CPB study aims to map stations’ equipment needs, shape strategies for upgrades

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The days of a secure and stable broadcast industry are long gone. Emerging trends, largely driven by digital technologies, are transforming the equipment, services, systems and even staff that public media stations need to produce and broadcast content.

Public media is at a critical juncture. Stations face renewed budgetary pressure, even as they must manage technology projects — including the spectrum repack, the transition to ATSC 3.0, and other software and hardware system updates — that will transform their services to local communities. At the same time, shifting consumer behaviors are challenging public broadcasters to continually evolve to serve their communities in new ways. Audiences increasingly access content through nonbroadcast platforms, streaming TV programs on demand and downloading podcasts. Stations must rethink how content is produced and distributed, and what resources and skill sets are necessary for this media environment. While some stations are adapting to this new world, others are struggling to keep up with the fast pace of technological transformation.

Earlier this year, CPB and Eagle Hill Consulting launched the most comprehensive technology and infrastructure assessment ever undertaken by public media. The research will inform our efforts to support public media stations as they work to meet these challenges.

The assessment gathers data on:

  • Production and broadcast technology;
  • Timelines and plans to replace equipment;
  • Stations’ relative positions, as compared to broadcast media technology trends; and
  • Stations’ financial strategies and capacity to support future technology upgrades and replacements.

With findings from the assessment, CPB will work collaboratively to identify strategies that can address public media’s infrastructural challenges.

CPB will share aggregate data with stations later this spring at system meetings and through other communication channels. Participating station leaders will receive reports that can inform their own technology and strategic business planning. The reports will also provide insights into the key media trends and their implications for public broadcasting. We also expect that data from the assessment will help stations and the system as a whole forecast the costs of future technical infrastructure more accurately.

McCoskey

Stations face many different financial and technical challenges, but they center on one common dilemma: how to maintain local broadcast facilities when much of the equipment is reaching its end of life and there is no clear path to fund replacements or upgrades. Adoption of joint master control operations and offsite content archiving systems such as Amazon Web Services has allowed many stations to reduce their capital investments in physical equipment, but those savings have been directed to operating expenses, software and cloud-based services.

Krichels

This CPB technology and infrastructure assessment is a groundbreaking opportunity to gather and analyze data from stations across the country and propose solutions for the system in the future.

Each station manager at every CPB-funded station should already have received an invitation to participate in the research. We have extended the final deadline to complete it to March 31. Any station that needs support in accessing or completing the surveys can contact Eagle Hill Consulting’s helpdesk at CPBTechSurvey@eaglehillconsulting.com.

We urge all CPB-qualified radio, television and joint licensee grantees to participate and help ensure that the assessment accurately reflects the complex realities our system faces.

Ted Krichels is senior VP of system development and media strategy at CPB. John McCoskey is the industry lead executive with Eagle Hill Consulting, which designed the assessment under contract with CPB. In addition to managing and analyzing the research, Eagle Hill will develop recommendations for closing gaps between equipment replacement priorities and stations’ financial needs.