March 17, 2009

The Future of Local Governmental Access Programming on Cable TV

IN GETTING ready for a brainstorming session about the direction of this area's governmental access channel (Channel 26 in my area), PenTV, I have been thinking about the future of cable television and how our channel could reinvent itself. The choices that come to mind are stay the same and become increasingly irrelevant. Or embrace the idea that in the next few years TV will be an open content platform and some amount of programming won't be produced in a traditional way.

If TVs do become open platforms connected to the Internet it opens up programming to the masses and makes independent production possible by the masses. It also provides for an efficient means of delivery of content to the masses. In that environment, TV content will be a mixed bag. Some of it will come from traditional outlets like the major networks and the cable companies but some of it will come from independent producers - you and I.

Diggnation (part of Revision3 Internet Television) is a good example of what I mean. If you haven't seen an episode of the show it is a weekly tech/web culture show that basically features two guys (Kevin RoseAlex Albrecht) sitting on a sofa in Kevin's apartment, laptops in tow, talking about stories from Digg, the social bookmarking website developed by Rose and others. It has a dedicated following and at the recent SXSW event, over three thousand people showed up to watch a live episode.

The important thing here is that all of Revision3's programming could be made available in the new world order on your TV. How does that changed environment relate to PenTV and other public access channels?

Despite the fact that PenTV is a traditional government access franchise authorized by a cable company, it should start now to get itself ready for that future. I am thinking out loud here but some possible changes could include:
  • create a new organizational structure - one that will allow faster change and more programming flexibility;
  • it should encourage local producers to submit content and make it available on the Internet as well as on TV;
  • create ways to provide more interactivity and community building and generally take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd;
  • and finally, since San Mateo County is preparing to hire an egov/gov 2.0 evangelist, and PenTV has done some unique county-centric programming (like Anatomy of Election 08) that has ended up on the Web, working together in a strategic alliance would create a synergistic relationship for the county and for PenTV. It would mean that governmental entities like the county, cities and schools could create and share content.
This is a challenging time for Cable TV and for PenTV. Dealing with the changes that lie ahead will present many new opportunities and no matter how the meeting turns out on Friday, it should be interesting to watch the future unfold.

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