Multistreaming and the Future of Community TV

(Image credit: WCTV)

Community TV, aka “public-access television,” is an important part of the media landscape in the United States, with a history that goes back to the late 1960s. The stations set up since then have been a huge success too, and according to the Alliance for Community Media, somewhere in the region of 1,600 organizations currently operate Community TV channels in the country. 

Wilmington Community Television (WCTV), a non-profit organization established in 1987 to serve the residents of Wilmington, Mass., is one of them. As part of its mission to connect its community, WCTV produces content for Wilmington area viewers on three channels plus social and online. It actively seeks out producers from the community, as well as being a welcoming place for students interested in multimedia production. 

As with other community TV initiatives, WCTV needs equipment that enables it to produce quality content (everything is shot and transmitted in HD) at a keen price point. The broadcaster has a BPswitch GX large-scale integrated production switcher sitting in its main control room and a BPswitch FX in a rolling box located over at Wilmington High School that it uses as a portable system.

“The FX gets a lot of use, particularly with our sports coverage,” comments Adam Dusenberry, operations manager for WCTV. “It gets used for concerts and we use it on our Fourth of July celebrations on the common. We use the GX for all our studio shows. That used to be mainly talking heads talk shows, but since Covid we’ve produced a lot more varied content from the studio rather than being out on location.”

There are two reasons WCTV chose Broadcast Pix. The first is what it enables it to do in terms of production, the second is what it enables it to do in terms of distribution and how, as part of its integration with Switchboard Cloud, it is ensuring that WCTV remains relevant to its local audience as its viewers move progressively more online.

Empowering ease of use
Dusenberry says that one of the main draws for using Broadcast Pix for him is that everything is integrated.

“Working in community media, a lot of times just one person is sitting in this room producing a live TV show, so having everything all in one control surface in one system is wonderful,” he says. “Before we put the GX in here we had a traditional switcher and I felt like I had to be an octopus when we were doing our big election night coverage on our three stations at once. Broadcast Pix makes that a whole lot easier, and at times I’ve been the only operator in here doing live shows and that has been fine.”

He also likes the way it lets him assemble macros to perform complex tasks at a single command, something that works both for himself when he’s running a show solo and for the volunteers that he trains from the community to produce shows as well. 

“I do find myself using macros for building complex effects, complex graphics, bringing in the Twitter feeds from BPfusion, that sort of thing,” he says. “I find it easier to build that stuff ahead of time in pre-production, and with the macro recall, I don't have to set up everything live every single time I want to recall it.

“Previously I had a producer get nervous about the opening of the show he was directing because there were a whole lot of commands and button pushes all within a very short time,” he adds. “So, I built a macro for him that ran that open sequence so he didn’t have to worry about the timing or getting the button pushes right. For the novice user who wants to add that element of production, it certainly is a big help for them.”

As Dusenberry points out, community media is almost entirely reliant on volunteers. WCTV has three full-time staff members and a couple of part-timers; everyone else is a volunteer. And having the volunteer staff trained and able to operate key equipment, especially during the larger productions, is a crucial part of the smooth running of the station.

“I'm not always available to sit in this chair and my boss isn’t always available to sit in his chair, so it’s nice to have the volunteers who know how to do it,” he says. 

More streaming
One of the key areas for WCTV in recent years, as with community media around the country, has been the growing importance of streaming content online rather than purely via traditional broadcast channels. All three of WCTV’s channels are simultaneously streamed via the broadcaster’s website, with the shows that they think will gain more traction or are of interest to the community are also pushed out to social channels such as Facebook Live.

“The Switchboard integration gives us other ways that we can get our content out for the people who aren’t watching us the traditional way on cable TV so that they can see, if not our entire programming, at least the big stuff that you know the community would be interested in.”

During the pandemic, the demand for WCTV’s streaming services has  increased too, as Wilmington organizations look to connect with their residents in new ways.

“We find ourselves doing a lot more live streaming and a lot more government meetings,” says Dusenberry. “We’re doing meetings I never knew existed. The town has come to us as a way to make their meetings available to the public. We live stream them on our channels and the big ones we put out on our social media pages. So, we’ve seen an uptick in business and production, over the past nine months. And from a production guy’s standpoint, it’s really been fun.”

The integration of Broadcast Pix with Switchboard Live is a game-changer when it comes to what WCTV can accomplish online. While previously there would have been a single stream of its channel hooked up to Facebook Live, now it has a variety of YouTube streams set up for the different content it produces. 

This means it can flex and scale when covering important events, Dusenberry pointing to recent work on making sure that 2020’s Veteran’s Day ceremony reached its audience despite Covid, and, by contrast, Wilmington’s girls’ varsity soccer team being in recent contention for the league championship in the final game of the season. Both events had their signal considerably amplified by online streaming.

“We also just finished our Winter Sports season and the league had prohibited spectators in the gyms and arenas.  Using Switchboard, we were able to push out a fair number of our home games live, not only to our channels, but our Facebook page and Wildcat TV YouTube channel,” added Dusenberry.  “Most views during those games actually happened online. Our Athletic Director was very appreciative of our efforts during the season and the integration of Switchboard Live with the Broadcast Pix console has been an important part of making this all happen.”

“You don’t have to have a separate computer doing the streaming, or running the OBS (Open Broadcaster Software), or any external hardware; you can just go in and select the sources and the destinations and be live. Again, it’s a great time-saver and, in terms of usability, allows for single-user operation. I don’t need somebody else monitoring or setting up an external encoder or something like that; it’s all right here in front of me when I’m doing the show.

“It’s about getting eyeballs on our content,” he concludes. “We’re not just on WCTV’s Facebook page anymore, there are other places where people can go to see us.”

And for community TV, that sort of visibility in an increasingly crowded media landscape is half the battle.

Click here to view WCTV's video.

Director of Marketing, Broadcast Pix