Thursday, January 17, 2008

Guvmn't TeeVee

It's hard not to read this blog post and not feel a little nostalgic about the pending loss of the GTV team in HoCo. It's not that we were dedicated fans of the channel -- though there was a time long ago we found ourselves weirdly addicted, waiting for some train wreck or petty dispute to erupt on the County Council. What we miss is the promise of the channel, real public engagement.

Way back when cable television was born, all sorts of business groups competed to win the first franchise, and they loaded their bids with offers to give away channels for the schools, government and public access. But the offerings never really caught on (although one could argue that the original public access shows, sparking send-ups like "Wayne's World," were a forerunner for YouTube and other user-generated fare).

There's lots of reasons why these channels fail to impress. The local cable franchises of yore are now part of big national corporations. Some say government control is at the root of the problem, and perhaps Ulman's plan to turn the channel over to the community college might change things.

Here's Geren's view on the blog Blather de la Semaine:

From what we were told, any GTV shows will go out of production, and Howard Community College will take over broadcast of “critical programming.” That’s typically defined as County Council meetings, hearings and legislative sessions.

Of course, the reason for cutting the station is as a cost saving measure — it costs about $500K per year to run the station with a staff of 7 full-time and 3 part-time employees.

Interestingly, the franchise fees that Comcast and Verizon pay to Howard County originally went into an account to offset the operational cost of GTV. Several years ago, that account was “temporarily eliminated,” and the funds redirected to the county’s general fund. And, it seems that no thought was ever given to the possibility of GTV developing a plan to become self-sustaining, at least in part.

GTV has been an award-winning cable television production facility, including Emmy Awards, Telly Awards, at least one Cable ACE award and many, many more in its 24 year existence. One would think that one of the richest counties in the state and the nation would want to keep such an asset operating.

More and more locally run institutions are under assault these days, and the GTV team now joins Bun Penny and the multitude of other small enterprises struggling in this global economy.