media platforms.” The way we go about this takes on numerous forms. This is the “Wealth of Knowledge” that JAG is. The key is to share this knowledge. By doing so, you are not only allowing others linked to your organization to understand all the JAG brings, but all that you are involved with, the complexity and the importance of the work you are doing in your job. The little things aren’t always so little, especially when they all come together.


That can be said about the many facets of JAG and what we make available to our membership. It is the whole of these items that make up the sum of the “Wealth of Knowledge” of JAG. My goal here is not to spend time going into great depth about each facet but explain to you why you should not be greedy. Yes, I said greedy!


This is where I might lose some of you, as I just called you greedy. But I ask you to bear with me, as I realized myself, that I was being greedy as well. So how is that the case? I have been doing everything I can to participate with JAG and take advantageous of all that JAG has to offer. Isn’t that the purpose of JAG? How is that being greedy? Well it is, sort of.


JAG’s newsletter, JAG Connect shared server, JAG email list serve, JAG awards, JAG on social media, JAG website and Eastern Video Expo website are already familiar to you with all they have to offer. How do I know? You are reading this article now which is found in this newsletter, you have emailed questions or answered them on the list serve, you regularly download programs from our shared server and you check out the website for members only information. But who else in your organization is reading this? Who else do you know that entered the JAG awards? Who have you told about the upcoming Eastern Video Expo and Conference? Have you made others aware of these? Who are these people?


So let me get down and dirty and explain what I am talking about and what you and I both can do to end this greed. Let’s explore the many items that make up the wealth of JAG and let me explain what you can do to share them. The good news is it is not hard. More importantly, it is easy to do and those who you share with are in control of what they want to participate in.


So who are these people? How do you identify them? The simple answer is almost anyone you come in contact with during your course of operations. Do you have a cable advisory board? They already have an interest in what you are doing, so why not get them on the email list to receive the JAG newsletter, let them know about the upcoming conference and share meeting invites with them. The same can be said with your mayor, council members and administrator too. A lot of what we talk about from legislative updates to protecting rights of way, all have an impact on what your council and administration do. These can be found in our newsletter. Simply allowing them to receive this monthly newsletter could help them understand potential actions on both a state or national level and their impact on the local side. How about the technical people on your staff or board? Are they on the list serve? The knowledge they have may benefit our members or any questions they have could be answered by our members. It is this two-way street that is invaluable.


Are you working with or have interaction with a school district? Have you alerted the students or staff about the JAG awards? They work hard on their creations, so why not have them recognized? Those same staff members should be alerted to the conference, receive our newsletter and should be on the email list serve. Any volunteers? Are they creating content for you? Perhaps they should be on the JAG Connect server. It is not only to share content, but to allow those who create content for you to see what others are doing. Perhaps this gives them some ideas and allows them to up their game as well.


I think you get the idea of what I’m saying. It was never intentional on any of our parts to keep all the great wealth of knowledge of JAG and what the organization has to share to ourselves. Sometimes it just takes a little nudging to realize this. The great part is people you share this with have the ability to control what they want to receive and interact when they see fit.


You have two options. You can ask them if they would like to be included and if they agree you can send their name, email address and affiliation to me. The other is to make this easy for both you and them. JAG has created a special link that you can share with them to get them signed up. Just send them this link.

https://lp.constantcontactpages.com/su/B7EMU1R/JAGnewsletter
Start now, Share the Wealth!


Editors notes:


In the past, JAG’s Monthly Newsletter was only open to its members that were part of the JAG listserv. This changed in March when we launched it on a new more public platform making it possible to broaden its distribution and support JAG’s marketing efforts. This included updates to our website to include all the content found in the newsletters.


All of the items discussed in the above article are being produced by the members of JAG’s eight committees.


You will find their work defined in more detail in each month’s newsletter.


Rich Desimone
Editor-in-Chief

Reach New Product Release

By Steve Valenti, President, FM Valenti

Introducing the new interAct6 auto tracking and switching lecture/event capture and streaming device from Reach.  This 4th generation streaming and recording engine uses Artificial Intelligence to automate wide and close up shots of the presenter and audience to make any presentation, town hall meeting or lecture look professional – all without the need for mats, fobs, volunteers, editors, or production assistance.

Let the interAct6 take control and automatically manage your event, or go manual and take control of cameras, image switching, transition and titling.  With an onboard 11” touchscreen and POE switch, the interAct6 is easy to set up and operate.

The last year has clearly demonstrated the need for capturing and sharing content remotely and in a way that engages the viewer with multiple camera angles and multi-media content.  The interAct 6 takes control of two 4k cameras placed around the room as well as presentation content and uses a combination of Auto-Tracking and Smart Switching technology to keep the content and viewer engaged!

The Reach interAct6 integration into Zoom, Meets, Teams etc… allows for remote viewers of an event to interAct and keep remote viewers immersed in the presentation. Clearly see both the remote audience and in person local participants and all their reactions to the presenter and never miss a beat!

Make your meetings come to life with the Reach interAct 6.

Join us for our presentation at JAG’s General Meeting on March 31, 2021 at 12.12pm.

Independent Producers Corner

Dustin Dumas, Producer, Station Manager, SOMA-TV

What do poor lighting, indecipherable audio, busy backgrounds and improperly set video cameras have in common, they make poorly produced shows, every time. This is never what you want for your show if you can prevent it and, fortunately, it is something that can be prevented with a little preparation and knowledge.

I am Dustin Dumas and I have been part of community television stations in Illinois, California and New Jersey so I have covered both coasts and the Midwest. I have seen many different styles of television production and have learned a lot along the way. I am a host, producer and station manager; however, in this column I am focusing on independent producers. While this information will certainly help independent producers, it will also help others who want to elevate the production quality of their shows. Since most stations that are producing community shows during the Pandemic are taping virtually, I will address that form of taping in this column.

Online Web Conference Tools

First, let us discuss the web conference services available. Choose one that you are comfortable with and then make sure your guest is comfortable with that specific tool. Every web conference tool has its own nuances and it is best to know where basic things are, such as the mute button, how to select gallery view versus speaker view and other basic functions. Since most independent producers will have dual responsibilities, as both host and engineer for a show, go over the specific buttons so you know where they are before taping. After you have decided on the best web conference tool for your show, walk your guests through the technology. Never assume that they understand how to use that tool even if they have been using the same technology for months during virtual meetings. Passive users who use that same tool during a meeting, may be flummoxed by something as simple as screen sharing during a live taping so go over any function of the particular web conferencing tool you will use. Now that you have decided on the tool you will use, let’s cover four important aspects of a successful web conference taping: audio, video, background and lighting.

Audio

The independent producer no longer has the convenience of being in the studio where the audio is handled by the studio engineer. In the past all that was required was a mic check from the control room. You, and your guests, are now responsible for determining the best audio for your show. Whether you use an internal mic or an external mic, test the mic before taping, always. Even if your mic quality is fine, your guests now have to determine the audio quality of their mics, something they may not know how to do without assistance. Since some guests may choose wireless versus wired headphones, check audio equipment for sound consistency. I have had to help guests find their mic settings to adjust them since most have never had to deal with this. However, as an independent producer, it behooves you to make sure all participants understand how to adjust their audio settings to get the best quality end product. There is nothing more frustrating to viewers who have to hear several rounds of “Can you hear me?” when this could have been avoided with a mic check before taping.

Video

Now that independent producers have become consultants for their own shows, they have to manage everything before every virtual taping, including video. I prefer the external video cameras since cameras that are built into laptops and monitors were never intended to be used for taping television shows. Using internal cameras, may result in letterboxing, pixelation or a myriad of other things that will diminish the quality of your overall show. The good thing is that external video cameras are relatively inexpensive with many being under $50.00. So a small investment can elevate the overall quality of your show. However, if a built-in camera is the only option, make sure it is set to the best quality available for your device. This could mean, for example, going from 540p to 720p if 720 is your max.

Another reason to choose external cameras is that they usually include a mic. The microphone in an external camera may be superior to the internal microphone of your device. Just as you would test your microphone, test your camera before you tape a show and assist your guests in testing their cameras too. Your guests may not be used to adjusting the video settings but it will increase the overall quality of your video. In addition to checking the video settings, ensure a great video by placing the camera so that each person is in the center of the frame and is looking straight into the video, not leaning down or looking up. The viewers should not be able to see the ceiling or the floor, just the person in the frame, straight on. This will make a huge difference when taping a show. A head and shoulders picture is best as it will allow for postproduction edits such a lower third titling. If the subject is too close to the camera, the lower third titles may be across the subject’s chin or neck. If the camera is too far from the subject’s face, the lower third titling could be across the subject’s stomach. A solid head and shoulders shot will ensure that lower third titles will be placed properly in your video. And never underestimate the usefulness of a good lens cloth. I once had the experience of helping a guest adjust his camera settings, to find that there was still a haze over the entire picture. I suggested that he wipe the lens and that cleared everything up, pun intended. Seriously though, some of the most basic housekeeping can result in better image quality.

Background

Some web conferencing tools will allow everything from virtual backgrounds to added animation. My focus today is on the real backgrounds. If you and your guests have taken the time to dress appropriately and check the equipment, ensure your room is camera ready. This means both you and your guests must be aware that what is seen in the background will be seen on television. An unkempt background will have viewers wondering what is in the corner instead of focusing on what is being said and may actually decrease your credibility. A jackhammer may have viewers thinking about possible renovations, an unmade bed may have viewers wondering if that speaker just woke up and cases of paper products may have viewers assuming that you have just returned from Costco. These are all examples of things that I have seen and wondered about myself.

Avoid lopsided shows where the host has prepared a great background but the guest’s background looks messy and disorganized. It will not only diminish the credibility of the guest but lowers the overall production quality of your show. It is up to you to speak with your guest about the importance of a neat background. I have seen many otherwise good shows, ruined due to a messy background by one of the parties involved in the taping. It is fine to show your personality in your background but just keep it neat. Taping in front of a plain wall is fine too. It’s clean and will ensure that viewers focus on your every word.

Lighting

Last, but not least, is lighting. I cannot emphasize enough that lighting works in concert with the other elements discussed above and is just as important. The light source should come from in front of the subject and, if possible, include light sources on either side of the subject and above, for balance. If in doubt, turn on every light source you have, overhead, in front and on the sides. I have yet to see a video that has too much light so always err on the side of what you perceive as too much light as opposed to too little light. You can always look at your monitor to see how you appear. We no longer have the studio lights, which are more powerful and brighter than anything we have in our homes, so when in doubt, add more light. In addition, in lower light, most cameras will attempt to brighten the video and the tradeoff may be a slightly brighter but grainy video which never looks good. If you have a subject who is completely silhouetted in a video, that is usually due to backlighting without an equivalent front light source. A window will create such a silhouette. A simple and easy way to prevent this is to reposition the camera and subject so that the natural light source is in front of the subject or add a light in front of the subject and on the sides to balance out the backlight.

Audio, video, background and lighting are a few of the many things that an independent producer must focus on when taping outside of the studio. But if these four areas are done well, the final show will be successful look great and the information from you and your guest will be well received.

Dustin Dumas is the host and producer of Dustin’s Kaleidoscope and What’s Up Around Town. She is the station manager of SOMA (South Orange Maplewood) Television and serves as Vice Chair on the Jersey Access Group, External Relations Committee.

President’s Message, March 2021

by Bob Duthaler

JAG’s Voice Heard at BPU/Verizon Franchise Renewal

A lot changed in less than a month since I reported to you about JAG speaking out at the Verizon Franchise renewal during the BPU’s hearing along with the webinar we held.  The BPU released the notice on Verizon’s Franchise renewal and wouldn’t you know, JAG’s name was mentioned in it.  Not only was our testimony sited, but others who spoke backed JAG and our comments.  The BPU was also in agreement on our comments and thought Verizon needed to step-up, provide an HD channel and provide the necessary contact, training and listings in the digital guide.  Below are some segments I wanted to share with you in the BPU’s Franchise Document.

PUBLIC COMMENTS

At both hearings, comments were provided by Verizon which asserted that the applicant had satisfied all of its current franchise requirements and noted that its performance had been reviewed by the Board in the May 5, 2020 Ascertainment Report. Verizon stated that its franchise encompasses 392 municipalities and provides service to 372 municipalities by offering service that is competitively provided, that it delivers hundreds of high definition channels, and expounded upon the wide range of programming sources available to its customers. Verizon touted its financial investment in the State as an employer and through its capital investment in its network, as well as, the beneficial financial support provided to the municipalities through the franchise fees paid by the applicant. Verizon indicated that it has met its statutory deployment requirements and, since 2013, it has expanded its service territory to additional municipalities, as well as, made Fios TV available to 500,000 additional subscribers. Verizon noted it currently offers Fios TV to more than 60 percent of the households in two thirds of the other municipalities within the franchise territory. Additionally, Verizon stated that it is meeting the statutory requirement of providing Public, Educational and Government access (“PEG”) channels, along with training and equipment to support the PEG channels and free services in 310 municipalities across the state. Verizon noted that by providing the PEG channels, it is providing the public, local governments and schools with an opportunity to provide local programming and information….

…Those who spoke in favor of conditional approval were: Bob Duthaler, President of JAG; David Garb, Vice President of JAG; and Alex Rubenstein, Mayor of Byram Township. The representatives of JAG stated that while the Verizon FiOS service is good, there are several issues that should be addressed during the renewal. The issues JAG discussed included requiring Verizon to provide PEG equipment and training; provide a contact person to municipalities for PEG training and equipment requests; requiring PEG channels be listed in Verizon’s Guide; and require Verizon to address the disparity of PEG channels being cablecast in Standard Definition (SD) as opposed to High Definition (HD). JAG argues that HD is the method Verizon utilizes for broadcasting all other channels except PEG channels, and the broadcast of PEG channels in SD produces poor picture quality for the statutorily required PEG channels. JAG also provided written comments to the Board. Mayor Rubenstein concurred with JAG’s comments and requested that Verizon’s franchise territory be expanded to encompass all of the 526 municipalities where Verizon provides telecommunications service…

… At the October 1, 2020 hearing, the following entities participated in the hearing and spoke in favor of conditional approval: Brian Wahler, Mayor of Piscataway Township; Theresa Berger, Mayor of- Howell Township; Alex Rubenstein, Mayor of Byram Township; Nick Besink, Oradell Township PEG Channel; and George Fairfield, Station Manager, Piscataway Community Television Station. Mayor Wahler reiterated JAG’s requests and spoke to the issue of the PEG channels being carried in SD, which is problematic due to the degraded picture quality, as well as, the inability to get parts for the outdated SD technology, which could result in the municipalities reaching a point where they will not be able to program the PEG channels. In addition, Mayor Wahler requested a return system to allow monitoring of the PEG channels, as well as, requiring that the PEG channels be listed in Verizon’s Guide. Mayor Berger of Howell Township requested the expansion of Verizon’s service area because only a small portion of Howell currently receives Verizon’s FiOS service and there are problems with the incumbent operator. Howell Township requested the service area be expanded to provide a competitive entity and offer improved services. Mayor Rubinstein of Byram Township noted the Township would be adopting a formal Resolution to be submitted, and read a portion of the Resolution into the record, which requested that Verizon be required to provide competitive cable and internet service to all municipalities in which they operate. Nick Besink of Oradell PEG channel commended Verizon for being responsive, but noted that since approximately 2009 all television networks have switched to HD technology, except for PEG. The problem with SD is that the technology has become obsolete, replacement equipment is no longer being made and is impossible to obtain. He noted the importance of the carriage of local PEG programming during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the importance of local information being readily available. He also requested the expansion of the franchise territory, as well as, requiring Verizon to carry PEG programming on its Guide. George Fairfield, Station Manager of Piscataway Community Television Station and a member of JAG, stated that he supports all requests from Mayor Wahler and JAG, and noted that more residents would like to have access to FiOS as it is a good product…

…Rate Counsel believes that Verizon has substantially met the provision of service requirements delineated under the State Cable Act and under the applicable sections of the Board’s regulations. However, Rate Counsel’s support for approval of Verizon NJ’s SWF Renewal is conditioned on Verizon NJ’s commitment to swiftly and without delay upgrade PEG transmission equipment so that programming occurs via HD transmission. Rate Counsel particularly notes its alarm at the public comments that indicate the equipment that provides transmission in analog format (the only format Verizon appears to accept for PEG programming) is in disrepair with replacement parts limited and unavailable in the near future. They noted that this presents a danger that promised services ensuring PEG programming used by municipalities to provide emergency notice to residents are at risk. Rate Counsel found this to be unacceptable under both State and Federal service obligations, and therefore, called for an immediate resolution to this issue.

Additionally, and based on the same concerns previously expressed, Rate Counsel agrees with commentors that PEG channel locations must be clearly disclosed in Verizon NJ’s channel lineup. Rate Counsel agrees that now more than ever due to increased storm activity and the current COVID-19 pandemic, town residents will need access to information provided on their PEG stations.

Rate Counsel also urges the Board to require Verizon NJ to immediately provide the necessary PEG equipment upgrades and training, and require inclusion of PEG channel locations in Verizon’s lineup, particular to each town served….

The BPU later on in the documents, summarizes the comments and the Board recommends that Verizon Franchise Renewal should take place but that Verizon should address the issues that were brought up.  Below is a portion of what the BPU board said.

…N.J.S.A. 48:5A-28(i) requires the applicant for a SWF provide a commitment to provide each municipality with two (2) PEG channels, as stated. In taking into consideration the provision of the PEG access channels in SD, it is noted that several municipalities, as well as, Rate Counsel have stated that community needs for the provision of PEG access channels are not being met.

The parties noted that the PEG access channels are an important source of public information on a local level, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the Board as the federally-recognized local franchising authority (LFA), may establish requirements for PEG channels to be provided in a manner that addresses community needs.10 Although the Petitioner provides the PEG channels, they are provided only in SD which produces problems with signal quality, while providing all other channels in HD, which Verizon and a number of commenters have stated provides higher quality service. It appears that Verizon is capable of correcting the poor signal quality issue by broadcasting the PEG channels in HD. Therefore, while the Board as LFA is not inclined to deny the SWF based on the above issue, it is recommended that Verizon be required to take corrective action of this issue as a condition of the renewal of the SWF.

N.J.S.A. 48:5A-28(l) requires the applicant to provide a commitment to provide equipment and training to access users. A number of parties stated that Verizon was not providing the required training and equipment, and requested a designated contact from Verizon to assist the municipalities. It is noted that Verizon has provided the information requested to OCTV&T regarding the equipment and training, as well as, provided the municipalities with info on the designated contact. It is recommended that Verizon provide reports to OCTV&T staff regarding the provision of PEG equipment and training.

N.J.S.A. 48:5A-28(m) requires that the applicant shall provide a return feed from any one location in the municipality without charge to the CATV company’s headend or other location of interconnection to the cable television system for public, educational or governmental use. The return feed, at a minimum, must provide the ability for the municipality to cablecast live or taped access programming in real time, as may be applicable, to the CATV’s customers in the municipality. However, no CATV company is responsible for providing a return access feed unless a municipality requests such feed in writing. Several parties, including the Mayor of Piscataway, noted a lack of return line which Verizon is required to provide upon written request from the requesting municipality.

Additionally, several parties have noted that the PEG channels are not listed in the channel guide. Verizon has provided the OCTV&T staff with information indicating that the PEG access channels are listed on their guide and have provided information to that end. The OCTV&T staff will monitor this issue to ensure Verizon is meeting all notice requirements for channel allocation…

The complete BPU Document on the Verizon Franchise Renewal will be made available in the Members Only Section of the JAG website.  Please feel free to go to the website and download the document and share with your municipality.  In addition, if you are ready to move on Verizon giving you a channel in HD, I would suggest that you reach out to your Broadcast Server Provider and make sure your equipment is ready to give the proper HD Signal.  Once you have confirmed this, you should reach out to Verizon (see past article in newsletter for contact information) to make arrangements to have your channel updated.  Please note this will not happen immediately, but Verizon will be willing to work with you to make this happen.  There is no doubt this will make a huge difference in the way our channels are viewed and will highlight the great quality programming that we create.