What is public access television?
Public access television emerged in the 1970s as a response to the growth of the cable television industry, and its use of public right-of-ways for profit. In the process of negotiating cable franchise agreements, city governments negotiated various agreements with cable providers to enable public access (as well as educational and government access) services in their municipalities, collectively known now as PEG TV. Public access television has come to be known as the only place on television where truly independent, local, unfiltered individual voices still have a place. Access stations are also a place where individuals with no television experience can get the training, professional & community support, and access to equipment they need to create their own television programs.
For more, see:
- About PEG and Public Access on the City of San Francisco’s web site
- Alliance for Community Media, a national membership-based organization supporting community media and access centers
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, educational, and government access (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. Though faced with the challenges accompanying this drastic funding reduction, BAVC Media continues to maintain, transform, and grow public access in San Francisco–a new model for how public access television can thrive with the help of an established community media center, even in the face of continued budget reduction trends in municipalities around the country.
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. Five nonprofit organizations submitted bids, and the City’s Department of Technology announced on July 2, 2009, that it had selected BAVC Media, issuing a Notice of Intent to Award the bid to BAVC Media, and a public protest period was announced to take plan up through July 10, 2009. The Grant Agreement between BAVC Media and The City and County of San Francisco Department of Technology was renewed for an additional three years in October 2013.
Pleases see Facilities and Services for detailed information about how BAVC Media operates SF Commons.
The channel designations 29 and 76 apply to Comcast subscribers within the City of San Francisco. City residents who subscribe to Wave (formerly Astound) Cable can watch on Channels 29 & 30, respectively. AT&T offers PEG television coverage on Channel 99. SF Commons is only available on cable channels inside San Francisco city limits. Subscribers at any level of cable package have SF Commons in their channel lineup.
For viewers without a cable subscription, or outside of the San Francisco city limits, streams of both SF Commons Channels 29 & 76 are available on the BAVC Media website, and are mobile-compatible. You can navigate to the streams under the “SF Commons” section of our site, or by using the URL shortcuts 29.sfc.tv and 76.sfc.tv.
Channel 29 is public access television in its purest sense–individual Producers give their completed shows to SF Commons staff, and we program the shows to Producers’ designated timeslots. We have no say or control over the content, format or any other aspect of these shows.
While we show many of the Channel 29 reruns on Channel 76, this second channel is also the place where you can find programming that is curated, and sometimes produced/co-produced by BAVC Media and its partners. This is the case with our original arts and culture series, Transmission. Non-profit member organizations, such as the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, also have regularly scheduled shows on 76. Finally, Channel 76 is where you can catch LIVE call-in programming from the SF Commons Studio, Tuesdays through Fridays 5pm – 7pm.
The only requirement for having a show on Channel 29 is active membership with BAVC Media/SF Commons, and verified San Francisco resident status. All active Producers are allowed two hours of programming time per month on Channel 29. Most choose to use this time to program a half-hour show every week, or a one hour show every other week. Producers may create their shows in-house in the SF Commons studio & Access Lab, or remotely, using our rental gear or their own camera equipment. Some Producers sponsor shows created by non-residents.
Once a timeslot is assigned it belongs to the Producer for the duration of his/her membership, given that the Producer submits content regularly. Should a period of three months pass with no new content for the timeslot, the Producer will be contacted with a warning that he/she will lose the timeslot if no new content is submitted. After six months of inactivity, timeslots are considered relinquished. As long as membership is paid and valid, Producers remain eligible to claim new timeslots (or re-claim the lost timeslot, should it still be available) once he or she is prepared to submit new content again.
SF Commons will never preview a show before it airs for the purpose of censorship. Public Access Television is protected by the First Amendment, and we are committed to providing a place on the dial for you to exercise your right to free speech.
Producers themselves are solely responsible for adhering to decency guidelines defined in the Grant Agreement with the City and County of San Francisco Department of Technology: Programs containing infrequent profanity, mild violence and/or brief nudity of a non-sexual nature must be scheduled between 10pm-4am. Programs of a “mature audience” nature containing persistent depictions/uses of profanity, violence or nudity are to be scheduled from 11pm – 4am.
Producers are also responsible for understanding various form of constitutionally unprotected speech, and refraining from submitting shows that contain such material. Such material can include pornographic/obscene media, and media that are threatening and inciteful. There is much room for debate and interpretation within each of these definitions. Ultimately, it is up to SF Commons Producers to understand their First Amendment rights, and exercise judgement in whether their media falls outside of the scope of “protected speech.” Violation of or blatant disregard for any of these policies could result in suspension of services, loss of timeslot and/or termination of membership. Refer to our Policies & Procedures for more detail on content restriction.
Producers own the rights to their shows. By participating in SF Commons, you agree that we archive copies of shows in order to use clips that will allow us to promote your program, SF Commons and public access in general. Our goal with this is to educate the public regarding the function and availability of public access television, and the relevance it maintains today in promoting free speech and localism. BAVC Media/SF Commons will only reuse clips for promotion of a non-commercial nature.
Producers are encouraged to promote their shows in any and all ways possible, including via social media, fliers, and participation in PSA Day. All promotion must adhere to non-commercial guidelines specified in the Policies & Procedures. SF Commons will occasionally host events educating Producers on outreach, promotion & social media, and we encourage you to connect with SF Commons via social media to enhance the visibility of your show.
SF Commons hosts a number of group productions on a rolling basis. The most popular of these are Open Mic Night and #SFCommonSense. Open Mic Night is a San Francisco public access television tradition predating SF Commons–active Producers are encouraged to participate in this show (televised quarterly) by performing, volunteering or simply as an audience member. #SFCommonSense is a Producer roundtable discussion show, telecast live on Channel 76 from our studio each Fourth Friday of the month at 7pm. Each month, a random panel of 4-5 Producers is chosen to discuss a predetermined topic, with many questions coming from the audience via Twitter. Please contact staff if you have any interest in appearing on the #SFCommonSense panel! The #SFCommonSense show is always preceded by a free workshop for Producers at 5pm on Fourth Fridays, so be sure to check out our upcoming events at the end of each month.
Producers can also volunteer as crew members for other Producers’ shows. Check the Producer Resources page on the BAVC Media site for crewing opportunities, or to announce your volunteer services. If you will be volunteering as crew for another Producer using SF Commons gear or the Studio, you will need to have taken a Certification Workshop.
Active Producers may also join the Community Advisory Group (CAG), a dedicated collective of Producers seeking to give direction to staff on programming, provide input relating to the channel, and form committees to help plan and execute events.