Wisconsin Gets a New 'Eye'


After eight years of planning, Wisconsin last week became the 31st state to offer video coverage of its state house, with the launch of Wisconsin Eye.

Intended as a cable public-affairs network, Eye's launch May 16 at 11 a.m. was an Internet-only affair. The new channel has an affiliate pact with Charter Communications that includes a provision that Charter will interconnect its signal with Time Warner Cable, the state's other large operator. The two companies serve about 60% of the state's cable homes.

But only half of those homes will actually get the service initially, as the channel will be added to digital tiers, not basic carriage.

Chris Long, president of the public-affairs network, explained Wisconsin Eye is still awaiting delivery of a signal encoder that will pass its high-definition signal to Charter. It's expected to be in place in a few weeks.

Wisconsin Eye's broadband site launched with two feeds, covering state Senate and Assembly floor action with the capability of offering four live streams at a time. The venture has installed 70 robotic cameras over the chamber floors, in standing committee rooms, at the executive branch and the state Supreme Court.

The production facility is set up to enable future live studio telecasts with viewer call-ins, and the channel has a field crew for remote telecasts.

The venture was first suggested in 1999 by a state legislative council study.

In several other states, public-affairs channels are partially funded by the state government. But Wisconsin Eye backers wanted their channel to be perceived as totally independent of the chambers to be covered. So they set it up a 501 (c)(3) private charity.

Long said the operating budget is $1 million, with funds from donors as diverse as family foundations, energy companies Xcel Energy and Alliant Energy, the Wisconsin Educations Association Council, the Aid Association for Lutherans, a plumbers' union local and Journal-Sentinel Inc., the owner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

While the venture has carriage deals with the state's biggest operators, Long, a former director of new media for C-SPAN, said that extending the channel's reach to the other 40% of cable homes will require some “creative solutions” because of budget constraints.