Not that long ago, if you wanted to watch a local program, you’d have to catch it when it aired on channel 23. This month, the channel added online streaming to its website, which allows anyone with an internet connection to tune in from anywhere. The system also allows storing programs on the cloud – a large-scale dedicated server – which means viewers can watch programs any time, not just as they are being broadcast.
Manager Anastasia Redman illustrates one of the many new possibilities this creates.
“We’re talking to the high school now,” Anastasia said. “We’re trying to get them to record the graduation, and stream it live. So if there’s a family member in California who can’t get to their grandkids’ graduation, they can put it on their computer and see it live as it occurs.”
The channel broadcasts locally-produced entertainment and educational programs and public meetings recorded by volunteers.
Nigel Redman, the volunteer technical director, said the system, and renovations to the studio, installation of the electronics and maintenance are all done by volunteers. An unused area in Town Hall is now a professional studio, with equipment neatly mounted on racks and a substantial space for program production.
Lighthouse TV is using a higher grade of streaming, which doesn’t place the video screen in the midst of advertising, Nigel said. “There are streaming packages that are free, but they come with commercials and banners, and the quality is poor.”
Redman decided to get a dedicated server for the channel, where material can be stored and from which broadcasts originate, he said. To do this, the channel had to buy a coder, which converts the signal to digital form, and has to subscribe to the cloud service. “The subscription gives us the ability to save the video on demand and to have a dedicated pegtv (similar to mpeg in audio). We use Adobe Flash as our video stream.”
The server service costs about $1,500, which comes out of the channel 23 budget, Nigel said. “We’re hoping we can share some of the cost with the town, since the town will be using a lot of it,” he said, adding that the station will have to do some fundraising to keep the service going.
The streaming system also allows for video archiving, which allows viewers to watch programs at their convenience, not just as they are being broadcast, Nigel said. “Our meetings – Town Board, Village Board, Board of Education – are now available to our residents any time.”
“If they’re submitted,” Anastasia added.
The other motive for streaming was to create an “emergency action system,” which would allow emergency services, such as police, to send information out via computer through the television station, Nigel said. “They will be able to use our encoder to get their message out in an emergency.”
“We are establishing the parameters with them,” Anastasia said. “Last time we had a storm, the police and the town used TV23 to get the message out on closings and emergency situations, shelters – it’s an asset to the town and police department.”
“If there’s a news issue, we want it to become a Saugerties news issue,” Nigel said. “TV23 could always reach all the cable people through Time Warner, but now with a web stream we can reach anybody anywhere who has a computer.”
One development for the near future is a “live drop” at Cantine Field and one at the Senior Center, which will allow live broadcasting of events and meetings. “When we record a meeting, it isn’t usually available until two days later,” Anastasia said. “We won’t have that delay.”
Similarly, events at Cantine Field can be covered, with interviews and video of the events.
“The system is new, and there are still kinks to be worked out,” Anastasia said. “Sometimes when someone goes online to look, sometimes it works and sometimes it won’t work.” As she spoke, the signal cut off, and the screen went blank.
“When it goes blank like that, we have issues with Time Warner to come in and find out why,” Nigel said. “We stream through a Time Warner link, and Time Warner installed it, then left and said ‘you know how it works.’ They have not come back to say ‘let’s fix it.’”
With all the investment in the studio and equipment, Nigel said he’s a bit disappointed because “it isn’t being used the way we would like it to be used. The community hasn’t come to say ‘we would like to produce shows’ like we thought they would. So we’re going to devise other ways to enhance it and get people to access it and use it.”
Do people really watch Cable Channel 23?
“If we go out for an hour, people call up and say, ‘what happened?’ Plus some of our bulletin board subscribers call up and say we have to stop running their promo because they have too many people showing up,” Nigel said.
The channel has an active board, with five town members and five village members. Leeanne Thornton is the Town Board liaison and Jeannine Mayer represents the Village Board.
The board works well together, Anastasia said. “We might have discussions where we disagree, but in the end we all come out agreeing, which is fabulous,” she said.