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For Mississippi Public Broadcasting, the future is right now

Things are changing at Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) as technology alters the way content is delivered as well as the audiences receiving it.

Executive director Marie Antoon says public broadcasting — radio and television — have always been leaders in technology.

“Community broadcasters saw digital broadcasting as an opportunity to create more regular content and to build more public service such as emergency information,” she said. “The emphasis is on any content, any time. We find we connect more with the Mississippi audience with a Mississippi voice.”

That Mississippi voice, however, is reaching out to other states. The daily afternoon classical music program is available online and receives requests from listeners outside Mississippi. There are six locally produced podcasts with a following in and out of the state. Those six are “Mississippi Edition,” “Relatively Speaking,” “Money Talks,” “Southern Remedy,” “Creature Comforts” and “Gestalt Gardener.” Several more are in the planning phase, according to communications director Mari Irby.

Antoon is pleased that MPB is able to bring state government to residents. “We broadcast the 2008 legislative session. It’s a powerful effect to bring government to a big audience,” she said. “We created vignettes for all the candidates last year, too.”

An important change for MPB is the ability to produce content one time and put it into different formats that can be distributed many times. “When we stream over the web, that allows us to partner with others,” said Jay Wood, deputy executive director for content. “Our content has an exponential effect when we are willing to share.”

MPB’s webmaster Thomas Broadus points out that the broadcast organization partnered with other bloggers so they can host MPB content on their sites. Data casting and a revamped news site are also being developed with partners.

“With powerful software, we can take modules others have built and develop the news site so that reporters can post news instantly to the website. That means getting true breaking news,” he said. “We will have that up for the Presidential debates so they can be covered in several ways. We can also host web activities.”

Antoon says the goal is to partner with as many different organizations as possible. Rotary Clubs of Mississippi’s Central District is committed to raising funds to help MPB with data casting content for child care centers.

“We want to see literacy gains and the Rotary Clubs will be our eyes and ears in the communities,” she said. “They will also administer pre- and post-tests and have members as designated readers.”

Other partners include the Mississippi Library Commission, the Mississippi Delta Revitalization Commission and the State Department of Education.

“These groups recognize that there are innovative ways of teaching,” Antoon said. “Data casting is not a teacher in front of a camera and a blackboard. It’s still about screens, but they’re attached to different devices. It gets content into the hands at the right time and in the right way.”

With digital transports send to computers, a box at child care centers will receive the signal and pull out content. That way, data casting can send different content to different child care centers.

These technology upgrades at MPB are being funded in several ways. “We’re frugal and careful with funds,” Antoon says. “We rebuilt for digital and replaced transmitters that were 25 years old. Technology had really changed during that time. For the same amount, we were able to upgrade.”

The agency has also had staff reductions and received funding from the National Foundation for Public Broadcasting, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and private groups such as the Barksdale Foundation. The advanced news section utilizes open source software.

“It’s hard to estimate the social impact of digital format. It’s transforming broadcasting in layers people don’t even realize,” she said. “We still don’t know where this will take us. To paraphrase Pogo, we’ve seen the future and it is us.”

Through digital formatting, MPB can reach people where they are and when they want to be reached. Gone are the days of having to be in front of a TV set at seven o’clock. Content is available by cell phone, iPod, computer and laptop computers.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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