http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2009/01/02/no-news-is-good-news-for-tv30


Pleasanton Weekly

Column - January 2, 2009

No news is good news for TV30

by Jeb Bing

No news is good news for TV30. By stripping the Tri-Valley's community broadcast station of its costly four-day-a-week live news show last June, the four mayors who now control TV30 trimmed $250,000 from a runaway budget that had forced city councils (a.k.a. taxpayers) to contribute about $70,000 from each of the cities for two years in a row just to keep the station on the air. The action came after surveys showed that about 70 percent of the 200,000 people who live in the TV30 coverage area never watch TV30 or its sister channels 28 (education) and 29 (city government), or had only watched it once. The mayors--Jennifer Hosterman of Pleasanton, Dublin's Janet Lockhart, Livermore's Marshall Kamena and San Ramon's Abram Wilson--replaced the once-appointed and independent board of directors and executive directors after two consecutive years of runaway budgets. Besides the community survey, they also brought in outside auditors who spent three months sifting through scraps of old budgets and financial materials. Last June, after cutting payroll and programs, the mayors approved a budget for fiscal 2008-09 of $587,000, down from the $880,193 spent the year before and reasonably balanced with revenue that includes $430,000 a year from Comcast and the rest from sponsors/advertisers who support the nonprofit system.

They also hired this fall a new executive director, Melissa Tench-Stevens, who has extensive experience in financial management as well as 20 years as director of programming and station operations for independent station KICU, Channel 36 in San Jose. Tench-Stevens also was president and CEO of the Evers Group in San Jose, which produced television programs. Already, with just a few months on the job, she successfully produced a series of candidate forums covering local city council and school board races in the Nov. 4 election, and has produced and started broadcasting "A Slice of Life" programs that feature each of the four cities. These hour-long specials are built with four 15-minute stand-alone shorts, with Tench-Stevens coordinating the topics with the mayors and their city managers. Other programs, including the "Mayor's Report," and council and school board meetings from the four cities are continuing to be broadcast on one of TV30's three channels.

Still, with the mayors and city councils obsessed with restraining the cost of operating a nonprofit television broadcast system, station equipment and rapidly-changing technology in the industry is costing more than Comcast's contribution and sponsorships can cover. Simple repairs, such as grid breakers that were broken and burned out studio lights to more expensive new monitors and software are potential budget-breakers that Tench-Stevens has to deal with. When she started the job, it was not uncommon for TV30 to go "dark" during part of the day as it trimmed-down workforce tried to fix the problem. Costs for high-tech HDTV digital equipment are in the tens of thousands of dollars, money that TV30 doesn't have and the city councils don't want to spend.

There's also little back-up programming to fill time slots when there's nothing new to air. Some programs, including the few features that TV30 has produced, run multiple times, often months at a time. A "Ghost" program, taped at a Museum On Main lecture more than two years ago, was running regularly until Tench-Stevens tossed it out.

Even with the budget in sync with incoming revenue, Tench-Stevens and the mayors face new concerns. The surveys of Tri-Valley residents showed that an increasing number of households, particularly in Pleasanton and the Dougherty Valley, rely on dishtop receivers for satellite TV, bypassing Comcast. These providers don't offer TV30 to their subscribers and also don't contribute to the community television system. In 2011, just two years from now, Comcast's agreement with the cities to provide free channel space and to collect 50 cents from each subscriber to support TV30, expires. New federal regulations give cable television providers such as Comcast and AT&T the right to serve their communities without local regulations. AT&T, when it installed its system in San Ramon, agreed to a stipulation by the city of San Ramon to offer TV30. But to access the station, viewers must punch several codes into their remotes, a process that most are finding too complicated and time consuming. In 2011, even the AT&T agreement expires for that limited audience in San Ramon.

For now, through the creative talents and experience that Tench-Stevens brings to TV30, and the mayors' monthly board meetings to review the station's needs and costs, TV30 will continue with improved local programming but probably with steadily decreasing revenue. The number of Comcast cable subscribers may have peaked with AT&T planning to compete in Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore shortly. The economic downturn has also affected the number of sponsorships, with some of the largest accounts opting out, at least until they see their own profits back on track. The mayors, in their survey, found that other cities, such as Palo Alto and even Contra Costa County (Channel 27 in Pleasanton), own and operate their own community television stations. Of course, with these local governments as owners, their stations are hardly independent in terms of programming. But with the mayors of Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore and San Ramon now in charge of TV30, there may be little difference. The question is will the four city councils agree to foot the bill which only last year they grumbled about?

Comments

Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Jan 2, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Missing in this piece is a statement as to what is the charter (purpose) of TV30 and its sister station channel 28. If you know what it is and you support it, then you four mayors should come up with the money. If you don't either understand it or don't support it if you do understand the charter, then get rid of it.

If nobody is watching it, and you don't have a clear view of its purpose, the answer is clear. If nobody is watching it, but you really believe it has a purpose, then throw more money at it.

It seems TV30 is caught in a twilight zone. It is supposed to be competitive against the myriad other channels in capturing viewer's interest but has one one thousandths of the budget that the others have for programming and infrastructure. What a losing battle!


Posted by nofrank, a resident of Stoneridge
on Jan 9, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Actually, frank, TV30 is NOT meant to "compete" with the "myriad other channels"... it's meant to supplement them.

No news is not good news, it's never good news when a community loses its only local newscast.

TV30 has two things working for it: it's a TV station and it's a non-profit. There should be no problem finding FREE volunteers looking to kill their time or for TV experience. Use 'em!