Putting it all in to practice

Building a Community

I mentioned running a newsletter above, that’s important. Blog-posts also help. If you’re a social media person, maybe start a group on your social media platform of choice (we try to avoid most social media platforms for ideological reasons, but you’ve got to choose your battles.) Host a regular TV Club meetup where people who want to get involved can get a gentle introduction to your process. Try and be consistent about that event, even when people aren’t showing up (so that they can show up eventually.)

Make it easy for people to contribute. We run a chat service called Matrix via yunohost, and have a matrix room for all contributors, you could do something similar with slack or discord. (we don’t use slack or discord for ideological reasons, but you’ve got to choose your battles.)

Work with local musicians and concert venues. Figure out who is hosting the cool house shows. Figure out what your local counter-culture looks like and figure out how to help and collaborate. Typically, these will be some of your most enthusiastic viewers and potential contributors. They’re already making independent art, and likely intuitively understand the need for this kind of community media. (The union makes us strong)

Limitations and pitfalls

The system we’re proposing is a weird assemblage of self hosted software being managed by amateur system administrators. Stuff, especially on the broadcast side, will break occasionally. Our live stream fails about once every 36 hours right now (and it automatically restarts, and someone notices that the roku has stopped streaming and clicks the button to start it back up. Lather, rinse, repeat.)

The things we’re producing only get produced as quickly as we can produce them. I know that sounds obvious when you say it like that but this means that there might be Months between episodes of a thing.

There are no guarantees of funding or access. Roku could kick us out tomorrow (and we’d move to kodi for our installations, but many of our viewers would simply move on rather than moving with us or viewing online.)

Our livestream is 480p because anything higher resolution than that requires more juice than our server can muster.

We have to manually create and store our “trickplay” thumbnails. We’re using a piece of software called Whisper to automatically generate closed captions, but closed captioning is still complicated and requires a human in the loop.

Ideas and suggestions for DIY TV

  • Concert footage, even better if you can organize the show
  • Documentaries about communities
  • interview local history museum
  • Start a news program recapping upcoming current events and important community news.
    • When was the last time your local water authority had a spill? What was the impact? Did anyone else cover it?
  • read some poetry over slow panning shots of nature
  • do eSports with indie games
    • Seriously there are so many weird and wonderful indie games that would make compelling television, and it’s a great way to further support the independent media community.
  • Interview locals about why they live here
  • Attend protests (safely)
    • stop cop city
  • Visit your local farmers market and talk to the farmers, gardeners, and other sellers about their work.
  • Do a food roadshow, highlighting all the independent restaurants in your community
  • Find the artists in your community and talk to them about their art, their creation process, and their work
    • Go to a gallery
    • Try the local college
    • Talk to the art teachers at your local schools
  • Do a cooking show
  • Mount a dashcam and drive through the countryside
  • Make art on camera
  • Make up a silly character, have them star in a talk show. (Late Night Bights with Dracula?)
  • Teach something
  • stick a visualizer on a podcast or film the podcast recording
  • Go to local school board meetings or city council meetings and tape them (or, if you don’t feel comfortable doing that or they won’t let you, summarize them after the fact.)

Look around your community and find events that should be documented or observed, find stories to tell. There’s a world out there, waiting for you.

Public Domain

We archive a lot of public domain material at the Ellijay Makerspace, and we collect public domain content from elsewhere. We use this public domain content to supplement the schedule of our livestream, as we’re not yet producing video content at a fast enough rate to cover a daily 6 hour programming block with entirely new material.

I think sharing public domain material and creative commons videos produced by other communities is a great way to bootstrap a television network while you’re still putting in the work to get more people involved and more video produced.

Lots of public domain material can be found at the internet archive, on wikimedia commons, and elsewhere. It can be difficult to identify if material is in the public domain, and lots of copyrighted material has been erroneously attributed to the public domain for a long time. Navigating this space can be hard. Go slow, do your research, don’t believe everything that you read.

Success / Failure

If our DIY TV movement is to succeed where others have failed, we need to embrace a few core principles:

  • Own our platforms
  • Build a community
  • Build for economic sustainability
  • Hype one another up, collaborate, share
  • Center our values, demonstrate them in our work

If our DIY TV movement fails, it will almost certainly be because of infighting or a lack of funding. That’s what takes movements like this apart. Plan for that from the drop, and be ready to survive it. A large base of many small groups of contributors who all share or overlap in values and goals is more likely to succeed than a single hierarchical organization in which there are a small number of leaders who can get sick, get bored, or sell out. Embrace the occasionally chaotic nature of collaborative ideation, lift one another up.

New Ellijay Television

We run New Ellijay Television in Ellijay GA. We broadcast a mix of original, Creative Commons licensed, and Public Domain content 24 hours a day on our website and on roku.

New Ellijay Television lives at https://newellijay.tv That website is hosted on a small, cheap server from a cloud hosting company. It is powered by yunohost, which I used to install wordpress for our main website, peertube for a Video on Demand and Live Stream network, ffplayout for playback to our livestream network, and nextcloud for collaborating with our crew.

Our network is played in TVs installed in businesses throughout the city. These businesses agreed to play our network in exchange for occasional free advertising. We used the fact that these TVs were running our network to sell more advertising.

We produce at least one live concert a month (sometimes as many as one a week) in addition to a weekly news program, and original sitcoms, dramas, and documentary content. We archive and re-transmit historical public domain content– Largely television programs from the late 40s and early 50s which were never given a proper home video release. We host a quarterly film festival, selections from which are added to our weekly rotation.

Every week, a small group of people interested in producing community TV gets together at our makerspace or at the local coffeeshop to plan, to write, to discuss, and to make television. We’ve done live broadcasts from these meetings and we’ve used them to shoot pilots for programs we were interested in trying. These are largely informal affairs, and people come and go as they are able.

We work with local businesses to promote our town and the things to do in our community, this lets us get funding from the local tourism board which helps fund the rest of what we’re doing. We make art and tell stories about the people who live and work in our communities, and about people like them.

We work with a local makerspace, the Ellijay Makerspace, to produce most of our video content. A lot of the cameras I described above, and most of the computers we use are provided by the makerspace. You might not have a local makerspace, that’s fine. Find a coffee shop or a library or a record store that will let you post some flyers or hold some meetings and start finding like minded folks to work with. You can’t do this alone, but you can do it.