Public broadcasters find cheaper, faster way to share content

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Indiana’s public television viewers soon could tune into a wider diversity of programs produced around the state, including sports and live political forums.

A consortium of the state’s eight public television stations is building an Internet-based video streaming service that will allow them to share programs more cost effectively than using satellite uplinks. For example, stations have talked for years about wanting to share college and high school sporting events, said Roger Rhodes, executive director of the consortium.

Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations plans to complete the connections by the end of September, Rhodes said.

Currently, locally produced programs such as "Indiana Week in Review" are sent in a tape format via overnight mail to a Public Broadcasting System regional uplink center in Nebraska and then beamed down to individual stations. 

IPBS is spending just under $500,000 on equipment that can connect the stations over Indiana’s high-speed I-Light network. I-Light is a partnership of the state’s universities, state government and the private sector.

Being able to share programs at relatively low cost could make stations more likely to jointly carry live sports events or other programs of potential statewide interest—even a local festival. “I see a real opportunity to help boost in-state tourism,” Rhodes said.

The state’s nine public radio stations also will participate. For example, they could place on their websites video produced by various public television stations.

Producers from public television and radio stations around the state already have been talking about programming opportunities, said Alan Cloe, executive vice president of content services at WFYI-TV Channel 20 in Indianapolis.

Cloe imagines scenarios such as live forums that would allow citizens gathering at stations around the state to ask questions of legislators, for example. Or stations could co-produce a show, with each supplying a segment sent via the Internet.

“It has pretty much unlimited potential,” Cloe said of programming.

Linking the state’s public TV and radio stations via high-speed Internet has other potential value, such as in sharing business files. Rather than each station devoting personnel to ship a book or video to a donor, the shipping could be centralized.

The technology opens the door to other cost-saving concepts, such as centralizing master control operations.

Currently, each station has its own master control room. Given the frequent changes to broadcast technology, each station generally has to make significant equipment upgrades every three to five years, at a considerable expense. Such upgrades could be minimized if one station housed a centralized master control facility serving all the state’s public television stations.

Such a “central-casting” model is already underway in New York and Florida. Central-casting involving New York’s public television stations is expected to save $25 million in operating costs over the next decade, according to trade publication TVNewsCheck.

Consolidated master control is more common among commercial television stations. Rhode Island-based LIN Media, which owns WISH-TV Channel 8, has a master control facility at the Indianapolis station responsible for feeding several LIN stations in the Midwest.

“Through a shared facility, each station could maintain its own unique local service without as much duplication of equipment and operating expenses,” Cloe said.

Rhodes said the engineering and financial aspects of consolidated master control are still being studied.

Just where it would be located is uncertain. While WFYI-TV would seem to be logical because of its central location, the key factor is likely to be whichever station’s infrastructure would be most accommodating.

If implemented, it’s possible central-casting could eliminate jobs at some stations, although Rhodes envisions some could be reallocated to other positions within a station. Many stations slashed personnel to the bone during the economic downtown four years ago as government and corporate funding for public stations dried up.

“The stations just took several funding cuts from just about every direction. They shed staff dramatically,” Rhodes said.

Things have improved somewhat in recent years. At WFYI-TV, for example, revenue in 2012 of $11 million exceeded expenses by $577,247.



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