As the educational access channel for the North Penn School District, North Penn Television (NPTV) brings timely information to residents in the Montgomery County suburbs of Philadelphia via its cable channel, website, and social media. When schools across Pennsylvania closed earlier this year during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff and students leveraged Tightrope Media Systems’ Cablecast Community Media platform and new Screenweave Live cloud-based service to continue broadcasting to their community.
North Penn School District comprises 13 elementary schools, three middle schools, and one high school. Operated by high school students under the guidance of the district’s coordinator of communications media, Bob Gillmer, NPTV covers everything from Board of School Directors’ meetings to high school sports and concerts. In addition to its weekly “Mornings” news program, NPTV also broadcasts the monthly “North Penn Right Now” live to the community and to all of the district’s 13,000 students and staff in their classrooms or offices.
NPTV had already been using the Cablecast platform as its playout and automation system prior to the pandemic, with Gillmer praising its ease of use and rich feature set as ideal for the educational channel. “It has all the tools that you really need, particularly for a PEG channel, college, or school at our level,” he said. “It even has tools you may not realize you need yet, and then when you think ‘I wish I could do this,’ you find that it’s already there.”
Tightrope’s introduction of Screenweave Live in April proved timely and valuable for NPTV, enabling student broadcasters to continue reporting the news from their homes by bringing live Zoom web conferencing feeds into the Cablecast system.
“Screenweave Live came along just at the right time for us,” explained Gillmer. “When we closed our schools, we took the next week to plan and sort of reset, and the next Friday we had a live broadcast out to our community via our cable channel using Screenweave Live. We continued doing a full live television show each Friday with our high school students in their homes, me managing it from my living room, and pushing it out on YouTube, Facebook, and our Comcast and Verizon channels. It also lets us bring our virtual school board meetings into our channel live, across all of our platforms.”
Gillmer also highlighted Cablecast’s existing remote access functionality as critical to NPTV’s continuity. “Being able to operate Cablecast remotely through a browser-based interface was already advantageous, as instead of needing to be in the TV studio, I could manage it even while sitting in a meeting across town,” he explained. “It was even more crucial during COVID, as I’m able to run everything from home. The remote upload feature similarly became more important, as I could easily add content to my playout server without needing to be on the same network.”
While the operational benefits of Cablecast and Screenweave Live have been compelling for the NPTV team, even more important is the positive impact they enabled NPTV to have on students during an emotionally challenging time. “One of the things we heard as feedback is that while students couldn’t be in the schools, the ‘normalcy’ of having a live morning show is something they really looked forward to,” said Gillmer. “The show still connected us, and we were still together in a way, sort of like we were still in school.”
NPTV has long trusted Cablecast to keep its channel running 24/7/365, and with the addition of Screenweave Live, the platform is helping them do so even under this year’s extreme circumstances.
“Without them, our cable channel would have been dead on the vine,” Gillmer concluded. “Students are working collaboratively from home, and we’re pulling that all together to broadcast live to our community. Even as students start returning to the classroom, we’ll continue using Cablecast and Screenweave Live to broadcast across cable and online.”