By Tom Ballard
If you are tired of the cable on campus, you might be pleased to find out that the way you watch cable TV on campus is about to change, according to an email recently released to the College community on Thursday, Feb. 25.
According to Sean Stallings, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, there will be a new cable service on campus that is set to be implemented in the next couple of weeks. The new service will differ greatly from the one currently provided by the College’s current contract with Comcast.
“The new (cable service) that we will offer is a product called Philo TV,” Stallings said. “(The College will) be able to offer students portable television on (their) phones, tablets, computers — we (will) be able to offer (students)… DVR (digital video recorder) capabilities, high-definition and premium cable channels, such as HBO and Cinemax, as well as expanded cable (to include channels like) Spike TV and Food Network.”
According to the email, the new service will include eight “over the air” channels and 62 satellite channels, most of which will be provided in high definition, along with two channels especially for the College that will be provided in standard definition.
Stallings said that the first set of changes in cable comes as the College transitions from a traditional cable service and builds the infrastructure to become compatible with the new internet-based service.
“There was some infrastructure stuff (the College) had to do, and that is what’s being installed now,” Stallings said. “Satellite dishes, and what’s called ‘racks’ are being installed on the campus — that (is what) will receive the signal, decode it (and send the signal) out.”
Stallings said that there are two main phases that residential students at the College will go through in the transition to receive the new cable service on campus.
In the first phase, Stallings said that students will be able to access the new cable on any portable or internet compatible devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computers. According to Stallings, students will be given a website to go to and log in using their College username and password. The system will then authenticate the user to make sure that they are a residential student at the College. The new services, according to Stallings, will only be available on students’ devices while they are on campus.
“If you’re sitting out on Alumni Grove, you can open up your phone or your tablet or something, and (if) you want to record a show, you’ll be able to do that. And it’s your own DVR. You can, eventually, not in this first launch, but eventually, you will have HBO GO capabilities, which is HBO that you can basically take with you (on the go) and, in that instance, you will be able to use that at an off-campus location,” Stallings said.
During this phase, cable will not be available for televisions connected to a coaxial cable in dorm rooms, and would instead have to be connected by an HDMI cable to a computer or a Roku box — a digital media player device that is able to stream videos online via Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable, Stallings said.
After the initial services are provided to residential students, the College will enter into the second phase of the project, which would include restoring cable service to televisions connected by a coaxial cable.
“There is existing equipment that we have to (determine)… if it can receive the satellite signals,” Stallings said. “We’ve been bringing in an old signal over old wires for a long time, and now we’re bringing in high-definition service over, in a new format, and essentially what we’ll like to do is just plug (the new equipment) in once we cut the old one.”
Stallings said that while the College is optimistic that the second phrase transition with the new wires will run smoothly, he noted that there is a chance that it might require additional time to restore cable service to televisions connected by coaxial cables, depending on how compatible the old and new equipment are.
“These wires are too old,” Stallings said. “So because of the timing, I set the priority that we have to get students something, and we also know from other reports that almost all of our students have smartphones, and we believe all of them have computers, and so, no one should really be shut-out of this format.”
Residence halls that do not have Wi-Fi — the townhouses and Travers and Wolfe halls — will still be able to receive cable during the first phase by using a computer connected by an ethernet cable to the internet, according to Stallings.
“(Students) will have to plug (their devices) into the wall… through the ethernet, so they wouldn’t be able to do it on their phones using the Wi-Fi signal,” Stallings said.
Under the new cable services, academic buildings will lose connection to cable, according to Stallings. After reaching out to Academic Affairs, Stallings said that it was found that cable is not frequently used in the academic buildings, and professors would still be able to access cable if a residential student in the class signed into their account.
According to Stallings, the new cable services — with its additional channels and viewing outlets — will come at no additional cost to residential students. Stallings said that as the College’s three-year contract with Comcast came to an end, they then offered a new five-year contract to the College, which offered the same service currently being provided to students with an increase in the rate of roughly 50 percent, or $100,000.
“I couldn’t justify paying that much more for what we already get, and that’s what ultimately led to us asking the questions about, ‘Are students evening using (cable)?’” Stallings said, referring to a survey sent out to residential students last semester that asked them to discuss their on-campus cable use. “We did learn that there’s still a contingent of students who are watching television… They are watching (television) traditionally, (with programs like) live shows, sporting, basketball, football, college football (and) the Oscars, etc… So we didn’t feel that we could completely go dark and students will be OK with that.”
Stallings said that the new services provided to students will actually cost the College less than the current one. He also noted that the investment that the College has placed in building the new infrastructure will help the College save money over time.
Stallings said that the new service provided the quickest way to give a better quality cable service without increasing pricing for room and board. According to Stallings, the new contract will be with Campus Televideo, a television programing service that specializes in providing programing to college residence halls, and will provide the services that Philo TV provides.
He said that when public institutions, like the College, do large contracts, they are required to go through a bidding process in the state of New Jersey in which private companies would bid to do the contract. Stallings said that since another public state college, William Paterson University, has a contract with Philo TV, the College was able to use that contract as a way to expedite the process.
“This is… the only thing we could do given the timing that we have,” Stallings said. “It would have taken probably months to a year to actually (go through the bidding process and replace the equipment) and I didn’t feel comfortable saying to students, ‘You’re going to be in the dark for an undetermined amount of time,’ so this was our only option because… there was an existing state contract that we could jump on.”
Some students expressed support for the new changes but also admit that online video streaming websites have traditionally kept them from watching cable television on campus.
“I haven’t really looked into it,” freshman biology major Alyssa Webster said of the program. “I’m more into Netflix… but since it’s (coming at no additional cost) I may want to look into it.”
Stallings said that the department of Residential Education and Housing will prepare residential students and provide them with resources in order to help them transition into the new service.
Door hangers and signs on napkin dispensers in Eickhoff Hall along information provided to community advisors (CAs) on campus will soon provide additional information to students in regards to the new services, according to the email.
If students experience any problems with the new cable services, they can contact Philo TV for support in troubleshooting cable connection problems.