Partnership with ORAU leads to expansion of Media Monitoring Lab

Digital Content Analysis LabDevelopment of the Department’s Digital Content Analysis Lab (DCA) took a big leap forward through a funded partnership with Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU). The grant (Principal Investigator, Dr. Nancy Harrington) has given us the opportunity to further develop our media monitoring system and expand our access to television coverage to include the Huntsville, Alabama television market. During the first year of the grant, the Department’s Office of Research and Instructional Technology (COM-RIT) developed a custom DVR server for deployment at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

In four months’ time, COM-RIT, specifically Patrick Helm (hardware engineer) and Benjamin Grimes (software/database programmer), developed a robust, stand-alone DVR server system capable of efficiently capturing and storing streaming video and transcripts from up to 12 digital television streams. In lieu of traditional software topology, this prototype uses virtualization technology to run fully optimized loads with incredible reliability. The hardware architecture is centered around a single enterprise-class, rack-mounted, server with full redundancy. A comprehensive server management system allows us to ship a unit to a host location and fully manage and troubleshoot all aspects of the system remotely. The end result of this development is a highly-efficient, very robust and fail-safe television server that runs on less energy than a typical household coffee maker.

Goals for the next phase of this partnership are to deploy 10-20 additional DVR servers across the Tennessee Valley with the hope that access to such a system and its data would help to foster new research collaborations and additional funded opportunities.

For the past 8 years, the Department of Communication has been developing innovative strategies and technologies to capture, store, and analyze media content.  The department’s DCA Lab’s “COMMTV” is a searchable, streamable television archive which currently stores approximately 1.5 million hours of television transcripts and streaming video to support the department’s media research.

The capture and analysis of broadcast television coverage of issues related to public health and safety is an innovative strategy in developing effective interventions in risk and crisis situations. Risk and crisis communication is a research area that the Department of Communication targeted for development approximately five years ago. We have been highly successful in that effort, due in large part to our recruitment of Dr. Timothy Sellnow and Dr. Shari Veil, both leaders in risk and crisis communication research.

Television is the most common medium used in times of crisis, threat, and disaster. Researchers consider it the most important source of information during a crisis. Investigating the messages that audiences receive via television during a crisis not only helps researchers understand audience response, but also helps them to design future messages to elicit appropriate audience action in crisis situations, especially crises that suddenly increase health risks.

Thanks to COM-RIT for helping us capitalize on this new opportunity!


Sample graph of key terms from the DCA Lab's "COMMTV" search interface.

Sample graph of channel distribution from the DCA Lab's "COMMTV" search interface.