Choosing Creativity over Constraints

El Segundo TV mixes talent with ingenuity
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El Segundo TV mixes talent with ingenuity
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Left to right: Chris Ley, Robert Cetl and Dan O’Toole show some of the channel’s cameras.

Compared to the bigger stations in its busy Los Angeles media market, community TV station El Segundo TV’s entire annual operating budget is roughly equivalent to the cost of producing a single, high-end 30-second TV spot.

Despite this economic reality, and being assigned to an SD channel in a hi-def world, El Segundo TV offers award-winning programming that reflects the heart and soul of this small Los Angeles County community. On its shelf are many STAR Awards, (which are like Oscars for local government broadcasters), including one for Most Outstanding Small Local TV Station (in 2010).

“We’re capitalizing on one of our biggest strengths—we’re local,” said Dan O’Toole, program manager of El Segundo TV, a division of the City’s Recreation & Parks Department. “We’re giving El Segundo residents something they can’t watch anywhere else—shows for and about them.”


El Segundo TV’s mission is to give its citizens live and taped cablecasts of local City Council, Planning, Recreation Commission and School Board meetings—which is especially vital in light of the “Open Government” goals of the city and state. El Segundo TV is broadcast on Time Warner Channel 3 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 99. Since May 2009, it also produces the “ElSegundoTV” YouTube channel, which boasts 779,000 views and more than 500 subscribers.

Over the years, the channel line-up has expanded with original shows like: Your City, Your News, a local news show; Business Matters!, a spotlight on local business; El Segundo Magazine, a magazine news show; Healthy Habits, a wellness lifestyle show; and Music Box, a showcase for local musical performers. El Segundo TV also covers special events like the city’s December Holiday Parade, annual Friendship Walk, Fourth of July fireworks, community events, and high school sports and graduations.

El Segundo—which means The Second, referring to the second oil refinery established there by Chevron—is south of Los Angeles International Airport and north of Manhattan Beach—with its own beach on the Pacific Ocean. This proximity to Los Angeles’ professional talent pool, including news anchors, cameramen, reporters, editors and audio pros, is another asset for El Segundo TV.

“We’re fortunate to have talented local people who are passionate about producing high-quality community TV without excuses,” said O’Toole. “Also, many people who learned their craft here have since gone on to work at places like ABC, KTLA and ESPN.”

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Caterine Chen is a host for "El Segundo Magazine."


El Segundo TV’s permanent staff consists of three people: Dan, Program Specialist Chris Ley and Graphics Designer Robert Cetl. Ley and Cetl also help schedule the roughly 20 temporary/part-time staff members, many of whom work only a few hours a month as needed.

To manage its two 24-hour cable channels, in 2008 El Segundo TV acquired a Tightrope Media Systems Cablecast SX4 server-based broadcast automation system, which automates program scheduling, playback, asset management and master control functions. Configured with four terabytes of storage, the SX4 automates vital tasks such as scheduling, program playout, channel branding, promotions, crawls, downstream keying and up/down file conversion, and supports a variety of formats that include MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, QuickTime, AVI, WMV, DV, DVCPRO and ProRes.

Three hours each week, a part-time staffer inputs the week’s schedule information, program files and other program elements into the Cablecast system, which then controls the automated playback of all the content according to the schedule. However, the station can override the automation system to carry live events or make programming changes on the fly.

The workflow also integrates two Tightrope Carousel digital signage and bulletin board systems that display pre-produced production packages or auto-generate promotional messages, such as Up Next’s, community alerts, PSAs, local news headlines, traffic and weather. One Carousel feeds content to a round-the-clock Bulletin Board seen on Time Warner Channel 22. The other feeds content that fills interstitial breaks between shows on the main program service. 


Carousel integrates with a real-time traffic information service from Iteris, known as BlueCommute, which enables El Segundo TV to provide up-to-the-minute displays of traffic conditions on Southern California routes—especially during morning and evening rush hours.

“El Segundo is a close-knit town with a quaint main street and roughly 16,700 community-minded residents,” said O’Toole. “But by day, the population swells to 80,000 people, including commuters who travel on crowded highways like the 405 to get to and from their jobs at our many area corporations—like Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Mattel and Boeing Satellite. With urban sprawl to the nth degree around our city, getting accurate traffic information by cable TV or mobile device is a necessity.”

“El Segundo is also a small town that’s very big on small business,” O’Tools said. “To satisfy this interest, we’ve got our camera crews shooting ENG all over town, including local business profiles to run on our Business Matters! and El Segundo Magazine shows.”

By moving production from the studio to the field, El Segundo TV creates a more dynamic and relevant look while saving overhead.

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Some of the STAR Awards bestowed on El Segundo TV

“I can send just one camera op into the field, whereas I’d need a seven-person crew to make the show look good in a studio setting,” O’Toole said. “Because it’s a resourceful way around our small production budget, the bulk of our shows are shot in the field.”

To shoot feature segments and B-roll footage, a one or two-person crew goes out in the field with one or more of El Segundo TV’s HD cameras—including a Sony HXR-NX3, Sony EX1R, Sony-NX30 camcorder and a GoPro Hero 4—along with a couple of wireless lavalieres, stick mics and LED light panels.

HD footage (shot 720/60p) is recorded onto Sony or SanDisk flash sticks as AVCHD files. These cards are then put into readers and the files are transcoded to ProRes 4:2:2 files for use by any of the four Final Cut Pro 7 editing systems. Edited content is output as MPEG-4 AVC or QuickTime files, which are converted to the MPEG-2 files Cablecast plays out.

El Segundo TV’s small studio, along with the head-end, edit suites, graphics suite and offices, are located in a couple of rooms on the El Segundo High School campus. For magazine-style productions, the show’s host sits or stands in front of a large greenscreen in the studio, which enables insertion of a video or graphics background.

Serving as a virtual set, this background imagery often intermixes B-roll video, full-screen graphics, animated text and branding. The hosted wraparounds and feature segments are assembled on Final Cut Pro, and video and graphics are keyed into the greenscreen. The HD show is then downconverted to standard definition for cable broadcast. Individual feature segments, which usually run eight minutes or less, are available in HD from El Segundo TV’s YouTube channel.


El Segundo TV is connected to Time Warner’s head-end and City Hall by fiber optics; and to AT&T U-Verse’s head-end and the local school board building via copper T-1 lines. At City Hall, council meetings are covered live using four Sony robotic BRC300 SD cameras with pan-tilt-zoom capability.

The signals are sent to the basement control room, switched on a Panasonic WJ-MX50 mixer and recorded onto the Tightrope Media Cablecast server (back at the studio), while playing out live. School board meetings—which take place in the nearby school board building—are carried live in a very similar way.






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Local high school sports, including football and basketball games, are produced using El Segundo TV’s large Ford van with built-in equipment racks. During production, signals from four JVC GY-DV550U SD-ENG camcorders feed back to the van, where they’re switched using a small compact switcher and recorded in a look-live fashion onto a Focus digital recorder and a Sony DSR-45 DVCAM deck for redundancy. The digital file is then brought into post for editing and the addition of sports graphics, and then put on the Cablecast server for playout.

O’Toole said that sporting events are not broadcast live. This lets the crew concentrate on getting great camera shots, while avoiding the additional costs and technical burdens associated with mission-critical live production.


El Segundo TV graphics are created by Graphics Director Robert Cetl using an Apple iMac-based graphics set-up including: Adobe After Effects CC for motion graphics with the Video Co-Pilot 2 plugin; and Photoshop CC for photo, image, texture creation and 2D graphic stills that run on the Carousel bulletin boards. Critical to the graphics/video compositing is the NVidia GeForce GTX 680MX card with 2 GB of dedicated VRAM.

“My goal for our graphics look is to produce imagery that’s crisp, modern and bright,” Cetl said. “I want the graphics to set a mood that’s positive and attractive, or strike whatever tone is appropriate for the content. My hope is that people’s eyes will catch something that interests them graphically, then stay to watch the whole story.”


One of the most creative productions that El Segundo TV does is Music Box, which features local recording artists, such as Laura Saggers, a British singer/songwriter, who plays the key-tar (a keyboard/guitar), and her band from Santa Monica, Calif. Music Box is produced and hosted by Michelle Mizal-Archer, whose husband Jacob Archer provides professional sound mixing services at no cost to El Segundo TV.

“We use many creative techniques to make these live studio performances look very dynamic,” said Chris Ley, a program specialist with El Segundo TV. “For Laura Saggers, we designed a theatrical black set with dramatic lighting. We had the band perform their songs twice. The first time we used our four HD cameras to get wide, beauty shots; and in the second pass, we focused on getting close-ups of the performers and instruments with roving, handheld camera moves. When edited together, it looked like we had used eight HD cameras rather than just four.”

Doing more with less and making it look good is a way of life for El Segundo TV, given the budget limitations of a community channel.

“Our strategy is to use creativity in engineering and production to satisfy our mission, entertain, inform our citizens and stay competitive,” O’Toole said.