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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Is Public Access Worth Saving?

When cable TV first came to the masses there was no internet, no CNN, no MSNBC, no Fox News, no 500 channels and most folks got their news from either the local paper or one of the three (assuming their community had three television stations) networks.

A unique and interesting move was for local and federal government to require that cable operators set aside a few channels to be used for educational, government and public access.

Most notable, public access TV allowed anyone from the general public to produce their own television show, focusing on local news, issues and topics of interests.

Though many of the publicly produced programs on public access TV did just that, many of the programs ranged from odd to bizarre to offensive.

Time went on and more news outlets were born - thanks to cable - and the internet began to blossom.  Particularly with the latter more folks could communicate more of their thoughts to the masses than ever before.

Then, in 2006, a revolution occurred.  The video sharing site, You Tube hit the internet.  Today, YouTube hosts tens of millions of videos and tens of thousands are added each day.  More people watch YouTube in a day than likely watch all of America's public access stations in a year. 

As the revolution in technology changes the cable industry, many are questioning if public access is still a worthy venture.  Here in Los Angeles, the City is making an effort to seize access channels on local cable operators.  While that's a concerning issue in itself, it's time to ask the question do we need to beg for the mercy of the cable companies and/or the City government to get the word out? Or are we better off to focus on the new technologies that activists are already making effective use of to get the word out about important issues.  It wasn't public access or even regular TV that helped to turn out tens of thousands of protestors when voters outlawed same-sex marriage. It was YouTube and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook that got the word out.  Indeed, it was these very technologies that Barack Obama used to turn out citizens to his rallies and voters to the polls.

I turned to public access and saw a show where a comely young woman in a red dress was having suggestive phone conversations with young men, encouraging them to come to an "event" she was hosting locally.  Another offering on public access is a guy who paints while exercising.  I think it's time we move on.

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Blogger Anonymous said:


Nearly all of what's on public access is silliness. It's an ego boost for people who don't otherwise have a way of attracting attention to themselves. It takes up the time and resources of cable company.

Years ago, the cable companies were suggesting to the city that it was time to evolve with the times.

For example, the companies instead could provide the equipment that neighborhood councils and other organizations could use to record their meetings and events and put them on YouTube or the city's website. Those who have special programming they have written could borrow the equipment to record their program.

November 23, 2008 5:08 PM  

Blogger JeffH said:

In fact, the opposite is true.

Most of the programming on public-educational-government (PEG) access TV channels comprises coverage of local government in action, local schools and programs produced by, for and about the same local groups organizations that "anonymous" mentions.

When cable TV companies were the primary providers of equipment, training, and air-time, they could not handle the demand and were not meeting needs of the local communities they served.

That is why there has been steady growth of non-profit organizations taking over and operating PEG Access TV channels across the nation.

LA is surely unique, as the entertainment capital of the world; But that should not disqualify its residents from having "hyper-local" TV stations or community "micro-media" centers - which is what public access TV has evolved into in towns and cities all over the US.

November 24, 2008 4:15 AM  

Blogger Yes we can said:

Video sites like YouTube and vehicles like Facebook are great communication tools but they are essentially peer to peer communications, reaching people who are friends or in agreement on issues or topics.

PEG channels do something different. They offer electronic green space for a range of ideas that are then offered to the whole community via local television, reaching those who may not normally be exposed to these different concepts.

PEG channels now often utilize some of the new media tools, but these new tools supplement what PEG offers, as opposed to supplanting them.

And while there may be some silly programming on PEG, have you taken a serious look at what's offered on commercial tv the past few years? I'd say that there are more serious discussions of issues and a greater range of ideas and points of views on any Public access channel in any community than there are on the local commercial station.

November 24, 2008 11:13 AM  

Blogger The Unsomnambulist said:

I'd argue simply that public access is underutilized, more than simply misused.

But I don't think sites like YouTube render it moot - there are still large segments of society without high speed internet in their homes, or households that know how to use computers.

It would be great to see public access studios also assisting the public in getting content online, since cable providers provide both TV and internet. But thats all it needs, is to evolve, not to be eliminated.

November 24, 2008 2:33 PM  

Blogger Michael Higby said:

I think if Public Access is truly serving people then it should be no problem for PEG groups to raise funds and purchase leased access on cable stations to air public access programming. If people want this proramming they will donate just like they do to PBS.

November 24, 2008 9:47 PM  

Blogger _Unkown said:

Don't forget where Zuma Dogg got his start... I was watching him on Bill Rosendahl's Century Communications channel 77 in the mid-90's.

November 28, 2008 8:39 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

If the Internet has made television obsolete, why do broadcast and cable channels still exist? I'll be willing to give up public access channels when the cable companies eliminate all channels and go entirely to a Youtube video library model.

PEG channels are one of the last vestiges of local programming in a world where media consolidation has corporations thousands of miles away determining what you will watch or listen to. Why would any community want to give that up?

John Z Wetmore

November 30, 2008 6:35 AM  

Anonymous cableguy said:

Judging public access TV by the lowest common denominator of silly shows is like eliminating Olympic wrestling because of the popularity of backyard wrestling....Are you that stipid?

There is alot of people talking here out of their collective arses about something they know little about.
Citizen public access is community and neighborhood TV. The federal govt. mandated this public TV, rightfully years ago. This issue is being ’sand-bagged’ by the LA govt officials who are trying to STOP citizen TV.
I have been connected to public access since 80’s when things cost producer’s real money to producer a show. When things got better in the last decade, the quality of these shows got better with the digital medium and compouter editting.
This issue should be wider publicized because it is just another restriction of community free speech, much like the new gestapo govt push to have the old ridiculously named ‘fairness doctrine’ re-insitutued on public radio. Let the people be heard and let public comment on these issues happen at the city’s committe hearings.
**Why isn’t there any special TV notices on Los Angeles city govt. Channel 36 about these city’s and state’s citizen TV channel closure, the city’s cable TV channel or elsewhere in public newspapers and blogs?
Try googling it and you get very little notice. This looks like a power play by the govt to remove citizen TV shows from the public airwaves. Activism is the only way to fight this draconian gestapo tactics. Get innformed and get active…they take this away..they will take more!

December 01, 2008 6:11 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

This is an argument that we've heard a lot recently but in many ways it doesn't hold water. Public access does many things that YouTube is not designed to do. YouTube provides a venue for producers but it doesn't train people in video production as public access does. It also doesn't provide the local focus that public access offers. Looking for local programming on YouTube is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The idea behind public access is to provide access to the media. YouTube is providing access but under what obligation? It could all be taken away tomorrow. The argument that YouTube somehow makes public access irrelevant is extremely misguided. YouTube augments public access but it doesn't replace it.

December 02, 2008 11:49 AM  

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