BC-TV airs first live, on-location broadcast
Belfast — On Halloween night, Ned Lightner, the do-it-all director of Belfast Community Television Channel 2, set up a camera along the notorious trick-or-treaters' corridor, Cedar Street in Belfast.
Lightner was dressed in yellow foul-weather gear and a sou'wester and as the camera rolled he proceeded to interview a line of people in costume. It was a lot like many of the shows he airs on the local public-access station. The difference was, this time — for the first time — it was live on location.
For as long as Lightner has been broadcasting, live broadcasts could be done in one of two ways: in the studio or using a satellite transmission truck. Broadcasters were either bound to the studio or forced to cough up thousands of dollars to rent a truck and buy a few hours on a satellite channel.
The Internet is beginning to offer a third option. For the Cedar Street broadcast, Lightner's camera was connected to a laptop via a device the size of a pack of gum that converts the camera's signal.
A resident granted Lightner permission to use his home wireless signal, and from the laptop, Lightner was able to upload the live feed to the Internet.
Back at the BC-TV studio, a different device was pulling the Web stream and broadcasting it on cable TV channel 2. The process created a delay of around 30 seconds, but it was essentially a live broadcast. Better still, the whole setup cost around $1,200 and fits in a backpack.
Lightner said the process needed some refining — the Halloween broadcast was shot at the relatively low resolution of 15 frames per second — but that eventually he would be able to broadcast live, on location in high-definition and that the videos would be available to be streamed from the BC-TV Web site.
For purposes of the live broadcasts, he has worked out a deal with local Internet provider BlueStreak Wireless.
The Internet component is significant. Previously public-access channels were confined by the franchise agreements between municipalities and cable companies. BC-TV broadcasts in Belfast and Searsport, and in those places only to cable subscribers. With the programming available online, BC-TVs live broadcasts would be available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Searsport Community Television recently started filming school board meetings and posting the videos to a third-party Web site, an approach that Lightner has taken to make some BC-TV programming available to a wider audience.
"People who don't have cable can watch the station's stuff, whether it's going to be election coverage, a live concert at the Free Range Festival or down at the bonfire counting down on New Year's Eve," he said. "We could be on a lobster boat in the bay with someone pulling up a lobster trap."
Lightner said live broadcasts would probably be best suited for events when timeliness was an issue. But the technology obviously had him excited.
"I haven't even speculated about all the ways we can come out with fun stuff," he said.
The Halloween broadcast lasted about an hour. Trick-or-treaters stepped on the microphone cable a few times, yanking Lightner with it, but otherwise the broadcast went better than Lightner had anticipated. For all he knew, the picture and sound would be out of sync.
"We figured Halloween would be a good time to do this," he said, "because if it didn't match up it would just be like a bad monster movie."