You may have noticed that South Dakota’s governor has been in the national spotlight a lot lately, doing numerous live interviews on Fox News. It’s not just because of Smithfield Foods being the number one hot spot for COVID-19 in the nation or Governor Kristi Noem refusing to issue a shelter in place order.

As KELOLAND Investigates has discovered, it’s because last year the governor’s office got a new six-figure TV studio with the ability to broadcast live anywhere, at any time. KELOLAND Investigates finds out what the cost is to you, the taxpayer, and whether or not it’s making Noem more available to local news outlets, not just national ones.

VideoLink Studio in basement of SD capitol building

Noem has been a regular on Fox News. This week she also appeared on Newsmax, another Conservative news and opinion platform.

Those appearances are made possible due to this new TV studio in the basement of the capitol building installed last summer.

Boston-based VideoLink has installed 200 studio all across the United States–but the one in South Dakota is unique:

“She is the first governor to have a ReadyCam, yes–because there’s nothing nearby,” Lloyd Bunting, VideoLink Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, said.

On August 28, 2019, the company even posted on Facebook: “Congratulations to Kristi Noem, Governor of South Dakota, for her first live TV appearance on “Fox and Friends”…. Ms. Noem only has to walk down the hall to appear on TV.”

“Certainly for someone like Governor Noem in South Dakota having the convenience of being able to say ‘yes’ to an interview request on short notice, is really important,” Bunting said.

That ability is costing you the taxpayer up to $130,000 in the first year. KELOLAND Investigates took a look at the contract the State of South Dakota has with VideoLink.

The state did not have to get any competing bids for the TV studio.

According to South Dakota law, the contract with Video Link is exempt if: “the contractor selected is justifiably the sole source.”

“We’ve been able to prove there really are no other options that provide the unique capabilities that we offer that uniquely fit the needs of these organizations,” Bunting said.

The state paid $75,525 for the camera and equipment. Additional training cost another $1,750. The State was responsible for paying for additional phone lines and electrical wiring. And the maintenance fee for the equipment is $5,500 a year. VideoLink charges $350 per half hour for transmission fees.

“The only ongoing expense, for example for the governor’s office, is an ongoing annual maintenance fee, which just allows us to keep the system up and running and doing regular checks and fixing when there is anything wrong, Otherwise when she does her interviews with Fox News, Fox News pays for our services to operate it,” Bunting said.

The state points out that Noem has also shot her public service announcements about COVID-19 from this studio. In that case, the state pays for the transmission fees.

“Which is a heck of a lot less than bringing a videographer into her office to do the same thing,” Bunting said.

Noem’s office says the cost for her to take the state plane to the closest studio is far greater.

The State has paid the company $90,504 since August of last year. Some of that was for transmission fees.

The governor’s office says she also has the capability to talk with local stations across the state. VideoLink says most likely it would be up to the stations to pay the transmission fees. We asked Governor Noem how many local interviews she has conducted from the studio.

“I can let my team follow up with you, but I do know there have been incidents in the past where it has been offered certainly,” Gov. Noem said.

We can confirm that KELOLAND News, along with other South Dakota TV stations we reached out to, have not been offered any live interviews with Governor Noem from her new studio. Without more information provided by the governor’s office, it appears it has only been used for live interviews on Conservative networks and public service announcements.

We have inquired into the use of it, but have not been able to use it. When we checked a while back with her (Gov. Noem’s) PR person, they were unaware of what we were even asking about. To answer specifically, no, we have not used or been offered the use, but would like to.

Chris Gross, General Manager KOTA/KEVN

Invoices on use of VideoLink