BRATTLEBORO — In anticipation of declining revenues and changes proposed by Federal Communications Commission that could reduce funding for public access stations, Brattleboro Community Television is adapting its ways.
"We have been running around figuring out how we are going to add fundraising, boost our underwriting, all these activities we didn't use to do," said Cor Trowbridge, executive director at BCTV. "But the broad idea is everyone who uses BCTV, counting users who watch online, should be paying to make it equitable and fair. We are trying to keep our doors open and keep our services coming even if the traditional funding mechanism has to change."
This summer, a fundraising campaign will be announced. New fees were discussed during a meeting on June 13 with BCTV members, volunteers, supporters and viewers. Trowbridge's presentation was titled "Future Proofing BCTV."
Her group has created packages she looks at as a subscription service or copay system. The station had previously charged individual members $20 a year to borrow cameras or use equipment. Students and seniors were charged $10. And organizations paid between $50 and $150, depending on their number of employees.
Starting July 1, annual memberships will cost $25 or $15 for students 26 or younger.
To check out field gear and use editing gear, the single-use fee would be $20 and $120 for a year. To use editing equipment, the single-use fee is $10 and $60 for a year.
To use the studio with help from staff, the single-use fee is $100. Using the studio solo would cost $60.
For those who may want to use the studio every week, the subscription fee is $480. The cost breaks down to $40 a month.
For those who want to use the studio up to 12 times a year, a subscription is $240 or $20 a month. And for those who want to use the facility up to 24 times a year, it's $360 or $30 a month.
Trowbridge said the studio has more than $50,000 worth of equipment and staff time averages out to about $200 per production. Producers have told her they can go out and get sponsors for their show. She also plans to have a process for those who find the fees to be too burdensome, to apply for funds to help.
In her presentation, Trowbridge said Comcast had taken advantage of an accounting change last year, decreasing revenue for Vermont public access stations from the company by about 6 percent. Viewers are "cord cutting," she said, meaning they are opting out of cable bills in favor of watching content online, which results in further reductions in revenue. And she anticipates the FCC will approve a rule that allows cable companies to apply the cost of in-kind services they have been required to give — such as putting public access content on their channels — against the 5 percent they are required to contribute to fund public access stations.
To prepare, the station has secured $15,000 funding from all eight select boards it films. It also signed a new eight-year contract with Southern Vermont Cable, getting an additional $3,100 this coming fiscal year.
"We have met with other southern Vermont stations just to see how we can collaborate and cost share and cost save," said Trowbridge.
Trowbridge called changes at the station "the starting point." If the FCC rule change is "not as bad as it could be, we can adjust these," she said. "It's not written in stone."
Marty Cohn, BCTV board member, said the Vermont Legislature approved the formation of a study committee to look at the issue.
"We've been very proactive in maintaining this community asset," he said. "One thing we worked on was to increase awareness. We worked with our state delegation and getting Sen. [Becca] Balint to take the leadership in establishing that study committee."
Cohn said BCTV has been around since 1975 and funding had never been an issue. He described the new fees as "reasonable" when looking at what users are getting out of the equipment, studio and staff time.
"It was very encouraging at that meeting," he said. "The feedback we've gotten is the transparency that BCTV has given to this issue — with regard to the fee structure and the reason why we need to raise the fees, quantifying and codifying the use of the equipment in the studio — people were very appreciative of that because it's all out there."
George Harvey, who produces a weekly show on energy issues, told BCTV staff he is "enormously grateful" for the plan they developed. He called the fee "a great deal."
"Because that is something I can deal with," he said at the meeting. "I can go to people and say, 'I need $480.'"
Alex Beck, board vice president, said the goal is to keep prices for producing the shows affordable.
The next step, Cohn said, involves reaching out to the public to help find ways "to fund the gap that will occur when the FCC ruling comes down."
"This your station," Chris Lenois, board president, told meeting attendees. "All ideas are welcome."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.