TV Board Plots Improvements
Among the projected changes are a new logo, more up-to-date programs, increases in funding fees and a new approach to staffing.
The city formerly had one community access channel, Channel 74 on the Comcast of the Plainfields cable system. A conversion to digital broadcasting expanded offerings and put local programming on Channel 96. Verizon’s state franchise has provided Channel 34 now that FiOS penetration in the city has reached 60 percent. The same programs are now available both to Comcast and Verizon subcribers. The new logo will have the city’s colors, blue and gold, and will include both channels.
Viewers used to seeing re-runs of events that took place months ago will soon see more current programming, although consultant Parris Moore cautioned that there must be a flow of new content to avoid stale re-runs. Late in the meeting, PCTVAB Chairman Lamar Mackson introduced Les Wormack, whose documentary “Personal Stories: Walk to Live” may just be the harbinger of more interesting local content. Wormack gathered stories of people who walk or run at the Hub Stine track, including a cancer survivor and a nonagenarian.
“Our stories are magical,” Wormack said, calling them “stories of transformation.”
Wormack, a photographer for 30 years, said he will be submitting more of his video work to the cable station on the theme, “the journey, whatever our journey is.”
Charles L. Smith III, Comcast’s area director for community affairs, explained system changes and answered board members’ questions Thursday. Now that FiOS has reached the 60 percent capacity mark, he said, franchise fees will likely double in 2011. Comcast’s 2 percent franchise fee for 2009 was $92,197, paid in January.
Comcast has a 10-year franchise, with a five-year automatic renewal. The city is now in the renewal period and next year will begin a three-year “ascertainment” process toward a new franchise agreement. Verizon does not have to negotiate with the city, as it has a statewide franchise.
Board members expressed interest in having Comcast provide more programming, but Smith said, “I’ll respond by saying Comcast is not in the production business.”
At present, the city may seek use of a mobile truck with one Comcast staffer to record events such as parades, concerts and sports. Volunteers may receive training in use of equipment, but the single truck serves Union, Essex and parts of Middlesex County and its use must be booked far in advance of an event.
Meanwhile, the city’s only television station employee is facing a layoff by May 26. The city has had two rounds of layoffs due to budget constraints. But Chris Payne, the city’s new IT director, said the city is “aggressively working” on an alternate plan that may involve bidding for services. Payne said the city guarantees “no loss in service” to viewers.
Smith’s parting words to the board were an invitation to join in “Comcast Cares Day” from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, when employees and others will work on the city’s community garden on Berkeley Terrace.