Skip to comments.TV stations may merge operations (creating single production center to cut costs)
Posted on 03/01/2009 12:06:39 PM PST by SandRat
Tucson's three major public television outlets are working on plans to merge operations into a single state-of-the-art production center Downtown if all of the stations can stay on the air long enough to pull it off.
All three Access Tucson, KUAT and city-owned Tucson12.tv say the talks are in their infancy, and a new center couldn't open for at least two or three years.
Each of the three public stations caters to a distinct local population. Their content has a decidedly Tucson bent and is free to explore ideas and events without being given over to advertiser-driven commercial appeal.
But all three have serious budget issues issues that prompted them to start looking at consolidation in the first place. And these issues could shut one or more of them down before consolidation can happen.
Access Tucson, where local groups and average citizens turn their TV ideas into reality, is in the most serious jeopardy. It already decided to go dark for June to make it through the end of the fiscal year.
Executive Director Sam Behrend said he fears the city will cut off Access' funding, which comes primarily from subscriber fees paid by Cox Communications cable customers.
Tucson12.tv had a bull's-eye put on it when City Manager Mike Hein listed the station as a potential cut to help bridge the city's estimated $80 million budget deficit. The city's franchise agreement with the Cox Communications cable system brings in about $5 million for the city, which uses about $2 million of that to fund Access Tucson and Tucson12.tv, said Ann Strine, the city's information technology director. The rest stays in the city's general fund.
There is no legal barrier preventing the city from using the public-television funding to bridge its budget gap, though that was one of the intended uses of the money when the agreement was first negotiated.
KUAT, Tucson's public broadcasting channel, is seeing its state revenues cut, and major donations are way down because of the ailing economy, said Jack Gibson, the station's general manager. About 56 percent of its revenue comes from local donations. About 31 percent comes from the university and 13 percent from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Gibson said.
Gibson said a new Downtown facility with combined operations is only one of the options the station is considering to alleviate its space problems on the University of Arizona campus.
He said KUAT could move Downtown only if the planned modern streetcar linking the University of Arizona and Downtown is built, so KUAT would still have an easy connection to UA students.
The idea is getting added momentum from a possible Cox Communications willingness to help facilitate the process and possibly put a retail location, payment center and other operations in the hoped-for community media center.
Several participants in the talks said Cox's change from a hard-line stance against the public channels came after Tucsonan Lisa Lovallo became head of Cox's Southern Arizona operations.
Cox spokesman Michael Dunne said talks are "very, very preliminary" and quashed suggestions that Cox knows what types of operations it would put in a new media center. "It's at the exploratory stage to see what might work and what might be in the best interest of the community," Dunne said. "Our interest is in what might bring benefit to the community."
The idea for a new community media center got off the ground with a grant from City Councilman Steve Leal's office in 2007. The grant funded preliminary schematic work on a new center at Access Tucson's location at East Broadway and Sixth Avenue. The city owns the building and the land.
Access Executive Director Behrend has led the effort, which at times has included talks about many entities sharing the facilities: Access Tucson, Tucson12.tv, radio station KXCI, the Loft Cinema and TUSD-TV.
Leal said Cox has been added to the mix because the company is looking to be a better partner. "This gives them a great vehicle to do that," Leal said.
At times talks have also included adding a state-of-the-art soundstage at Old Tucson Studios. The soundstage aims to attract more A-list movies and television shows, and rekindle Tucson's past glory as "Hollywood in the desert."
That $10 million package would have included the community media center, the soundstage and a 300-seat theater. Tucson hasn't had a first-class soundstage since the one at Old Tucson burned down in 1995.
Behrend said the idea behind the community media center is for the stations involved to pool their resources and save costs by sharing facilities. The center also would allow the stations to focus on cutting-edge video and Internet technologies that may not be affordable for them individually, he said.
Gibson said KUAT is considering several options to deal with space constraints at the UA and the lack of good access for the public at its campus location. "We're nowhere near completely focusing on this," Gibson said. "It's a concept."
He said the stations probably could not combine all their operations because they are regulated by different entities. But combining backroom operations, servers, support-staff members and lobbies "could work pretty seamlessly."
"There could be some opportunity to collaborate," he said.
Uhlich excited about concept Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, a supporter of public television, said she was excited about the possibilities that a community media center could create. She also touted the potential savings of moving Tucson12.tv into the Access Tucson building.
Uhlich said Tucson12.tv's lease at the Pioneer Building, at Pennington Street and North Stone Avenue, costs about $170,000 a year. She said the city just terminated a lease at the Pioneer Building for another department and could do the same for Tucson12.tv before an April 1 deadline.
"There could be savings to the city budget without harming the quality of the programming of any of the stations," Uhlich said.
City information technology director Strine said Tucson12.tv would be interested only in moving into a new state-of-the-art combined facility, rather than being "shoe-horned" into an existing facility such as Access Tucson.
Behrend said Access Tucson hopes to simply make it through the next two years to get to the point where the stations could combine some operations.
"We know the next two years are going to be rough," Behrend said, adding that better days could be ahead if operations are combined. "Don't turn the lights off now."
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or email@example.com.
Consolidate, give the spectrum over to the fairness doctrine. I am sure Conservatives can find some use for the idle spectrum space.
Locally, a few of the stations have cross braodcasting, using the news room feed from each other, now. I don’t listen much, but to see how much the local weather guy’s forecast is going to be fudged for the tourists. We have a betting game, with prizes, so ....
Today’s high was going to be 81 last week, I doubt we broke 70, and it’s dropping fast now..
"You have no idea how right you are," he said with a sneer.
What would the costs be for an automated station running old British sitcoms 24/7 (which is generally the best use of "public TV" programming)?
Yeah! More Benny Hill!
Of course, contrary to the headline, there’s not a real TV station among them.
The same could be said of Ch13-CBS, Ch9-ABC, and Ch4-NBC with CNN thrown in just for fun.
Or Brush Strokes. I love Karl Howman.
Ummm. Will there be 3 pledge drives or 1?
I could go for all of those.
I walk 4-5 days a week on the mountain ridges nearby. I'm 61. Spot likes to run, and I need the exercise and peace. Students can't walk???
“Are You Being Served” Now you’re talking!!
I vote for a “Keeping Up Appearances” marathon.
Speaking Public Telivision, there are at least EIGHT PBS stations on my cable dial.
Why on earth are there so many?
Media death watch ping
RedGreen, ROFL!! So politically incorrect!!
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