Video Vision: The San Francisco Music Portal


Joanna Newsom Still from Sprout and Bean music video

Electric 6 still from Gay Bar music video

Public Access Television:
Public Open Space Under Threat
- Get Involved
July, 2005 revised June 2006
an opinion

We need everyone to contact their State and Federal and City representatives in June 2006 to demand that any pending legislation (many states and the federal COPE Act) has sustainable Public Access capital and operations funding and that local control of the community media stations will be maintained.
Public Access Television is unique in the media landscape, especially in TV, though. Public Access media studios are a community resource for local self-expression in the most dominant media format in the US – Television! We can start all the pirate radio stations, zines and web sites we want but there is nothing that can compare to the penetration of television into the American psyche and all the media mythology that we learn from the wonder box.

Public Access studios all over the United States are the last bastion of free speech and media literacy that the broadband internet won’t solve because these local studios with local broadcast range allow us to communicate to our local communities about ideas, issues, and ideologies that are unique to each city/region in the most common format Americans use to access information/arts/culture and opinions. Public Access Television makes the critical communication link within a local community possible, and bypasses the “digital divide” that still obstructs communication.

Public Access media studios are unique media sources in every community because they operate with the intention of community expression without censorship, and they are supported and funded by a complex set of ideals about public open space - like a public park, but digital. Like other open spaces, Public Access is typically funded by local governments and a percentage of the use fee paid by cable providers to the local government.

Electric 6 still from Gay Bar music video
The belief that we need to maintain public open space, or at least one channel on TV made by the local community, is often threatened just like all “public goods” are. Public goods, i.e. parks, street lights, and fire stations, are things that municipalities are often responsible for, for the good of all citizens, usually not organized like corporations (modeled on ROI and withdrawal for financial failure). When city funding gets tight, when the cable provider flinches at paying usage/franchise fees, or when someone gets offended by free speech manifestations, the Public Access channel looks into the abyss of mortality. The vitality of local public expression in local communities is at risk every time Public Access funding is threatened.

Joanna Newsom still from Sprout and Bean music video
A frequent misunderstanding is that Public Access Television is the same thing as Public Television, which is the common name for CPB (aka PBS Public Broadcasting Service ). The critical difference is that PBS broadcasts on a channel available to everyone, whereas Public Access Television is limited to cable subscribers, yielding a financial and unbalanced power relationship between Public Access and cable providers. Alternatively, PBS does voluntary fundraising from viewers, gets a subsidy from the US Federal budget and has corporate underwriters. It has an interesting and complex history of funding and Mission. PBS is a national entity, with local affiliates, who program from a national roster and who fund and create local productions as well. When viewed together, Public Access Television and PBS are usually the greatest providers of local programming, and are the sibling entities of Public Television.

Electric 6 still from Gay Bar music video
Recent arguments expressed in the recent CPB federal funding fight indicate that there’s enough PoVs (PoV – Points of View) available on TV because of the bountiful offerings via cable and satellite, and the internet. And that this proliferation of PoVs available from the (for-profit) cable / satellite corporations is equivalent to the particular PoV offered by the (not-for-profit) PBS. Get that? Quantity is equated to quality. Or in other words, if the television spectrum is merely a range of PoVs, then because there are LOTS of PoVs in for-profit cable / satellite, then the spectral range filled by PBS is probably represented with all those other spectra. But really, for-profit PoV just creates great density in portions of the spectra, with a gap in the spectra filled in by the not-for-profit programming on PBS and Public Access.

Joanna Newsom still from Sprout and Bean music video
There is a different sensibility between for-profit TV and Public Media (Public Access & PBS as well as community radio) – a difference that rests pivotally on issues about the programmed material and it’s relationship to advertising dollars because ad dollars are driven by ratings. High ratings come from the broadest audience appeal, whereas most Public Media is niche programming which is driven by interests specific to location – i.e. local programming.

In the meantime - Thousands of community groups and over one million volunteer producers, directors, presenters and technical staff participate in PEG Access production annually. These volunteers produce more than 20,000 hours of new local programming each week! That's more than all the programming produced by NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX and PBS combined! (source: Alliance for Community Media)

Here in San Francisco, Public Access Television has higher ratings than the A&E channel. That's weird because SF is ALL about Arts and Entertainment… but maybe SF citizens would rather watch a channel that better represents the local Arts and Entertainment than the national programming can do. The national syndicate is programmed for San Francisco and... a bunch of other places that have no interest in gourmet vegetarian cooking , Labor biographies, or a transsexual talk show .

At Video Vision we love making a show for Public Access Television because we can take such a different approach to programming because the San Francisco audience embraces an eclectic audio and visual pursuit.  This allows us to play in the whole range of music video – from the experimental and melodic Joanna Newsom’s harp playing (featured in our Noisepop Music Festival broadcast when she played the SF festival in2005) in "Sprout and Bean" to the bawdy and silly of Electric 6's "Gay Bar".

Miscellaneous after thoughts and glossary:

An Opinion - This article is not written by a journalist, and represents a layman's perspective - I wouldn't quote anything here as the gospel truth.

Use or Franchise Fees - Cable providers (Comcast, Time Warner, RCN, etc.) lease the public streets from the cities/counties to run their cable underground and pay the city/county a "franchise" or "use" fee and they have use of the public airwaves for their profitable endeavor of running a cable business.

PBS - PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) - also affiliated to NPR (National Public Radio) and CPB (the national parent, Corporation for Public Broadcasting).

PEG - Three types of format are usually served by Public Access Television - often on 3 different channels - Public Access (community media), Education, and Government (local government proceedings, maybe political forums and hearings that affect a community).

Article by: Catherine Lee

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