A video-on-demand-service which could represent the future of television has been embraced by some communities in Austria. Spencer Kelly finds out how the new technology is bringing the people of Engerwitzdorf together.
The citizens of Engerwitzdorf are making their own news
Just outside the city of Linz in northern Austria, the community of Engerwitzdorf nestles in rolling hills and lush greenery.
It's a community of 30 or so tiny villages, a place with clean air and quiet surroundings.
Buntes Fernsehen - literally 'colourful TV' - is a local TV service available on broadband and on the local cable service provided by Telekom Austria.
Launched in the summer of 2004, the content is a selection of short films based around local events and local life.
It is a video-on-demand service, where each viewer can choose to watch any film at any time. Some features are factual, some are more creative, but all are filmed, edited and scheduled by local amateur enthusiasts.
"The reason we started Buntes Fernsehen in a small community is that small communities usually have a closer knit network of social activities," said Stefan Tweraser of Telekom Austria.
"They have associations, clubs, things that happen on a local basis, things that produce content on a local basis, and are of interest to a small community in particular."
Of course, like much of local life, planning a film is a social event that takes place in the team's spare time.
The topic under discussion when I visited was a feature on the traditional maypole celebrations, which happen each year.
Buntes Fernsehen relies on the generosity of volunteers
Dozens of enormous poles are erected around the community, and become the focus of a variety of celebrations.
The team had invited a group of local children to take part in one scene, and after explaining what was required, the director and the team began filming.
The team all own their own cameras, which range from professional DVCam machines to lower-end home camcorders. They all use mini-DV or DVCam tapes, which are becoming a popular choice for both amateur and professional broadcasters.
The crew are given basic training and then left to experiment, and learn as they go.
Heart of the community
The results are films that do vary in quality - more professional than a home movie, but obviously not matching the production standards of high-budget broadcasters. But then again, production quality is not the point of the service.
"When you look at what Buntes Fernsehen is delivering to the community it's comparable to the local newspaper," said Mr Tweraser.
"It produces content that is of interest to the very local community at its heart; things that are relevant around the corner not over the whole world.
"It's not meant to rival national television, it's meant to complement it."
One important role of local media is to raise awareness of local issues. The mayor of Engerwitzdorf has already seen how Buntes Fernsehen has been able to improve some aspects of Engerwitzdorf life.
"I think that Buntes Fernsehen can get things moving in the community and for the community," Mayor of Engerwitzdorf Johann Schimböck said.
"It's not only about entertainment and a show, it also reports on what is going on in the community.
Making an impact
"For instance, the film about the recurrent accidents at the crossroads really contributed to putting security measures in place.
"Buntes Fernsehen offers more opportunity for the population to have an impact of community decision making."
The edit suite is a surprisingly professional looking setup in an old government building.
Regina Schuhmayer has been learning to edit using an Avid editing system, and usually fits her editing in around her job and being a mum.
"Buntes Fernsehen can bring light into the living rooms of the people of Engerwitzdorf, especially for people who can't leave the house because they're sick or old," she said
"Through Buntes Fernsehen they can join in and participate in what's going on in the community."
Once edited, uploading the finished feature to the video-on-demand service is as simple as dragging and dropping a file.
As cameras and editing software get cheaper, users like those of Engerwitzdorf are able to enter the world previously ruled over by big budget regional and national broadcasters.
And that, according to the telecoms company that installed the hardware, will be very important.
"We think that user-generated content will play a very, very important role not only in television but also in radio," said Mr Tweraser.
"We have all heard about podcasting as a new catchphrase on the Internet, we've heard about blogging as a new hype on the web. So user generated content is definitely going to be a driver of the future of media."
Unlike blogging, this kind of micro-local broadcast model needs money to work.
With each community producing its own content, every single area will need its own equipment, which will be expensive for any company willing to fund it. For the same reason the service will most likely rely on volunteer staff.
So whether this really is the future of media, of course, remains to be seen.
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