Wednesday, January 12, 2011

City School Northampton: Week 10 - NCTV

Welcome to another - actually this was last - class in City School. This week we had a tour of NCTV. (Dear Reader, please note that this tour actually took place last Spring, but only now am I documenting it.)

What is NCTV?

NCTV Studio

NCTV is Nothampton Community Television. Our so-called public-access cable TV service. In fact, it is at times one of the big reasons my family is willing to pay for cable TV. NCTV provides two channels, Channel 12 and Channel 15, which air local programming. Often it will be something like a School Committee meeting or a City Council meeting. Sometimes it might be a video from the Media Education Foundation, which is also located here in Northampton, Mass. and produces interesting documentaries. And, admittedly, sometimes you see what an Archie Bunker type might call "some whacko". It's all relative. In Manhattan, they are likely to have totally weird stuff on their Community Television. Things are not so weird here. Things on NCTV are usually community-oriented. According to their 2010 Annual Report, NCTV has 120 active members and produces a great deal of programming.

As we learned during our tour of the NCTV studio, they provide training and equipment. They provide educational programs for Northampton High School. And it is pretty easy to get involved and get started creating your own TV programming. This is what community TV is all about.

Where is NCTV?

NCTV Studio

NCTV has a studio housed in the rear lower-level of Northampton High School (NHS). When NHS was rennovated a few years ago, they made room for the studio. When the City of Northampton, negotiates with Comcast they make sure to include some funding for NCTV. This is a federal mandate which is often in danger, since cable companies would rather not have any responsibilities besides counting their money. To maintain things like NCTV, we have to pay attention to what the FCC and congress are up to. Otherwise the funding or the requirement to actually carry the signals to your home could disappear overnight. And I'll leave it to you to figure out which side has the high paid lobbyists and what the powers-that-be would prefer.

What is on NCTV?

NCTV Video Feeds

When they broadcast events live, usually it is from NHS, the City Council, or JFK Middle school. In the latter two cases, they use old wire that was laid long ago by Comcast. And if you missed some of these programs, NCTV offers recorded video online available here. See their Program Guide to tell what is on their two channels.

Now I know after looking at their annual report and their program guide or watched one of their channels late at night, you are gonna ask the obvious question. "What's the deal with 'Fish Time'?"  Fish Time is one of those shows where a camera is pointed at a fish tank and not much happens and probably nobody is around. It does exists for a purpose; it provides live local programming. NCTV has to make use of their channels for such a purpose for a certain number of hours in order to qualify for access to a third channel, so Fish Time it is. From the 2010 Annual Report:
NCTV and the City of Northampton have applied for a 3rd PEG channel on the
Comcast system. We believe we have met all terms of the agreement between the City of
Northampton and Comcast required to acquire this channel. The acquisition of this
channel will require upgrading some of the equipment in NCTV Master Control.
What's next?

Regarding other future plans, as part of the Comcast contract Northampton was recently able to get their city buildings connected using Fiber Optic. NCTV will use this to replace the junky cabling they currently use. From the 2010 Annual Report:
NCTV will utilize dark fiber in the city’s new I-Net to move its current live
transmission system from the old copper Comcast system to this new, more reliable,
higher quality transport mechanism. We will encode video at locations like City Council
Chambers and JFK Middle School and transport it to the NCTV facility where it will be
decoded and distributed via our present system.

NCTV Editing Station

If you have been reading my previous entries about City School, then you will know that I am of the well-informed opinion that all the parts of this City really make do with what resources they have. The few people who manage NCTV really impress me with what they do and what they have accomplished. You can join them or, like me, just sit at home on the couch and watch it on the tube.

I hope you enjoyed this tour. If so, please forward the link to your buddies or leave some feedback.

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