TV30 facing financial fight for its life | January 11, 2008 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 11, 2008

TV30 facing financial fight for its life

Costs soar, revenue down as mayors take control of station

by Jeb Bing

The four Tri-Valley mayors who have taken control of TV30, the area's pioneer and only independent community television system, may scuttle much of the live on-air programming, including its award-winning news show, to stop a continuing financial shortfall that has put the entire system at risk.

"We have to understand that TV30 is in receivership and we can't spend any more money until we fix the problem," Dublin Mayor Janet Lockhart said.

Lockhart, who chairs the new TV30 board, said the group is determined to hold the line this year on the system's $654,933 fiscal year budget that ends June 30. On a month-to-month analysis, however, it's already overspent.

Others on the board are mayors Jennifer Hosterman, Marshall Kamena of Livermore and H. Abram Wilson of San Ramon.

After a major budget shortfall last May that required each of the four cities to provide emergency funds of $65,000, city officials fumed and warned they might not be so generous again. That's when the mayors wrested control of the volunteer board and imposed strict fiscal rules to be handled by each city on a rotating basis. This is Dublin's two-year duty.

At a recent strategic planning session, the mayors said costly programs that are not generating revenue may have to be cut back or axed altogether, including its much heralded news show, called "Live at Four," which airs four days a week and is one of only a few live news broadcasts from a community television system.

Lockhart said there could be cutbacks in the times TV30 and its auxiliary channels 28 and 29 are on the air, and a reliance on more self-produced shows, such as a program ValleyCare Medical System pays for and produces.

"We simply have to stop spending," Lockhart said.

That might not be easy. Glenn Davis, station director, said much of the equipment, including costly cameras, computers and software packages, are old and capable of only broadcasting in analog in an age when acceptable programming requires all-digital broadcasts. Although TV30 made the switch to digital, Davis said the old equipment is being strained to the breaking point and will have to be replaced if TV30 stays on the air.

His concerns were overshadowed, however, by a second harassment suit filed against him in as many years. Davis has since been placed on paid administrative leave although the board agreed to allow his accuser, Misty Ty, to continue her television production work at the station. Last year, News Director Linda Elliot quit the station and filed a sexual harassment suit against Davis. A hearing on the suit is pending in Alameda County Superior Court.

There's been personnel turmoil at TV30 for several years. Darla Stevens, a longtime director and one of the founders of TV30, left the station amid an exodus of long-term employees when the four cities hired a $50,000-a-year director, Bruce Goddard. But he lasted only a year after complaints began surfacing about his management style and several key on-air professionals left. It took six months before Davis, a television producer, was recruited and hired.

Davis moved quickly to upgrade the station with new equipment and programs. He also bought outside programs from other community stations, including "Washington Report" and added "Buzz" to the nightly news, featuring celebrity reports on Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and others.

"I'm not sure where we will go with live news," Lockhart said, "but it seems to have lost some of its local thrust."

At the end of the 2005-06 fiscal year, TV30's budget totaled $677,479, well above the $409,442 received that year from Comcast which collects 50 cents per subscriber to support TV30 and also provides it with flagship channel 30 and auxiliary channels 28 and 29. At the end of 2007, with Comcast's funding rising to $473,818, TV30's budget rose to $710,863.

TV30 had obtained a line of credit to take care of shortfalls, but used this to cover bills and payroll in 2006. Last year, with no backup plan, the station was $208,000 in debt in May. Cities rushed emergency measures through their councils to provide $65,000 from their General Funds so that TV30 could meet its payroll.

"It was a real wakeup call," said Lockhart, who has been chosen chairwoman of the new board of mayors. Dublin also has assumed fiscal and oversight responsibility for the station for next two years.

In its strategic planning session, the mayors and their staffs read through the details of two- and three-year-old financial reports that an auditor had just completed examining. They also reviewed surveys of other community television stations with budgets for the current fiscal year considerably under TV30's $654,933 for the 12-month period ending this coming June 30. Unlike TV30, however, most of the other stations are owned and operated by cities or a county, with public programming largely targeted to covering government news.

Fremont spends $5,000 a year for its Channel 27 broadcast, which airs programs created by city departments eight hours each day, five days a week. Tracy spends $160,000 for staff salaries and supplies for its city programs on Channel 26; Ventura spends $460,000 for programs that include adult education, and Los Gatos spends $75,000.

Only Palo Alto and Contra Costa County spend more than TV30. Contra Costa, which airs locally on Channel 27 in the Tri-Valley, appropriates $800,000 from the county's General Fund. Palo Alto broadcasts locally in that city on channels 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 at a cost of $700,000.


Like this comment
Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jan 11, 2008 at 8:35 am

It is sad to see this occurring with TV30. As a teen I got the opportunity to volunteer my time there as a camerawoman on one of the live shows. It kept me out of trouble in so-called "boring" Pleasanton and provided good experience. Perhaps some of that State "career tech" funding that is supposedly available and underutilized by our school district could be put towards high school programs at the station. I don't think it is a secret to anyone familiar with the operations at the station that Darla Stevens left big shoes to fill.

Other areas of concern:
- I question if it is really necessary to operate three channels.
- In some ways I think it is dangerous to have a public-access station operated by a city cover govt. news.

Like this comment
Posted by aaron
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Jan 11, 2008 at 1:05 pm

i like ctv, it has given an opportunity for alot of rop students to learn alot about television, media, and production, a very usefull tool, that helps people get the start to their future. they should have some type of telethon, i'm sure the community would come show support.

Like this comment
Posted by Annoyed in Livermore
a resident of Livermore
on Jan 12, 2008 at 1:51 pm

What other kind of writing on the wall do you need, to see that they are absolutely incapable of effectively choosing a solid leader for this channel? This isnt brain science, there are business models everywhere on how to run a tv station such as this. We [television] have been in business for over 60 years. What has happened at TV30 is toxic. Keeping the director in his position after losing money the first year was already a very poor choice, then keeping him after a sexual harassment suit was filed was an even poorer choice. Now the channel has lost an unreasonable amount of money and has a second law suit against the director. A third grade class could run this station better than these leaders have. These are the people who run your cities! You better get out there and vote vote vote for people who know how to protect the citizens money and value and our labor laws. I heard that the reporters at TV30 make considerably less per hour than ALL the other employees. I am an on camera performer and all I can say is "this is why we must have unions!"

Like this comment
Posted by viewer
a resident of Golden Eagle
on Jan 17, 2008 at 6:16 pm

I do know that the amount of money that TV30 gets per cable home has not been raised in 10 years. On top of that a lot more homes have a dish than 10 years ago and they don't pay for TV30 (not saying they should). Meanwhile ComCast has raised their charges three fold in the same 10 years.

I am not for increasing what ComCast charges customers, I am in favor of have more money from ComCast go to TV30 without raising customer fees. They are making plenty of money, call it community service expense for being allowed to do business in the valley.

Like this comment
Posted by Tri-Valley Native & Media Aficianado
a resident of Livermore
on Jan 23, 2008 at 6:37 am

The problem is, Davis was running it as a commercial station.

It's a non-profit.

And the news just isn't LOCAL anymore. We have KTVU if we want to want Bay Area-wide news. We have channel 30's news to focus on the Tri-Valley, and it's not doing that. It's all style, no substance.

There are also less volunteer opportunities at the station, and they take less advantage of the R.O.P. students than when I was there in the 90's. Us R.O.P. students used to run entire tapings. We gained experience that a high school student couldn't get anywhere else, they got free labor. That certainly helped offset staffing costs. Plus they used to air the R.O.P. programming regularly and people actually watched it: I even got recognized once!

If this what Channel 30 has and will continue to turn into, I'm fine to watch it go.

Otherwise channel 30 has to use more volunteers, R.O.P. students, and interns than Davis was permitting.

I also think they do NOT currently have a sales staff. As long as it's being run like a commercial station, they should staff it like one. There is ALWAYS a larger sales staff at a tv/radio station than production or news staff. In this case, the sales staff would just be selling underwriting instead of actual commercials.

The current management is just concerned about how sharp and professional everything looks, and that's pushing them into debt. The problem is, it's a COMMUNITY station, it's SUPPOSED to be low-budget... and that's why we like it.

In fact, they need to put the community back into "Tri-valley Community Television."

Like this comment
Posted by Tri-Valley Native & Media Aficianado
a resident of Livermore
on Jan 23, 2008 at 7:12 am

Oh yeah, and a response to "Annoyed in Livermore": TV30 reporters do NOT make less than everyone at the station. In fact, ever since Davis was named manager, they make a ridiculously HIGH wage for working their first job... at commmunity station notheless. Davis over-pays everyone else he hires himself as well, including the production staff (which is also too large for the station's size). When you get your first job in broadcasting, you're usually just excited to be working.

Like this comment
Posted by Lou
a resident of Livermore
on Feb 28, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Can somedbody please cancel the "Downtown Livermore" show? You know.
The one witht the lady trying to get people to shop downtown.
It's dreadful. I would rather be subjected to someone's home movies than
watch that wretched program.