Vicksburg TV Director Alvin Coleman sparked public interest in the broadcast of city functions with a NewTek video production system.

Jan 22 2020

Government Agencies Broadcast Official Meetings to Boost Visibility

Community media centers provide public access through powerful video technology.

Vicksburg, Miss., is a historic city of 22,000 people on the east bank of the Mississippi River. A three-person team at Vicksburg TV, the city’s government access cable television station, is responsible for live broadcasts of city board meetings, budget hearings and other public events held in the City Council board room and area offices.

Despite the team’s small size, a powerful video production system allows it to create professional-quality productions that bring city meetings to life for the viewing public, VTV Director Alvin Coleman says.

A TriCaster TC1 video production system from NewTek brings a broader appeal to the meetings and sparks the interest of others about what’s possible, because the viewer is not looking at just one person on the screen, Coleman says. “When you have an interaction with other people who are in the meetings — and sometimes those meetings get a little heated — and you have cameras going back and forth, it’s almost like you’re putting the viewer right there in the meeting through the use of the different camera angles.”

Acquiring the TriCaster system was critical to providing wider public access to council meetings, and the resulting interest in those paved the way for broadcasts of other municipal happenings, such as interviews with aldermen, a tour of the local water treatment plant and the opening of a new airport. The video production system provides a powerful means for a budget-conscious jurisdiction to widely open government functions to the public, who can view meetings from the comfort of home.

Technology changes so quickly that government media centers may not always clearly understand which investments to make, says Mike Wassenaar, president and CEO of the Alliance for Community Media, an organization that advocates for cable access TV organizations and community media centers.

“When technology is changing so rapidly, it makes things hard if you have to capitalize the investment over a five-year period as a durable asset,” says Wassenaar. If agencies work in a public setting with semiprofessional users, they can be rough on equipment, especially in the field, he adds. 

That puts a premium on purchasing durable equipment. 

Vicksburg TV Uses Tech to Bring Public Events to Life 

VTV’s recent upgrade to the TriCaster video production system means the station now has integrated video servers allowing playback, replay and live editing without any additional hardware.

The station has a setup in the boardroom with three Panasonic cameras that pan, tilt and zoom, Coleman explains. “We do most of the editing in the TriCaster, such as doing transitions from one camera to another, adding board meeting intros and outros and sound effects. It’s pretty cool. We are also looking to add captioning.”

VTV started broadcasting council meetings, but when people saw the quality of the work, they started calling Coleman wanting to see other types of programs. “That has increased our workload,” he says.

The staff at Vicksburg TV, the city’s government access cable television station,  use a powerful video production system allows to create professional-quality productions.

The staff at Vicksburg TV, the city’s government access cable television station, use a powerful video production system allows to create professional-quality productions. Photography by Daymon Gardner. 

The TriCaster system also helps VTV stream meetings live on Facebook and YouTube, adds Adrian Reddix, an IT technician at the station. “That has led to more citizen engagement. People definitely ask lots of questions and leave lots of comments.”

Agencies should work with IT leaders to plan around issues of networking capacity and security, he adds.

Coleman and Reddix say the TriCaster TC1 is so feature-rich that they are still exploring what it can do. “The TriCaster seems to be a robust system that has many different uses, and it takes a very creative mind to get in there and explore all the possibilities of the system,” Reddix notes. “I know there are features we haven’t touched yet.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: These are the key state and local government IT trends to stay on top of in 2020. 

Napa Valley TV Boosts Production Quality 

In 2018, when Napa Valley Television, a public education and government channel in Napa, Calif., upgraded its equipment, it chose to acquire a NewTek TriCaster TC1 production switcher. “One of the big things for us was the virtual set design,” says James Raymond, Napa Valley TV’s executive director. “Our entire facility is less than 1,000 square feet. We have to make it look as big as possible in a 12 by 16 studio, which doesn’t give us much room.”

Using capabilities including a green screen, users can set up three different angles with three distinct backgrounds and create virtual sets. This gave Napa Valley TV the opportunity to allow its members to produce much higher-quality shows without much need for technical knowledge. “They don’t need to be chroma key experts,” Raymond adds. “For community access, the quality at the price point is a great value.”

The switch to the TriCaster system also meant a leap to high-definition 4K resolution. High definition refers to 1080-pixel resolution, a big step up from 480-pixel resolution, generally referred to as standard definition.

“Knowing that technology is constantly evolving and getting more advanced, with 4K televisions and streaming, we wanted to push 4K,” Raymond explains. “It wasn’t much more money, and this was an upgrade that was 13 years in the making.”

VIDEO: See what state IT leaders say are their top priorities for 2020. 

Budget Considerations Factor into Video Production System Purchases

With a limited budget, Napa Valley TV is not going to upgrade equipment every three to five years, so its executives had to anticipate where the technology is going

“We went with a 4K model not so much for the broadcast medium. With community access, there is no requirement to broadcast our signal in high definition, let alone 4K,” Raymond says.

Source: allcommunitymedia.org, "About ACM," Dec. 9, 2019

“But this system will allow us to stream shows in high definition or 4K, should our members choose that resolution. For a community access station, that is kind of unprecedented. There are community access centers that have bigger budgets than we have, but for what we’ve got and what we do, it is pretty impressive,” he says.

Reddix estimates a new video production system can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000, so considerable research and planning should be done before purchasing one. 

“I recommend doing as much research as possible because it is a big investment. One system may do something you really love, but it may hinder you somewhere else. You don’t want to make that investment and get something the city didn’t really need,” he says

Photography by Daymon Gardner