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Part II: PEGs Get Strategic About Local Coverage

The flip side of technological advances has also created a set of challenges for PEG channels.

DCTV covers hyper local events like the creation of a new Arts Park in Northeast Washington.

In a continuation from Part I, Government Video spoke with Nantz Rickard, president and CEO of DCTV, the PEG center serving the nation’s capital, who discusses PEG channels and their long history of serving communities with local and hyper-local community-based cable television programming.

GV: What is the difference between being able to upload a quick YouTube clip online versus being able to broadcast a message on a PEG channel?

Nantz Rickard

Rickard:YouTube is great for what it does, and the incredible platform it provides. And we all know that multi-platform communications are necessary in any communications strategy. In developing your media strategy though, it is important to keep in mind that YouTube posts 300 hours of video per minute. This equals out to about 12.5 days worth of video every 60 seconds, or about 18,000 days’ worth of content per day. If you tried to watch all the videos from any one given day, it would take you 49 years to get through them all. You Tube requires viewers to go look for your video specifically in this incredible ocean of content, and so in some ways is limiting your organization to providing your great video programs to those who already know you or your issue. The odds to “go viral” are long odds at best: viral videos tend to be humorous and less than one minute long. It is very rare to “go viral” or even get more than 500 views from cold posting. The odds of educational or advocacy content being found — or sought — is low.

For an overall media strategy, television channels are deeply rooted as a lion of the media landscape, and offer the related advantages for audience or constituent building, including the viewer-friendly scheduled programming times on discreet channels, and the not-to-be-underestimated opportunity for viewers who don’t know about your organization or issue to find your program, along with the associated range of possibilities that follows from that, including everything from awareness to full engagement.

Besides, most people still perceive having a program on television conveys a special status to the information or the person. People say, “I saw you on television!” But there is no point in saying (and so it goes without saying), “I saw you online.” It is simply not worth remarking on an online presence. A television program confers greater weight to the message as the presumed starting point than having the same information online. (And you get TV bragging rights, along with something to build other messaging around.) PEG channels are the accessible and affordable means to be a part of this unparalleled powerful media platform.

GV: Can you tell us a bit about DCTV and the programming you offer?

Rickard: We are incredibly proud of serving almost three decades as an institution for free expression, local culture, education, information and enrichment. Our media education courses are some of the most robust, experience-based training available and members received over 41,400 hours of education last year. DCTV benefits from serving people who live in and are engaged in a media rich environment in one of the top media markets. Our members again volunteered many thousands of hours and produced thousands of hours of community programming by, for and about Washington, D.C., that we telecast on seven channels across the Comcast, RCN and Verizon systems. Local programming continues to increase. Newer incoming members brought excitement and energy to learning how to produce, to participating with other members on productions, and to bringing their ideas to fruition, refreshing DCTV’s channels with vibrant diverse programming individual and nonprofit organization producers around the city.

In addition to the wealth of original programming produced and provided by DCTV members, DCTV produces local original programming as well. For every D.C. election, DCTV produces programming individually featuring every bona fide candidate running for office for the D.C. council, mayor, delegate to the House of Representatives and the D.C. attorney general, in special, primary and general elections. The candidates are provided an opportunity to present themselves to District voters, and DCTV telecasts the programming for the entire month preceding the each election.

For some other examples of our programming, we also created a series of oral histories, DC Centenarians, with youth researching and interviewing D.C. residents who are over 100 years old. We recently premiered Studio 901, a weekly show produced by DCTV, spotlighting the coolest, emerging artists from diverse backgrounds that are living and creating in the D.C. area. Coming up in April, DCTV will be premiering, Laugh But Not Least, a program presenting D.C. comedians. And there is more in the works, so stay tuned.

GV: Has your programming focus or goals evolved in the years since DCTV’s inception?

Rickard: Decades ago, when we started up, we did not create programming or outreach strategies beyond a general call for programming from as many diverse sources as we could get our message out to, and encourage participation. We still encourage broad participation in developing and providing programming on DCTV channels. In addition, though, over the years we have evolved and now are strategic about programming — in outreach and presentation. We provide for regular scheduling for full length and mini series; developed themed programming blocks; developed a competitive prime time programming schedule; and we create and produce our own original community programming to anchor programming in our schedules, and to fill out our schedule to ensure broad diversity of community programming; to promote and market DCTV; and to build our brand as a DC-focused local programmer. We are expanding opportunities for increased viewer engagement and interaction with DCTV’s local community programming and programmers.

GV: Nationwide, what are some of the biggest challenges facing PEG channels?

Rickard: The flip side of technological advanceshas also created a set of challenges for PEG channels. Where a “channel” used to be a defined bandwidth of 6 MHz that would maintain a particular signal quality, now some PEG centers are faced with being relegated to “thin channels” using minimal bandwidth and only capable of transmitting low quality. Where cable television schedule guides should have become easier in a digital transmission environment, some PEG centers are now not provided capability to have programming schedules included in the on-screen guide for cable television subscribers to view. And where PEG channels are part of the basic tier of service (so they are available to all subscribers), changes to cable television systems infrastructure has opened the door to requiring subscribers to pay for extra equipment to receive PEG channels in some areas.

There are also substantial challenges on the financial side. As already mentioned, the service area for PEG channels is very local — municipal or county based — and the funding for PEG results from franchising the use of the public rights-of-way in that local service area. Without having recognized the effect on these important local channels and the communities they serve, a number of states have taken over and replaced the local franchising of the rights-of-way with a state-level process that has reduced or eliminated local PEG cable channels and funding. Additionally, PEG centers are saddled with the consequences resulting from an odd, outdated provision in the federal law that restricts use of PEG funds received by municipalities as payment for use of public rights-of-way to capital purposes — in essence instructing localities how they may and may not use the rent they receive.

The Community Access Preservation Act (CAP Act), Senate Bill S.1244, has been introduced to restore and protect the important foundation and role of PEG channels in service of local communities as intended by the Cable Act.