Tag Archives: television

Comcast to Chicago’s Public Access TV Stations: Just DIE Already…Like the Other Thirteen We’ve Killed Off


by Legendary Lew

The deadline has now passed for the extension of Comcast’s contract for CAN-TV and no agreement has been reached. This means that CAN-TV is in great danger of being shut down like thirteen other stations in Illinois that Comcast allowed to die.

Executive Director of CAN-TV Barbara Popovic and Kartemquin Film‘s Gordon Quinn were recently on WBEZ’s Morning Shift discussing the conflict:

Comcast is not doing you a favor by providing public access TV stations. It is fulfilling an obligation. This is most important to remember when discussing the issue of funding these low-fi stations. Comcast is candy-coating their press releases with the usual language of how they are best working with local communities to provide crucial programming for them while at the same time allowing stations to close in Illinois over the last decade.

This attempt to veer away from public responsibility is nothing new. I’ve produced and directed public access TV shows in Rochester, NY back in 1994 and I can tell you the major cable company there at the time,Time Warner, fought tooth and nail to keep from their commitments to provide public access TV stations. They finally had to relent to public pressure due, in part, to the public’s low opinion of their service. Sound familiar?

Adding insult to injury, the conglomerates, when they finally did oblige and provide stations, routinely saddled them with outdated equipment prone to constant breakdown and insufficient staffing for training and public outreach. These are money-stuffed giants willing to provide only the bare minimum for local communities to have active voices on the air and then claiming they exist to provide “choices” for subscribers. It might be cute and quaint for public access TV shows to look like “Wayne’s World,” but the lack of technical aesthetic with the stations is not an accident. It’s by design. Cable conglomerates do not want public access TV shows to compete with paid programming, because they think what Honey Boo Boo does is much more important to you than what your local elected officials do.

With today’s technology, independently produced media can muster up great and important television on public access. CAN-TV provides such programming. I’m a proud board member of Elephant and Worm TV, a public access show that was nominated for a local Emmy last year for outstanding children’s programming. An Emmy-nominated public access TV show may seem extraordinary, but it could become more common if stations were allowed to upgrade. All of Elephant and Worm’s videos presented to CAN-TV actually had to be downgraded for television broadcast.

Would it really cut into Comcast’s massive profits to help upgrade stations to HD, instead of keeping them more than a decade out of date? They’ve done so in Portland, OR. Why not here? Does Comcast think public access TV stations are part of the ratings game? Comcast is gutter-dwelling in customer service rankings and taking on an evil reputation for their bids to “fast-track” the internet. You would think they would want to do right by the public after we allow them to run their infrastructure in our communities and pay nothing to us for the privilege. But then, you may be thinking more of your local community than Comcast is.




Is Comcast Trying to Kill Chicago’s Public Access TV Stations?


by Legendary Lew

Comcast is Chicago’s largest cable provider and wants to renew a 10-year contract with the city. Part of the licensing renewal agreement, if agreeable to the city of Chicago, would be to provide air space on their spectrum for public access.

This has always been a pesky little matter for cable giants, because providing public access stations gets in the way of important things like profits from vital, universe-changing programming like Duck Dynasty or disputing reports of their incredibly low-ranking customer service ratings.

Well, negotiations for a renewal, including budgeting for CAN-TV (Chicago’s public access TV stations) have now been going on for over a year with no agreement. Seriously. Comcast can’t seem to get it together enough to promise to do right for Chicago with a guaranteed budget to keep CAN-TV operating. The current contract with Comcast was extended for three months and expires on June 15, 2014.

That means that, conceivably, Chicago could be without public access channels after that date. This would be a travesty and would totally undermine the original goals of serving the public interest promised by the cable companies.

Comcast made $6.82 billion last year. Current operating costs for CAN-TV run about $2.7 million dollars total. The cable companies don’t even provide all that money, some of it comes from fundraising and donations, etc.

Even if cable companies were to provide all the $2.7 million. That means in terms of just Comcast’s income alone from last year, it would amount to .04% of those earnings.  This is a pittance to ensure a great service for the community.

Forty-three Aldermen signed a petition to Comcast asking the cable company to stop dragging its feet and provide for the services Chicago needs to keep CAN-TV operating at its best potential.

In a time when the cable giant is willing to put up the bucks to purchase Time Warner for $45 billion for a super cable conglomerate, it’s ludicrous to believe Comcast can’t cough up enough to provide basic, vital community programming for its local viewers.

As part of the production team of the Emmy-nominated Elephant and Worm TV show (my public disclosure), I’d like to call on others to join CAN-TV in contacting and thanking their Alderman for taking the right stance with Comcast. You can find the list of those who signed the petition here. (Find your Alderman here). If your Alderman did not sign, please ask him/her to do so.

Also, call CAN-TV and tell them you support their programming and ask how you can help. They need to hear from you, Chicago, if you value the true choices in programming that the cable lobby always promises the public.

Preservationists Working Frantically to Save Videotaped TV History from Disappearing

The Washington Post reports on efforts to save TV history by digitizing shows, programs and news coverage first recorded on quad videotape.

It’s an interesting article that gives a little insight to how careless TV networks were with their past. Considered endlessly expendable, those videotapes were apparently reused constantly, erasing TV history when first recorded in favor of new shows, which were then erased. Preservationist Jim Lindner of Media Matters runs down some of the heartbreak:

Much of our video heritage is already lost to history. “A lot of things happened culturally because of TV, but in many cases we no longer have those tapes,” Lindner says. “What we have now is just what was left over” after routine erasures and discardings.

For example, the Vietnam War played out on nightly network news shows, but “we have very few [tapes of those shows] today,” according to Lindner. Did late-night humorists contribute to changing social mores in the ’60s? Hard to say, since episodes of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” from 1962 to 1970 have almost totally disappeared. “It was only after Carson secured the rights to the show from NBC that he insisted on keeping copies for subsequent clip licensing,” says Mike Mashon, who heads the moving image section at the Packard Campus.

Carson might have saved them for licensing, but at least he knew of some value to them. It makes me wonder about the networks wanting to grasp on to the rights of old shows when they have little intent on releasing them–and this is true for videotape or filmed formats. It’s not like film is any less susceptible to the destruction of aging.

There are companies trying to release even obscure TV shows on DVD. Shout Factory, for instance, does a very good job. There are a surprising number of  bootlegged DVDs out there with old programs, many of which I’ve never heard of. However, there are others about to practically disappear from the face of the Earth unless they are uploaded digitally and seen.

Take for instance the clip of the show Mr. Adams and Eve that I included at the top of the post. TV Party, a great website covering old and rare TV, uploaded clips of the intriguing comedy on its site and was contacted by CBS lawyers. What for? Was CBS planning a Mr. Adams and Eve marathon we didn’t know about?

This is what’s so frustrating about the media companies’ piracy rules. There may be folks sitting on old and rare TV shows, hidden in their attics or basements wasting away. Some of them will be junk, for sure, but others will probably be revelations once they are rediscovered. I, for one, am certainly interested in watching Jerry Lewis play it straight in his version of “The Jazz Singer,” first recorded in 1959. If he’s successful, Lewis’ son Chris will be able to present it to us for the first time in over 50 years. It’s rediscoveries like these that will excite and inspire future viewers and content creators.