How Our Friends Open the Doors!
TV in VT:
The Hybrid Leap By Angelike Contis*
In early July, MMCTV moved to a new location, renting a space on the 3rd floor of the Richmond Town Center.
It’s an exciting shift into the center of town, with three nonprofit neighbors also in the building and the library across the parking lot.
While hosting our TV camp for youngsters in August, we enjoyed having the elbow room at our new space!
This wasn’t just the summer of a big move (MMCTV’s second-ever), but it was also the time we took a huge technological leap with hybrid meetings, i.e., meetings that are part in person and part virtual. A little history: Since 1997, MMCTV videographers have hauled cameras to our three town halls and schools to record public meetings. During COVID-19 lockdown, we shifted to streaming virtual meetings live. Richmond’s Erin Wagg and myself would monitor the meetings, and Ruth Miller edited/archived record numbers of local board meetings! To give you a sense, in 2019, we uploaded 233 videos to our Internet Archive web platform; three-quarters of the way through 2021, we already uploaded 295 videos! We had been hearing about hybrid meetings for months. While in our three towns, boards switched to virtual meetings immediately, our colleagues at places like Northwest Access TV in St. Albans and SAPA-TV in Springfield had local boards meeting in part (or entirely) in person, even during lockdown. Yet when the Governor’s Emergency Order ended in mid-June, the need for hybrid meetings arrived here too; boards needed to include a physical location in order to comply with public meeting law. Fortunately, I had ordered hybrid gear SAPA-TV recommended, and Richmond Town Center, whose new meeting space is now conveniently down the hall from our studio, became our test site for a hybrid meeting ethernet-based system including remotely-operated cameras, two computers and microphones.
MMCTV’s IT consultant, Bill Cairns of Jericho, took care of the networking challenge, and we were off and running with our first hybrid meeting for Richmond the very same day we moved in late June. I would lie if I said setting up hybrid meetings was easy, quick and stress-free. Instead of enjoying lazy Vermont summer evenings, there were plenty of nail-biting moments for ourselves and town staff/boards, where the feed wouldn’t show up or the audio was too high or low. But…as of early September – thanks in large part to the cooperation of patient town staff and board chairs - I’m happy to report that the Richmond and Jericho systems are working seamlessly, and Underhill’s set up is…very close! (There is an echo to remove from the last town’s meetings.) Over two months in and countless rolls of black gaffers tape later, the temporary set up is becoming permanent. Channel Manager Jim Hering is installing cameras and hiding cables in each town. It has been very much a joint effort, as MMCTV invested in cameras and remote computers, while towns have purchased dedicated laptops, cables and peripheral items. We aim to make the town staffs and boards as self-sufficient as possible. While everyone (especially the boards and MMCTV) adapt to a new workflow, the public will benefit from two-camera coverage as well as increased safety and accessibility. Another silver lining is that hybrid meetings have highlighted audiovisual upgrades that are needed for all three towns’ conference rooms. Improvements to projection set-ups, acoustics and computer network will make these hybrid rooms more up-to-date for future uses. Now the rooms can be used for more than board meetings. In Richmond, the staff is holding some meetings online there. In Jericho, Town Clerk Jessica Alexander is holding regular discussions around the new History of Jericho publication. What can you do to support this Vermont-style “C-Span”? If you think this is a good investment, please let your towns know you’d like them to apply ARPA funding to these COVID-era upgrades.
And if you have ideas on how we can improve our hybrid meeting coverage, please let us know at mmctv15 [at] gmail [dot] com or at 434-2550. We’d love to hear your input/ideas! *Angelike Contis is Executive Director of Mt. Mansfield Community TV (MtMansfieldCtv.org).