A smart school district knows that teaching students is just one of its responsibilities, and the Manatee County School District in Bradenton, Fla., is smart.
by Bob Kovacs
Stefano Biancardi (bottom), EDV-TV instructional TV & program manager for Manatee County Schools, runs Studio 2 switcher during a health program recording session, with Byron D. Romey (studio left), account manager at Corporate Care Works, and Forrest Branscomb (studio right), director of risk management, School Board of Manatee County. With tough economic times pressing down hard on taxpayers, it makes a lot of sense for a school district to reach out to the public to show where the money is going and how students are being educated. In Manatee County, the school uses a multichannel television system to provide diverse educational presentations inside the school and to the greater off-campus community.
“We call the program EdVantage,” Stefano Biancardi, instructional TV and program manager for the district, said of its channel, EDV-TV.
EDV-TV went online in December 2007 and builds on the district’s many years of experience with Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) broadcasts to the community. Starting December 2009, EDV-TV added an on-demand Web-based delivery system that’s more viewer-friendly and convenient.
In addition to having five in-school channels and a Web-based service, the Manatee County School District also feeds a channel to Verizon and Brighthouse, the two cable companies in the county. Creating programs and accommodating playbacks is a daunting task, and the school district wanted to keep the work manageable for its technical staff. The solution to erasing the workload was a server with an easy-to-program interface.
Manatee County decided on a Cablecast server from Tightrope Media Systems, and also included Tightrope’s Carousel digital signage capability for bulletin board announcements. Cablecast and Carousel are tightly integrated and complement each other. The system will automatically switch to Carousel when a program is done, so that the bulletins and announcements run between programs.
Student interns man the master control room at the Manatee County School District. To create its own content, the school district has substantial facilities that include two multi-camera studios, editing rooms, eight satellite feeds and a new master control room. Material shot in the studios can be fed live to the various channels, it can be recorded on DVD for future playbacks, or saved on the Tightrope server for Web streaming.
The school uses Panasonic digital studio cameras in its studios, and switches them with Echolab switchers. Interestingly, studio programs are often recorded directly to DVD, then mounted in one of the JVC multidisk DVD players in the control room. The Tightrope Cablecast automation system then controls the JVC DVD players.
After just a handful of weeks with content on the Internet and available anywhere in the world, Biancardi is seeing activity from well outside Manatee County.
Biancardi supervises the EDV-TV system with a full-time staff and five student interns. So far, the extra load from going online has been picked up by the Cablecast automation.
In the meantime, students at the Manatee County School District have access to complex media creation and distribution systems, which provides considerable educational opportunities.
To reduce the number of people needed for studio production, three of the four cameras in Studio-1 are remotely controllable, using Telemetrics robotics. “Yesterday, we shot a program and it just took two of us,” Biancardi said.
In addition to local recording on DVD and VCR backup, studio programs can be fed through Knox routing switchers to the master control facility. There, programs can be encoded to MPEG files for storage on the Cablecast server or fed live to the internal and external networks.
To handle all the activity, there are four Tightrope servers: a Cablecast server for EDV-TV and instructional television, a Carousel server for digital signage, a video-on-demand server and the EDV-TV streaming video server.
“The Cablecast system’s internally generated Web pages link to our own Web site,” Biancardi said. “When someone clicks on our Web page, the server automatically spools the schedule to the screen.”
Cablecast also provides a search function so that a viewer can find and view on-demand programs. Since Cablecast has a Web interface, Biancardi can access it across the Internet to view the schedule and make changes.
“I was on a cruise to Europe this summer and was able to connect to the server from my laptop to make last-minute changes,” he said. “Of course, my wife wasn’t too happy about that.”
Hardware is wonderful but it only goes so far-the important thing is how the hardware is being used. Two television programs produced by the Manatee County School District are broadcast throughout the state on the Florida Knowledge Network. These are “Soloists,” a classical music program shot at the Ringling Museum of Arts, and “Learning With the Chefs,” about cooking and food preparation.
At the moment, the Manatee County systems are standard-definition, although some early thought has been given to an eventual move to HD. For example, the school’s newest Panasonic studio cameras are HD, but are being down-converted to SD at the moment. Biancardi says that an eventual upgrade to HD will involve nearly the entire system, and that’s out of the question at this time.
Television has long been a partner with education. At the Manatee County School District, educators are leveraging the Internet and automation to reach out to the community and beyond. Students get to participate in a nationally recognized program and the community benefits from the educational and cultural offerings. And if a grandmother a continent away can get online and watch a performance of her granddaughter, who can put a price on that?