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City To Decide Fate Of Channel 20

Staff recommends bringing operation in-house, discussion expected.


UPDATED Tuesday 10/28 1:44 p.m.

An item on Tuesday’s City Council agenda might change the
way this community gets its news – and might eliminate a developing coalition
of news producers entirely.

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Channel 20, the public access channel where local news and
city council meetings are broadcast, will no longer be supported by Time Warner
Cable and will shift management responsibility to someone picked by the City of
Santa Clarita.

To that end, the city sent out requests for proposals to
operate the station, receiving two; one from Santa Clarita Valley Television
(SCVTV) and one from Santa Clarita Public Television Corporation (SCPTC). In
September, SCPTC withdrew its proposal.

The agenda item recommends that the City Council, which
controls the contract, turn down the proposal from SCVTV, which would blend
news resources of SCVTV, KHTS and The Signal to provide coverage of local
issues, and bring operation of the channel in-house.

Documentation accompanying the agenda recommends the council
appropriate $116,000 from the Public, Education and Government fund for
purchase of equipment and studio rental and $25,000 from the General Fund for
the hiring of a part-time supervisor for the operation. The allocations would
take place from the 2008-2009 budget, and would finance the operation through
the end of June 2009.

The city would continue to broadcast government programming,
including City Council and Planning Commission meetings and independent
producers would be allowed to re-broadcast their own materials.

 

Kevin Tonoian, technology services manager for the city,
said the sticking point with SCVTV was financial and did not meet the RFP
qualifications.

 “The city would bring
several things to the table,” he said. “We had funding for leasing the current
studio and revenues that could be used for capital purchases, so we could fund
the equipment needed to provide a basic playback studio, but not production or
staff.”

Tonoian said that the SCVTV proposal asked for 100 percent
financial support from the city, a commitment that staff thought was excessive
given the current economic climate.

“We’re looking at real significant reductions,” he said. “With
the TownCenter
and Auto Dealers Association reporting double digit decreases, to put forward a
recommendation in the amount of $350,000 would be unreasonable.”

“We went into this RFP process looking for creative
proposals from the private sector or non-profit organizations that could
partner with us,” he continued. “It was clear from the offset through addendums
and meetings that we had with each of the groups submitting proposals that the
city was looking for someone who could come to the table with some kind of
financial commitment.”

If the staff recommendation is adopted, Tonoian said that
viewers will notice few changes to Channel 20.

“The city really wants to do everything it can to maintain
Channel 20; it’s important to the Council, important to the City. “We’re
looking to do something on an interim basis to allow public access to move
forward and keep it operational through the end of the fiscal year. It could allow
for collaborative partnerships with groups.”

Leon Worden, who submitted the proposal for SCVTV, said that
the reasons cited by the city – a lack of fiscal resources evident in the
request for $278,000 to $350,000 from SCVTV for “contingency and management
fees” – are unsubstantiated.

Although grants (arts, education, Homeland Security) figure
heavily in the mix, the station could establish user fees similar to those
charged by Santa Barbara and other cities; commercial ad revenue could be
generated by advertorial “spotlight” features in concert with the SCV Chamber
of Commerce and Valley Industrial Association and the city could allocation a
portion of the $1 million collected in cable franchise fees.

Worden pointed out that Santa Monica
fully funds its public TV station in the amount of $1.3 million annually; the
city of Mountain View in the Bay
Area, allocates 70 percent of its franchise fees to its TV operations and
several other cities spend 20 to 32 percent for station support.

The SCVTV proposal also provides on-the-job training for
students and interns in the William S. Hart District and College of the Canyons,
who provide production support, engineering and produce news both behind and in
front of the camera. Without SCVTV, those opportunities would disappear.

The item is scheduled to be discussed at the City Council
meeting Tuesday night at