Assessing Public Access TV in a Changing Media Landscape
Martha Fuentes-Bautista, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) cable television services are under pressure on several fronts. Since 2005, many states (including Texas) have passed laws that challenge the sustainability of public access television—notably by eliminating municipal franchise agreements that guaranteed future operational funds for public access. The spread of personal computers, video file sharing services, and other technologies that facilitate individual-based video production has also raised questions about the relevance of this form of community media. This study explores the implications of shifting regulatory environment for Public Access Community Television (channelAustin), a Texas non-profit corporation organized to manage the three channel for public access in Austin: Channels 10, 11, and 16.
In collaboration with channelAustin, Dr. Fuentes-Bautista develops metrics that explore the impact of the new regulatory frameworks on public access performance, and their significance for citizens who use channelAustin's resources and services. Recognizing that sustainability is not only a function of future funding but also community involvement, channelAustin is interested in understanding producers, trainees and supporters’ engagement in their digital community media center services. This information is critical to PACT’s ongoing strategic planning process. The study is also designed to be generalizable in ways that will yield insights for access initiatives elsewhere in Texas and in other states shifting toward statewide video franchises.
Among of the main outcomes of the study are the following findings:
- channelAustin serves video production needs of a wide range of communities in Austin.
- The availability of low cost video production equipment and free web-based video distribution has not decreased the demand for video production resources available at channelAustin.
- The majority of programs produced at channelAustin tend to be generated by residents of ethnically diverse areas of the city.
- Producers leverage production skills acquired at channelAustin in advocacy, community outreach, arts, career development in TV, film, radio, music, and theater production, and video-game and digital media design.
- The number of channelAustin programming hours aired in 2008 increased 41% over 2007.
- channelAustin producers involvement in community media projects (radio, theater, independent film, and music production) and online projects (Internet radio, podcasting, and videoblogs) underscore their contribution to Austin’s thriving digital media sphere.
Findings of this study suggest that in a multi-channel environment, strengthening localism demands the expansion of local capacities to produce a wide range of digital media content (i.e., video, film, radio, podcasting), and to engage local audiences through the dominant digital media platforms, from cable channels to Web-based distribution systems and mobile devices.