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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Value of An Idea

Early this month The City of San Francisco awarded a contract to the Bay Area Video Coalition. The reason is that the cable providers have reorganized under California State Cable law, (DIVCA ), and that the money available for Public Access had been so reduced that the incumbent public access provider threw in the towel.

Several groups submitted proposals including a group of access producers who were already frustrated with Access SF, the former provider. By any standards their proposal was weak which is too bad because they had a succinct vision.

The Bay Area Video Coalition weighed in with the winning application. It is not only forward thinking – it contains rhetoric that will only become ubiquitous in two years and overworked before their PEG contract runs out. My favorite word is “curated“ videos. That means some individual or methodology decides whether or not you ever get access. BAVC proposes to post public access submissions on to be viewed on computers by the digital cognoscenti who then vote on the popularity of the submission. Winners get their video played on the public access channel. Twice. I can just imagine my program on the robotic treatment options for prostate cancer being trumped by some malodorous 250 jump cut viral epic because its author sits on his computer all night pounding the “vote” button. ☺

Actually the BAVC plan is forward looking which is really too bad. They were the only organization to submit a workable business plan and they will most likely increase some of the diversity of television which isn't hard, even in a city like San Francisco.

It’s really too bad because increasingly cities are take money from cable companies sometimes including PEG funds and using them for their own purposes while marginalizing public access. Citizens don’t care because they have absolutely no idea of what they are missing. The cable companies did a great job of that. That is the best possible context for cities receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars that are not accounted for lack of basic interest.

The most likely municipal excuse for behavior that ultimate restricts citizen access to television is the ridiculous notion that winky blinky technology from Web 2.0 obviates the need for public access television.

Ron Cooper, executive director of Access Sacramento and a gigantic voice for access describes these dismissive deflections as “making sweet lemonade.” Cooper sees this as “aggressive actions that diminish free speech in these communities, deny access to much needed training and public access facility support, and further silence those who need our support the most – minority languages, cultures and points of view. “ Ron Cooper speaks the truth.

Here in Contra Costa public access faces the same dilemma that BAVC faces. There isn’t enough public money to do the job, and that money can’t be used for operational support. So Access Contra Costa is eventually going to have to earn an income in order to provide services and operate in a responsible manner.

It really sucks that the value of an idea is based on its ability to pay its way.

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