Advocate Doubts Albuquerque Channel Sponsorship Plan Will Work

Changes in media require new financial approaches for public access stations, sources say.
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The head of an access-channel advocacy group doubts that a sponsorship plan to support programming on Albuquerque, N.M.’s, public access station will work, but the head of the group likely to take control of the channel says changes in media require new financial approaches for public access stations.

Bunnie Riedel, the executive director of American Community Television, the PEG channel advocacy group, told Government Video that program underwriting occasionally works for some programs, but mostly it does not work. The reason why a sponsorship-funding model generally does not work for public access television programs the same way it works for the Public Broadcast Service (PBS) is the access programs are “up against hundreds of cable channels,” she said. Sponsors who buy advertising on a cable system are going to buy a package that will produce ads all across the cable system. “For example, if I wanted to advertise to women, I’m going to ensure my ads are on all the women’s channels,” she said.

Nonetheless, sponsorship programming is the approach proposed by uPublicTV, a nonprofit organization that has bid to run Albuquerque’s channel 27, one of two public access channels operated by the city. “A lot of things have changed in media since public access started,” said John Padilla, uPublicTV’s chief operating officer. Because of those changes, the sponsorship strategy is “a new way” of financing that might keep public access programs running, “rather than shutting down,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is produce stuff that sponsors will get behind.”

On Oct. 28, 2011, an evaluation committee comprised of staff from Albuquerque’s legal and cultural services departments recommended the city accept uPublicTV’s bid to run the channel over a bid by the public access production facility Quote-Unquote, which has been operating public access channels for the city for 30 years. Part of the reason the evaluation committee recommends the city accept uPublicTV’s bid is because of the financing model proposed, said Robert Kidd, Albuquerque’s city attorney.

uPublicTV’s proposal says they “are not an advocate for commercial advertising on the station,” but it “will search for sponsors who will support the mission of the station” in much the same way as PBS’ stations.

The sponsorship model is “based on the fact we believe if you have a good program you can get people in the community to underwrite what you’re doing,” Padilla said. “There are a lot of good producers doing good things by producing good programming, and they have a hard time keeping it going because they don’t have the money to keep producing,” Padilla said. “So we said let’s create a model that allows the producers to keep producing with sponsors who will underwrite it.”

Under the model, program producers would have to find sponsors, and to help producers acquire sponsors, uPublicTV will provide services such as the creation of a demo-reel, or a pilot program, that can be shown to potential sponsors, Padilla said. It is a matter of “giving them [producers] the tools to go out in the community” and attract sponsors.

However, the disadvantage access channels have attracting sponsors is they are typically from one to three channels, Riedel said. So “what kind of sponsorship will producers get when what they can offer is one or two channels when compared to what the cable operators can offer,” she said.