Government Video - February 1997
South Carolina ETV Hits the Web
It's no secret to readers of this magazine that the Internet and the World Wide Web are becoming increasingly more important in everything we do. Instead of calling people on the phone, we send them Email. Rather than dialing companies and asking for information about their products, we log onto their Web sites and browse through online brochures. Even gathering information for articles uses the Internet in addition to more traditional techniques.
Gathering information just isn't what it used to be. The need for instant access and instant gratification has started a shift away from paper-based systems and toward all forms of interactive programming. This need to provide up to date information to a large audience isn't lost on the television industry.
Virtually all of the large broadcast and cable networks have supplemented their on-air programming with large, complex Web sites containing everything you ever (and never) wanted to know about them. Even people who don't have access to the Internet are subjected to commercials and programs highlighting www.fox.com, www.nbc.com and www.espnews.com among many others. Included on these sites is information about the networks' program schedules and the people and plots of the shows they broadcast. Interactive program guides also exist to ensure that you can find out exactly when and where your favorite shows will be playing.
SC ETV Embraces the Trend
At South Carolina Educational Television in Columbia, they've noticed this trend and decided to embrace it. Almost two years ago, this forward-looking organization launched its own site on the World Wide Web containing information about their services and their programs. Originally housed on the same server as the SC State Government, SC ETV brought their site in-house last spring. That move not only resulted in a shorter Web address, www.scetv.org, but also offered their employees 24 hour access to the site, allowing more information to be posted in a timely manner. When they shared a server, there were certain restrictions on when and how they could access that computer.
Reba Campbell is Director of Government Relations for SC ETV and also acts as the Editor for their Web site. According to Campbell, being on the Web is just the logical thing to do. "Assuming the Web is the communications vehicle of the future, we wanted to make sure we were there as more people went on-line." Also, the immediacy of the Web offered some attraction to the group.
"Our K-12 schedule changes frequently," explains Campbell. "We create a catalog in the summer and mail monthly updates. But the minute something changes, it's on the Web." Another service offered on the SC ETV site is called "News Flash." This section is updated on a daily basis as a source of information to the media, local businesses, teachers and students. "Most of the newspapers and television stations in our area, even if they are on-line, don't use this as their primary source of information," says Campbell. "But we know this is coming and we want to get there before everyone else does."
On January 12 of this year, having information on the Web was put to a thorough test. That day, there was a satellite failure on Telstar 401, the satellite housing SC ETV's transponder. The failure resulted in an interruption in service for SC ETV, which was corrected by switching to Orion-Atlantic Transponder 21 on January 17. Throughout the crisis, the "News Flash" section of SC ETV's Web site was used to provide updated information on the status of the failure and what steps were being taken to correct it. In fact, instructions for re-orienting satellite dishes were posted on the Web site so that a connection to the new transponder could be made as soon as possible. The people at SC ETV will probably never know just how many people received their information over the Web, but no matter how large or small the number, it was better than being in the dark during the crisis.
Servicing the Community
SC ETV offers a number of services to the educational and business communities throughout the State of South Carolina. Formed in 1958, the organization is involved with a comprehensive K-12 Distance Learning program. Higher Education courses are available from nine colleges around the state. Videoconferencing is also available through the organization. This includes access to national teleconferences from organizations like the AMA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as the ability to originate conferences from over 20 sites around the state. SC ETV also maintains 21 tape and delay centers throughout South Carolina and has a list of over 1700 downlink locations. They also broadcast PBS programming in their market.
Over the years, SC ETV has amassed a huge library of programming that is still available to teachers throughout the state. Campbell confirmed that there are over 200 Instructional Series' that teachers can use and over 6000 programs in their library. "When teachers want to use a program," explains Campbell, "one of the tape centers can tape it and then feed it to the classroom using a wireless cable connection."
A Real Team Effort
Currently, there are approximately 20 people on the Web Team at SC ETV. These people represent every aspect of the agency that has information on the site. Each agency generates its own content which is then sent by Email to be formatted and posted on the site by Jim Blanton, who is the Webmaster at SC ETV. Most of the information Blanton receives just needs to be reformatted for the site. According to Campbell, very little editing needs to take place. "For the most part, these people are the ones that write for their own departments, so they do a great job." Along with Blanton, there is a graphic designer who makes sure all the information has an appropriate look.
Blanton has been with SC ETV since they started their Web site and spends a lot of time manually formatting information. Blanton says the site "has a few hundred pages and is a little over 6 Megabytes large including the graphics. We have a lot of information but we're not very heavy on gimmicks."
One of the reasons the site is more steak than sizzle is their server. Instead of using a Mac, PC or standard workstation, this site is housed on a VAX. "Nobody is writing Web software for the VAX," explains Blanton, "but the access speed is great." In order to take advantage of a lot of the software that's available, though, Blanton feels SC ETV will need to move to a more standard platform. Included on his wish list are animation, audio and video.
Moving to the Next Level
With all of the programming that has been created over the years, one of the things that SC ETV wants to implement is a search engine. "We're working on an interactive cataloging system," comments Campbell. "With it, you'll be able to request all the programs on a particular topic." For example, a teacher might request all the programs on butterflies and then work with a tape and delay center to bring those programs to the classroom. This may also allow the information on the Web site to be searched as well.
Another part of the process that can benefit from an updated server is the program information. Today, Blanton formats all of that information manually. "With the move to 32 channels," he explains, "there will be software developed so that all the program schedules will report directly to the Web." Blanton also hopes to be able to search on that information.
Of course, Blanton probably isn't the only one who wants to search this informative Web site. One thing about being on the Web is that the information you provide isn't limited by geography. There are links on the SC ETV Web site to other locations like PBS and NPR and the site is also accessible through other locations and search engines. With that access comes inquiries from outside the traditional viewing area.
Even before they had a Web site, SC ETV provided programming information to other school systems. Now that they have a global presence, those requests may increase. Of course, having some traditional exposure in a magazine like Government Video couldn't hurt either.
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