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More downsizing at MPT as master control function shifts to Boston

MPT operates with 112 fewer positions than it did in 2002.

It is unlikely that viewers will notice any change on their screens, but the job of monitoring the schedule and flow of programs broadcast on Maryland Public Television will now be done out of Boston rather than Owings Mills.

The move will result in the elimination of two positions at the station, MPT management said.

In a plan that MPT President and CEO Larry D. Unger estimates will save the station more than $2 million during the next five years, the state-owned public broadcaster will outsource the function of master control to Public Media Management (PMM), a partnership between Boston’s WGBH and Sony Electronics. WGBH is one of the largest stations in public broadcasting.

Master control – with its banks of monitors and control boards – has long been one of the most widely recognized images of the technological might and second-by-second organization of the TV industry. It is where the station’s schedule of programs is kept on track.

But like everything else in media, that is changing dramatically with new technology and greater demands for efficiency.

“We actually started looking at this probably  three years ago,” Unger said in a phone interview Monday. “ I heard through the industry that technology was allowing us to do different things with master control, including the fact that it didn’t have to be here and you could get an economy of scale by doing this with other stations. ... And we need all the savings we can get.”

One of the savings will be with the elimination of master control jobs at MPT.

“Obviously, there is less personnel that are required to do this, and we feel bad about that,” Unger said. “But let me tell you, in 2002, MPT had 257 positions. Today, we operate with 145 positions. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t looking for these kind of efficiencies.”

Unger said MPT had a staff of eight master control operators when they first started looking to outsource. He said the broadcaster told the eight employees of its plans to make a change at least 18 months ago.

He says three operators have since retired and one found another job “within the state.”  Of the remaining four, two will be retained to “coordinate” out of Owings Mills with PMM.

“Two people will be displaced, that’s it,” Unger said. “We’re sorry as we can be about that, but we have to do the right thing for MPT overall.”

Unger said there will be further savings in not having to buy new equipment.

 “The other half of it is that we spent millions [of dollars] 10-12 years ago when we converted master control to digital,” he said. “Well, guess what? It’s now all out of date. And if I don’t do this [join the PMM partnership], I have got to replace that equipment, and I’ve got to do it soon." 

Unger said the station has been “running dual” since May to test the system, but it will be switching over exclusively soon.

“Within the next couple weeks, we’re going live,” he said.

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