Score one for the bean counters at Comcast. Score another loss for local coverage of events most likely deemed too small for shrinking newspapers, relying far too heavily on AP stories. Score a loss also for the original intent that accompanied the awarding of cable franchises, but then you could argue that loss got tallied long ago.
The FCC changed its regulations that allowed Cable distributors to stop funding and offering local access channels. States have, with gentle nudges from the cable industry (oh, all right call it campaign cash) gone along with this and changed laws on that level. Cable companies have been doing away with the local cable access shows. Today we got word that our local cable access community talk show, Cable Talk is very shortly going to end its days as a major resource for out local Winchester and Frederick County community. Comcast has pulled the plug. I taped my last Cable Talk appearance on behalf of Wayside Theatre tonight while our cast is rehearsing music for Man of La Mancha.
Cable Talk (and I’m sure other shows like it) is a key part of our community. It is a venue where small organizations, not-for-profits, local authors and other local interests can have an opportunity to talk about what they do and what they have to offer. When celebrities come to town it is a place for them to meet the community. Cable Talk, and its long time host Barry Lee, have been instrumental in helping get the news out about these kind of organizations and individuals for a long time here. Cable Talk will be more than missed. It will be interesting to see how the local news media handles this story.
As the Artistic Director of Wayside Theatre, I can attest to the impact that Cable Talk has. We, fortunately get to appear and talk about each of our shows that are coming up, and it has a large impact on our ticket sales immediately following the airings of an episode we appear on. So, from my perspective as the director of a small not-for-profit, you can call my reaction to this selfish, or at least say that about my perspective.
But it is larger than just my interests here. Laws were passed to force Cable operators to offer local access programming in the beginning. The FCC changes to those laws came down during the Bush years. State legislators that are going along with cable operators complete the cycle and pretty much force the outcome. It all simply says that what happens on your street, in your small town, or your county isn’t important enough to those who had to be forced to offer that coverage in the first place. I’m wondering what the trade off between the political contributions to lawmakers versus the cost of running the local studios is?
I also understand here locally that Comcast basically ran roughshod over our local governments here when the local franchise deal was up for negotiation again. And why not, they are in essence a monopoly and don’t have to concede to anything, and when there’s cover from the governments about the local level, there’s not much the local guys can do.
Comcast is on the winning side here and they don’t care. They can’t sell commercials on these local shows that talk about the Boy Scouts or the local shelter’s latest fundraiser. Which is strange when your think for a second and realize that they are not bursting at the seams with original content. Pick a cable channel and all you see if stuff played over and over. And to go along with it, at least on our local channels, Comcast screws around with the commercials. I can’t tell you when the last time I watched a commercial break and saw every commercial complete to its end. Here locally, Comcast cuts off the beginnings and end of commercials, both local and national, with a regularity that leaves me to wonder if advertisers ever monitor their ads anymore. The ‘make-good’ rate on any given night (or day) here would be phenomenal. As I write this, I’ve seen two commercials in the last break ended too soon. I guess that means they can’t complain about DVRs that let you skip over commercials if they don’t want to air them.
So add this to the loss of coverage of local events on top of the pile that includes the ever shriveling newspaper industry. Add this to triumph of greed over the common good. Maybe local communications company Shentel will use this as a play to increase their customer base in Frederick County. They are based in Shenandoah County, (one county south of here) and offer a Shenandoah Country focused local access show.
I’m going to Twitter @comcastcares on this and see if he has any comment. I hope he does beyond the public statements. Comcast owes our community (and others) an explanation. Meanwhile, I’ll be checking into other options for our TV viewing, and I hear tell others in our area are planning on doing the same thing. Of course that’s one local story that won’t get covered.
UPDATE: @comcastcares responded with this:
It is not required for other companies serving an area, and has very high cost. Shouldn't every company have to offer?
Which is a convenient answer when you consider that the rules don’t allow for local cable competition once the franchises are awarded.