Mulling the future of public access TV
Since I moved to Vermont in 2002, I have been on the board of Middlebury Community Television, our local public access channel. Yesterday, the board sponsored a community media forum, where we invited members of our community to come together to discuss the role of a small public access channel in a small town today – for a frame of reference, the population of Middlebury is only 8,000, and the subscriber base for cable is even smaller than that.
As Middlebury’s resident television expert, I gave an opening talk at the forum that outlined the context of PEG (Public / Educational / Governmental) channels, the role they served in the 20th century, and the threats to that role in the new media landscape. My presentation slides are below, which should be fairly self-explanatory.
I share them here to invite a broader conversation about the potential future of PEG channels. As I see it, the transformation away from the old television model, in which the distribution bottleneck meant that the only opportunities for individuals to contribute to television as a producer were going through a PEG channel or working through the complex world of the commercial or public television industries, is good thing overall. Certainly the rise of online video, nearly ubiquitous access to the tools of production, and a multiplication of distribution avenues is a net boon for democracy and creativity.
However, PEGs traditionally have served as community media centers, local anchors in a media system that has skewed toward national and global models. While online distribution certainly allows for localism, it does not privilege that model. Additionally, the digitial divide persists, especially in a state like Vermont with one of the oldest and most rural populations, so organizations like MCTV reach citizens who will never find their way to YouTube. (For instance, I was one of the youngest people in the room yesterday and one of the few who’d ever been to Hulu, YouTube, etc…)
PEG has more competition today from other ways for consumers to become producers, making the exclusive access to the tools of production that public access used to provide less essential for many – again, this is a net gain for democracy, but a tough hit for PEG channels. Additionally, as Jonathan Nichols-Pethick discussed in his recent Flow column, regulatory and corporate shifts threaten to undermine the legal and financial basis of PEG channels.
So I pose the question: what should be the future path that PEG channels take to sustain themselves? Or is this simply an example of a business model that has outlived its necessity, suggesting that those of us involved in community media should repurpose our energies into different models and structures? Are there national/global answers here, or is it all locally-specific?
I’m eager to hear what people might have to say…
Filed under: Media Politics, Middlebury, Technology, Television, TV Industry, Vermont | 6 Comments
Tags: public access