MI: Public access TV channel may vanish without funding

Posted on January 29, 2008 - 9:41pm.

from: MLive

Public access TV channel may vanish without funding
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
By Greg Chandler
The Grand Rapids Press

HOLLAND -- Viewers of the public-access channel MacTV outside the Holland city limits could lose coverage later this year unless their local governments step in to assist with funding.

City officials may pull the plug on an interconnect agreement with neighboring municipalities if they are unwilling to contribute to funding for MacTV.

That could take effect July 1, when the new fiscal year starts, officials said Monday.

Former MacTV board member and Park Township Clerk Jeff Ebihara on Monday proposed a funding scenario in which six surrounding municipalities would contributed up to a third of the channel's projected $260,000 budget for 2008-09.

Covering costs

The funds would come from franchise fees paid by cable companies, such as Charter Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., to the cities and townships.

"You can't just cut off the transmission without telling people and letting them know what's happening," Ebihara told the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council's Policy Committee.

Currently, Holland provides $180,000 of MacTV's $220,000 budget, executive director Barb Pyle said.

At least one township official questioned the value of televising local meetings and providing other locally-produced programs. He says few people watch.

"We received almost no response when we went off the air," said Holland Township Supervisor Terry Nienhuis, whose board's meetings have not been televised since 2002.

The Holland Township Board turned down a request to fund MacTV six years ago.

Public-access TV supporters said tracking viewership is difficult, and that such figures aren't the point.

They said MacTV provides a way for people to find out what is going on in the community, including watching governmental meetings or programs featuring local groups and organizations.

"We don't do it for ratings. We do it to reach out to the community and let people know what's going on," said Jodi Syens, the city's liaison to the Community Access Television board.

Limited viewership

A study on MacTV last March by a Hope College marketing class for MacMedia, the nonprofit under which MacTV operates, showed viewership was limited.

It also showed that program quality inconsistent and there was declining support among municipalities to fund the station.

The marketing audit showed 48 percent of those responding said they tuned into MacTV, but watched it less than two hours weekly compared to 22 hours a week on other television programs.

Under Ebihara's proposal, Zeeland and the townships of Holland, Park, Laketown, Zeeland and Fillmore could contribute more than $99,000 out of their franchise fees.

He points out the fees were originally designed to be used for cable-related expenses, such as public, educational and government channels. However, most municipalities put their fees back into their general funds.

( categories: Comcast | MICHIGAN | State Franchises )