Funding cuts reduce public access TV programmingCable television viewers of Eau Claire's community channels can expect more repeats and less event coverage, as the station copes with deep staffing cuts.
By: By Andrew Dowd, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram
Cable television viewers of Eau Claire's community channels can expect more repeats and less event coverage, as the station copes with deep staffing cuts.
Five part-time employees were laid off indefinitely Jan. 1, and another part-time worker left in late 2010, leaving just three full-time staff members at Chippewa Valley Community Television.
CTV executive director Joel Desprez said continued coverage of local government meetings in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls is the top priority and will not suffer.
"All of the government meetings we produced in the past, we will continue to produce them on schedule," he said.
Fewer related programs on local issues and government projects will be produced, however.
"The extra things we got out in the community, public forums and things like that, we simply don't have the staff to do those anymore," he said.
State legislation passed in 2007 resulted in the 2011 elimination of a fee charged to cable customers that was a key source of public access TV funding. CTV lost $172,000 in money from Charter Communications, the local cable franchise, about half the operation's annual $330,000 budget.
CTV still receives a 5 percent franchise fee charged to Charter, which provides about $122,000 in funding. Production fees paid by Eau Claire County and the Eau Claire school district for filming their meetings total $18,000.
Paid staff will focus on CTV's government channel, while the public access channel will need greater volunteer participation to produce new shows.
"We're trying to re-energize people who are loyal supporters of CTV and get people who are passionate supporters of local programming engaged," said Tami Schraufnagel, president of CTV's board of directors.
The board is looking to community members to volunteer their time and talent to produce new shows that will attract more viewers, support and interest to Community Television, she said.
Before coming to Eau Claire four years ago, Elizabeth Gardner was executive producer for a Houston TV station that operates similarly to local public access. Some of the hunting, cooking and youth shows she produced were picked up by nationwide cable channels and Texas broadcast stations.
Now volunteering on CTV's board of directors, Gardner is working on creating and marketing new programs for the Eau Claire channels.
The first new program that has been conceived, but not yet taped, is a pilot episode of a cooking show. Other ideas are being worked on too, she said, but the success of those ventures depends on the amount of help they are able to get and sponsors they can attract.
Since government money is drying up for public access television, Gardner said, more sponsorship is needed for the operation to continue and grow.
The services provided by Community Television are invaluable, she said, but the programming needs to become more accessible to attract a larger audience. She regards the Internet as the way to do that by providing streaming video and video on demand.
CTV currently is in a transition period of delegating duties and upgrading equipment so it can operate with fewer workers, Desprez said.
"We're still trying to figure out how things are going to work here," he said.
To help with the transition, the Eau Claire City Council made a one-time allocation of $50,000 to CTV in its 2011 budget. That money primarily will go toward equipment, Desprez said, and possibly for other transitional expenses and exploring grant opportunities.
CTV always has accepted donations, but the loss of the cable fee makes them more important to keep the operation running.
"Now we're going to be counting on viewer and community supporters more and more ... for personnel, overhead, programming and equipment," Schraufnagel said.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.