News from the Executive Director (Jan 28, 2010)

Happy New Year! As we move into 2010 I wanted to take the time to outline what’s ahead for PCTV. We are facing some great challenges but also some wonderful opportunities and I’m excited about the new course we are charting.

First of all, I want to thank all of you who took the time to voice your support for PCTV during the Verizon Franchise process. As someone who is new to Pittsburgh, it was truly heartening to see how much support this organization has. When we needed you most, you delivered, and I can’t express how much that means to all of us at PCTV.

Many have expressed some confusion about the funding situation and how the Verizon Franchise and the soon to be signed Comcast Franchise affect PCTV. The long and the short of it is there is funding for public access in the Verizon Franchise and we anticipate there will funding in the Comcast Franchise as well. What’s less clear at this point is how much of those funds will go to PCTV. Once these issues are resolved, we will be signing a new contract with the City.

Regardless of whether we receive all the funding available or not, it is clear that PCTV is at a crossroads and that changes need to be made. Even if we wanted to remain static, we couldn’t. Changes in funding, technology, the fabric of this City (political and otherwise), and society as a whole are forcing our hand. The good news is that the changes we make will result in a stronger and more relevant PCTV.

The PCTV of 2010 is going to be quite different from the one you’ve become accustomed to and in order to prepare you for this, I wanted to outline some of those major changes. In order to set the stage for this, I wanted to outline our major goals for the coming year:

Programming: PCTV will develop and nurture a greater diversity of community oriented programming representative of the diverse needs and interests of Pittsburgh residents.

Facilities and Equipment: PCTV will address vital equipment and facility needs in the areas of field production, editing, and program playback.

Training: PCTV will expand its training programs to encompass new media such as social networking, blogging, and vlogging.

Youth Media: PCTV will develop collaborations that expand opportunities for youth at PCTV.

Financial Resources: PCTV will diversify revenue streams to include sources beyond funds received through the cable franchise.

Organization: PCTV will strengthen organizational accountability and governance through targeted changes and the completion of a strategic plan.

Website: PCTV will complete the phase one conversion of its website to Web 2.0.

Let me say two things about these goals. Number one, they are all connected in some way to the Community Needs Assessment PCTV completed in 2009. The Needs Assessment is a guiding document for PCTV and its recommendations and conclusions are reflected in our plans for this year and beyond. Second, pursuing all of these goals is going to require significant change to the way we do business. Because the needs and interests of community producers are important to PCTV, I want to outline some of the changes related to these goals that are going to affect you directly.

Perhaps the most important goal for the year, and the one that will involve the most change for you as a producer, will be our effort to increase programming diversity. In our talks with the City, this came up again and again as an area of concern. The strength of the traditional public access model is its emphasis on first-come first-served access. In and of itself, however, this approach does not ensure a range of different kinds of programming. In our discussions with the City, it became clear that a new approach is needed.

For many years, PCTV has programmed its channel via series lottery. Producers indicate their time preference and names are drawn at random. Beginning in the second half of the year, this practice will change. Instead, we will divide the programming week into blocks of different types of programming. For example, Monday Nights might be community events and neighborhoods, Tuesdays Youth, Wednesdays Sports and Recreation, Thursday Music and Entertainment, etc. Your programs will be scheduled based on the block that they fit in, rather than a random drawing.

This is a radical change for PCTV and you may wonder why we are taking this step. There are several reasons. Number one, we feel this is the best way to stimulate a diversity of programming. Setting aside a block of hours each week for certain types of programming allows us to identify areas we are weak in and take steps to develop new programs. Second, it helps build viewership by breaking down the schedule into blocks that make it easier for people to find the programs they want to see. Finally, it provides a way for PCTV to generate income through business underwriting (more on this below).

A key part of my vision at PCTV is the development of new programming through partnerships with other organizations and through collaboration with community producers. For example, I’d like to have a block of programming on PCTV that focuses on job training and help for those seeking work. In order to develop that programming, we may partner with an organization that has expertise in that area, or work with a community producer that has an interest in creating that type of programming. Working together in this way, we will begin to diversify programming on PCTV.

We are still working out the details, but here is a rough outline of how we will handle the programming of the channel going forward:

-The channel will be scheduled every six months as before. The next new schedule will begin July 4, 2010.
-In Spring 2010 we will release our program block schedule that shows you what the blocks are and what time and day they will fall on.
-Immediately following the release of the programming block schedule, community producers who want to be on the July 4th – December 31st schedule will submit an info sheet explaining their preference for program block and time.
-Working with PCTV staff, I will schedule programs based on block. You will be notified in writing regarding the day and time your program will appear.
In the fall we will repeat the process for the January 1st – June 30th 2011 time period.

Let me assure you that this change does not in any way affect your ability to get your programs airtime on PCTV. All programs that you submit will receive as much airtime as possible. It may not be on at the day and time that you would like and it may not be on every week, but it will be on.

I would also like to say that I see this change as an interim step that I am taking while we wait for the possibility of a second channel for PCTV. I have pushed this idea with the City. If we had a second channel, I would bring back the lottery system and devote one channel completely to first-come first-served programming. The second channel would be completely curated in blocks as I’ve described above. Until we get the second channel, however, we feel we need to make immediate steps towards the diversification of programming.

Another important goal for programming that I wanted to mention is the desire to improve the quality of programs. To this end, we will be setting minimum standards for technical production quality that must be met if you want your program to appear on PCTV. Details on these standards will be released in late spring. You are already putting a great deal of time and effort into making your program the best it can be. This year we want to ask everyone to go the extra mile. Well-produced programs will reflect well on PCTV and will help us increase viewership. Poorly produced programs will do exactly the opposite. We are raising the bar on production quality. We are all striving for excellence. Lets work together to make sure that goal is reached.

Facilities/Equipment is another area that will have a significant impact on you in 2010. As part of the agreements with Verizon and Comcast, we anticipate that there will be funds available to upgrade our capabilities. As of this writing we don’t know exactly how much will be available but it’s a safe bet there will be something. Depending on resources, you can expect to see improvements in program playback, field production equipment, and editing. One of the great hopes for the year is that we’ll be able to purchase a portable switcher for production in the field. In any case, by the end of the year I expect to make some significant upgrades that will increase PCTV’s value as a community tool.

Another crucial goal for the year is to begin to diversify our revenue streams. To be frank, the funds available via the cable franchise are not going to be sufficient in the long-term. As an organization, PCTV needs to become more entrepreneurial and develop other ways of generating income. Two of the key ways we are going to begin doing that this year are through the launching of an underwriting program for businesses, and the development of a studio rental and production-for-hire program.

In order to facilitate PCTV’s ability to develop these new revenue streams, I am instituting several changes that are going to have an immediate affect on you as a community producer:

-Number one, I have pulled Special Projects Director Monica Hughes off of regular production duty in the studio. Instead, Monica will devote most of her time to developing new programming, covering community events, and most importantly, developing new income through studio rental and production for hire. We will still be providing staff support for production in the studio but more complex productions are going to require greater self-sufficiency on the part of community producers.

Second, effective January 31st we will no longer be booking the studio 2 months in advance. The studio, like all production resources, will be available for booking 1 month in advance. The reason for this change is simple. As we begin to develop a studio rental and production for hire program, we need to have the flexibility to book the studio for money-making productions. Booking the studio two months in advance does not allow us that flexibility. Beginning February 1st we will stop making reservations for studio time. We will begin taking studio reservations again on March 5th for dates in April.

In a perfect world, one in which we had complete and guaranteed funding, my preference would be to continue booking the studio two months in advance for community producers and not cut into available studio time through rentals and paying productions. Financial realities dictate otherwise, however.

I realize these changes may be difficult to swallow but my goal is to be upfront in explaining why they are necessary in the hope that you will understand. In these difficult times we all need to pull together for the common good. As a community producer, you play a central role in the success or failure of PCTV and I am asking for your support as we make these necessary changes.

I also wanted to say a few words about rules at PCTV. Although they are sometimes burdensome, the rules are there for a reason and they are a key part of making PCTV a professional organization. In order to maintain professionalism, we ask that you follow our rules and guidelines and accept the penalties that result when rules are broken. The rules are not there to make anybody’s life difficult, rather they are there to help get productions done as professionally as possible and to ensure equal access to our limited resources. We also want to be reasonable about things and to that end, as a gesture of good will in the New Year, we are wiping away any warnings received in January 2010. Everyone will start the year with a clean slate.

In the coming months we will be sharing more information about these and other changes. In order to provide a forum to discuss these changes and address other issues related to community producing, I would like to invite all of you to an open meeting at PCTV on March 29th at 6 pm. In the meantime, I would ask you to really reflect on how you can help PCTV implement these changes going forward. In order for this organization to succeed we need to look past our own needs and desires and come together for the good of the organization. Think about how you can lend a hand and help PCTV achieve great things. Particularly when it comes to programming, we are going to need to come together and take PCTV to places it has not gone before. I look forward to the challenge and I look forward to involving each and every one of you in the great organization we call Pittsburgh Community Television.

Sincerely,

John H. Patterson
Executive Director

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