Local access is channeling success

Jeff Antilla, production coordinator for Bainbridge Island Television, directs a broadcast of  last Wednesday’s City Council meeting.  - JULIE BUSCH photo
Jeff Antilla, production coordinator for Bainbridge Island Television, directs a broadcast of last Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Island political junkies may get their own channel as BITV grows.

It’s been said that those with a fondness for sausage or public policy should watch neither being made.

But for those who revel in the spectacle of local legislation as it churns from the grinder, there may soon be a new channel on the TV dial to satiate hearty political appetites.

Bainbridge Island Television, the island’s public access station, is planning to expand its local government coverage with a second cable channel.

The new channel will free up BITV’s current channel 12 for education, the arts and other community projects.

“We’ve had more local programing this year than the last four years combined,” said Scott Schmidt, BITV’s executive director. “Adding this new channel will give people more opportunity to do or say whatever they want.

“That’s real free speech and is a great tool that builds community.”

Government guidelines allow public access stations to seek a channel once they produce more than three hours of local content for 10 consecutive weeks.

“We met that and went well over, sometimes with five hours or eight hours per day,” Schmidt said.

The city is expected to request permission for BITV’s expansion from the Comcast cable company once BITV makes a formal proposal. While talks with the city have just begun, Administrator Mary Jo Briggs is already warming to the idea.

“It’s good news,” she said. “It offers the opportunity for more transparency in government and more access to meetings.”

As much as 60 percent of BITV’s local content is drawn from coverage of city government events and meetings.

An operating agreement with the city requires BITV to produce 1,000 hours of local government programming. The vast majority of these hours have gone to City Council meetings and coverage of Winslow Tomorrow events.

BITV has also produced city-initiated programs on the Department of Planning Community Development’s beach seining efforts, the island’s public road ends and instructional shows on how to obtain a building permit and become more involved in local government.

Briggs expects more city meetings, such as those conducted by the Planning Commission, will get a public airing on the new channel. She was part of the city of Vancouver, Wash., management staff when that city’s public access station added an all-government channel.

“It was really cool,” she said. “It had interviews with public officials, highlighted (city) departments and did all sorts of things that showed the business of doing government.”

Schmidt hopes the new government-only channel will help meet many viewers’ requests for more replays of city meetings. He’s also looking forward to freeing up the original channel for expanded and more consistent show scheduling.

Mary Dombrowski, who produces BITV documentaries and serves as a volunteer camera operator at City Council meetings, believes the government channel could enrich political discussions past the confines of City Hall.

“A lot of people have strong opinions on this island, but the only forum in real-time is at City Council meetings,” she said. “But there’s a formula to that and filtering.”

Going remote

BITV plans to install remote-controlled cameras at City Hall and keep much of its portable equipment at an expanded studio on High School Road.

“If we had a studio, there’s wonderful potential for the second channel to become a place where people exchange viewpoints on government live,” she said.

Schmidt and Dombrowski envision post-council meeting analysis or debates on significant government issues, such as the Critical Areas Ordinance or city budget.

“This would bring more honesty to the debate with face-to-face discussions in real-time,” Dombrowski said.

The proposed offloading of all government content to a second channel means more opportunity for cultural, educational and other community programming, said Schmidt.

With more than 800 hours of non-government local programming produced last year, Schmidt said the new channel will make way for an expected 1,200 hours next year.

Darlene Graves, a BITV volunteer who records local choral performances and manages the station’s televised bulletin board, has seen “a lot more interest in local access and community involvement” at the station over the last two years. She believes programming for the arts will fill a larger role at BITV once government coverage moves to a second channel.

“It certainly opens a whole new realm of possibilities,” she said. “There’s so much going on culturally and this will actually give more opportunity for it to be aired, especially for people who can’t attend or see all the performance on the island.”

Schmidt planned to expand the station’s education coverage, bringing cameras into classrooms to give parents an up-close look at what their children are learning.

He also intends to increase the scope of youth video production classes and to possibly air school board meetings.

“BITV is getting more local content than communities more than twice our size,” he said. “That says how much our community looks to BITV as a community resource. We have an engaged community that’s passionate about a number of different topics. We have high school kids doing sports shows and people recording choral performances, a program at the library, gallery walks and music at Pegasus (coffeehouse).

“We had 800 hours of this type of programming this year. Next year, we expect 1,200 hours. The year after that, we’re just going to keep going and growing.”

* * * * *

Ratings are up

Bainbridge Island Television by the numbers:

• 4,100 subscribers through Comcast

• 220 hours of local programming produced – beyond local government coverage – in 2003; 190 in 2004 and about 800 in 2005. BITV expects to produce 1,200 hours next year.

• Three full-time staff, 120 members and 40 volunteer or contract producers.

• 30 new locally produced programs in November.

Source: Bainbridge Island Television

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