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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: What is public access television?
A: Public access television emerged over three decades ago in response to the growth of the cable television industry. As cable became a more and more powerful means of reaching mass audiences, local governments and residents sought to reserve a place in this medium for freedom of speech. In the process of negotiating cable franchise agreements, local city governments negotiated various agreements with cable providers to enable public access services in their municipalities. For more, see:
- About PEG and Public Access on the City of San Francisco's web site
- PEG/Public Access TV on FreePress web site
- Alliance for Community Media, a national membership-based organization supporting community media and access centers
- Save Access, an organization working to promote and track public access operations and legislation nationally
For a great overview of public access -- how it came to be, why it is important, and what its future is -- watch the following video from our partners at Denver Open Media, the operators of public access in Denver:
Q: Why did public access operations and services in San Francisco change in 2009?
A: Since 1999, public access operations in San Francisco have been funded through a grant agreement with the City's Department of Technology. These funds are collected from cable television operators who operate within city limits as part of their franchise agreements, and the funds are divided between public access, educational, and government (PEG) television operations. In 2009, due largely to changes in state of California franchising laws, the amount of funding for PEG in San Francisco was significantly reduced. The previous operator, San Francisco Community Television Corporation (SFCTC), determined that it was impossible to maintain operations at the reduced funding levels. While recognizing the immense challenges of operating public access with drastically reduced funding, BAVC hopes, through operational efficiencies and diversified funding and services, to maintain, transform, and grow public access in San Francisco. More ambitiously, we hope to provide new services and tools that will enable broad participation and increased use of public access. Read more:
- Video Franchising on FreePress.org
Q: How was BAVC chosen to operate the public access channel(s) in San Francisco?
A: In 2009, the City of San Francisco issued a request for proposals (RFP) to enable eligible entities to compete for a bid for public access operations. Details of the RFP and bid process can be found on the City's web site: http://sfgov3.org/ftp/uploadedfiles/dtis/PublicAccessTV/NOTICE%20OF%20INTENT%20July%202%202009.pdf. Five nonprofit organizations submitted bids, and the City's Department of Technology reviewed the proposals. On July 2, 2009, the City announced that it had selected BAVC, issuing a Notice of Intent to Award the bid to BAVC, and setting a public protest period that would expire on July 10, 2009. To submit your comments and questions directly to the City, see http://sfgov.org/site/publicaccess_index.asp?id=82515.
Q: When did BAVC assume management of public access?
A: The San Francisco Department of Technology extended its existing contract with SFCTC until September 30, 2009 in order to allow for a smooth transition of services from one operator to the next. BAVC assumed operations on September 1, 2009.
Q: How does BAVC operate the station?
A: As part of the RFP process, BAVC submitted our vision for public access in San Francisco. We encourage you to read our full proposal. In brief, we envision public access as a suite of community services which include broadcast channels - one traditional public access, the other curated by and with community partners - as well as a robust online service with numerous channels and tools. We are working with Open Media Foundation, creators of a robust suite of web tools for public access, and with Participatory Culture Foundation, creators of the groundbreaking Miro Player application, to develop and enhance these online services. We also plan to work collaboratively and extensively with local nonprofit organizations, spreading the access, services, and participation widely across the city's diverse neighborhoods and voices. Our plan for operations is ambitious, yet actionable, and there will be many ways for our City's diverse residents and public service organizations to participate.
Q: Will BAVC keep the facility and equipment on Market Street that the former operator (SFCTC, which operated AccessSF) used?
A: Because the rent and maintenance costs of the facilities at 1720 Market Street alone exceeded the total funding available for public access operations, BAVC closed its Market Street facilities and does not offer three-camera full public access production studios at our facility. We have assumed public access operations within a portion of our existing facilities at 2727 Mariposa Street, and are working with community partners to establish a network of public access program sites.
Q: How do I produce and submit content for public access?
Q: How can my organization, company, or group participate in public access?
A: Please contact us to express your interest in participating in public access, particularly if you do not already have a relationship with BAVC. We would like to build a database of organizations that are interested in participating in public access, community media trainings, equipment access, productions, and relationships with public access producers and volunteers. We encourage you to have a representative come to an orientation meeting in order to produce programming for our channels. And join our mailing list to receive related announcements.
Q: What kind of training and additional services will BAVC provide?
A: One reason BAVC felt able to assume public access operations at the dramatically reduced funding level is that we already offer several services related to public access, including membership, community events, and digital media training. We will continue to offer these services, but have added additional low-cost community trainings for public access producers.
Q: What are BAVC's public access policies and procedures? How will you determine the broadcast schedule?
A: We operate two broadcast channels as well as a robust online service with multiple channels and tools. Part of our approach aims to provide greater public access services and broader community participation by emphasizing tools, applications, and training that we can deliver online. As outlined in our vision document, we hope to flip the production paradigm, with content submitted through a web interface for broadcast on the channels, community rating and voting tools, rotating channel curation programs, tools for viewers and audiences, various ways for producers to learn, create, and promote their content, and new opportunities for producers and volunteers to engage with our City's diverse nonprofit organizations. While we are committed to maintaining one broadcast channel as the traditional, free speech public access channel, unfiltered and uncurated, we hope that the new model and additional services will broaden participation and enable more San Francisco residents to engage with public access.
Q: Why did BAVC close the facility at 1720 Market Street?
The lease agreement that BAVC inherited from the previous public access operatorexpires on April 30, 2010. Thefacility is a commercial space of 4500square feet at 1720 Market Street, and its rent alone (not including utilitiesand operating costs) is $17,000 per month. Unfortunately, the lease also required that the leaseholder return the building to its original state prior to occupancy before vacating the building - in other words, the facility must be returned to a largeconcrete slab with two bathrooms in the corner. To demolish the interior of thebuilding could cost up to $200,000. Effectively, this requirement encumbered any leaseholder to complete the demolition. When the existing lease was secured over ten years ago, it was a much different environment, both for market rates, and for the "guaranteed" funding from franchise fees which in the past, adequately covered not only capital expenses (rent and physical assets such as equipment and hardware), but also sufficient funding to operate and provide access to thatequipment and hardware. As part of BAVC's contract to operate the channels, the City of San Francisco has offered $170,000 for an annual operations contract, with additional funding available via a one-time grant from Comcast to cover the existing lease requirements, including rent at 1720 Market Street through April 2010, and all demolition,moving, and transfer costs for the transition in the City's 2009 - 2010 fiscalyear. Luckily, BAVC was able to negotiate a deal between the City and landlord to the benefit of all parties. The City "bought out" the requirement for demolition, putting forth $70,000 for this purpose. If the landlord does not use these funds to demolish the building himself within our three-year contract period, he must return the funds to the City. Meanwhile, a subsequent tenant could be found or the lease could be re-negotiated.
Operating costs are everything besides capital expenses, as interpreted by our CityAttorney's office and our contract. They include all staff time (for programmingthe channels, managing facilities, programs, and equipment, managingvolunteers, interns, community relations, and partnerships, conductingtrainings for producers, providing facilities and equipment access andassistance, setting up for live programs, communications, administration,reception, etc.); all utilities such as power, water, heating and cooling,garbage, janitorial, phones, and Internet; supplies; insurance; legal fees;services; benefits; repair and maintenance costs, and much more. The separation of capital andoperating, and the dramatic reduction in operating funds, proves to be thesingle most debilitating factor affecting public, educational, and government(PEG) channels not only in San Francisco, but nationwide. In California, a statewide franchiseagreement the Digital Infrastructure & Video Competition Act (DIVCA) waspassed in 2006, and similar laws have been passed in 23 states in recent years. In California alone, DIVCA caused theclosure of over 50 PEG stations between January 1 and March 10, 2009. In just eleven weeks, all of thosecommunities, including the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area, lost theirpublic access stations and channels.
The story was similar in San Francisco, but the channels have survived under a newCity Contract. In previous years,the operational funding for public access in San Francisco totaled upwards of$900,000 on top of franchise fees available for any required capital expenses,including capital improvements and rent. The previous operator was able to not only operate the facility at 1720Market Street (paying for all of those operating costs listed above), but wasalso able to staff the facility with up to eleven full-time employees. When the City issued a new RFP in 2009,the guaranteed operations funding had decreased from $900,000 per year to$170,000, the annual amount the City of San Francisco has set aside for publicaccess operations. The over 80%reduction in operation funding is insufficient for managing a full traditionaltelevision station with studios, and requires an innovative model like the oneBAVC proposed the cable access in San Francisco are to survive as a communityresource.
Q: Wha tare the services BAVC is required to provide under its city contract? Is BAVC able to meet its deliverables?
BAVC's contract with the City of San Francisco is for a period of three years. In it, BAVC is required to provide abaseline service level during its first year of operations, and an "enhanced"level of services beginning in the second year (July 1, 2010 - June 30,2011). Below is a breakdown of the required services and a comparison showing what BAVC has provided in excess ofthose requirements.
BAVC's contract service deliverables, September 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010
- Schedule and playback of no less than 100 hours of locally produced original programming each month.
Actual services provided, September 1, 2009 - November 30, 2009
- Immediately increased facility hours for program drop-off from 20 hours/week under previous operator to 38 hours/week, including four evenings until 8:00pm
- Continuously (and uninterruptedly) programmed both channels with 24 hours of content daily with an excess of original local content per month
- Waived program membership fees for all active and new producers through March 1, 2010 to encourage retention and allow time for transition
- Held community meetings about the transition, and held monthly orientations and programming meetings
- Supported live programs in the Flash Studio four evenings a week until 8:00pm, and added additional live call-in programs
- Offered free use of edit suites for public access programs
- Offered dub stations and ingest stations
- Packaged field kits for checkout, and offered free use of field equipment for public access programs
- Began a series of trainings and certifications at a very low cost (between $20 and $60 each)
- Offered facility reservations, including conference room and use of main studio as a production room and as a rented space for community events
- Conducted community outreach, and held elections for a Community Advisory Board
As you can see, BAVC has far exceeded its contract deliverables in service of thecommunity, as we will aim to do in the remaining years of our contract.While the recession takes hold and ourfunding remains restricted, we are committed to innovating and leading apositive change for the producers, audiences, and communities of SanFrancisco. Most importantly, weare committed to keeping the public access channels alive as a communityresource for the duration of our term as operators.
Q: Is there anything we can do to change this?
First and foremost, you can encourage yourlegislators to support H.R. 3745, the "Community Access Preservation" Act(CAPA), a bill introduced by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin) that couldfix several key issues affecting public access, including the restrictions onoperational verses capital funding. A full description and a simple primerabout the bill is available from the Alliance for Community Media (ACM). The ACM is offering a very simpleonline tool that allows you to fax and send letters directly to RepresentativePelosi and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. It's easy: http://www.alliancecm.org/CAPtoolkit. The letters are most effective whenthey include a personal note about why public access matters to you. You can voice your concerns to BAVC, tothe City of San Francisco, and to your elected officials. And as always, you can participate inpublic access to exercise your freedom of speech and engage with our localcommunity about issues you care about.
Created by SF Commons intern Jennifer Kendzior with participation from a few SF Commons producers, this PSA describes the importance of public access television to them.
Created by SF Commons intern Jennifer Kendzior with participation from a few public access producers, this PSA describes the importance of public access television as a mechanism of free speech and community participation.