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Friday, August 17, 2007

SF Cable Access On the Ropes

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2007 at 12:19 PM

San Francisco cable access could sure use a shot in the arm. With all the arty fucks around here, you'd think someone would've put together a Wayne's World or something cool. But no. And now the channel is doing telethons to keep the doors open.-d2

I’ve got the Cable Access Blues

By Benjamin Wachs

If a Cable Access station got canceled in the forest, would anybody notice?

Staff at San Francisco’s cable Access SF are determined not to find out, even as they’re convinced that state laws passed last year are likely to end their primary source of funding soon. It takes about $800,000 to fund the station each year at current levels, and they say that if the government gets out of the TV business, they’ll find ways to raise it themselves.

So far it’s … not going so well.

A two-day fundraising telethon at the end of June – the station’s first ever – brought in only $1,205.

“It cost us much more than that to do it,” admitted Access SF Executive Director Zane Blaney. “But it wasn’t about the money this time out: it was about finding out how to do this and figuring that we could.”

The situation, Blaney says, is dire … the law now allows cable companies to get statewide franchises, so they no longer have to negotiate with local entities like San Francisco. Since the vast bulk of Access SF’s budget comes from the contracts cable companies made with SF, Blaney expects a drastic … if not total … funding cut when Comcast’s current contract with the city expires in fiscal ’08 – ’09.

To prepare for that day, he’s willing to try anything. “Telethons, bake sales, car washes … we need to find new sources of funding.”

In addition to the telethon, Access SF is trying to find underwriters, offering to produce public access spots for non-profits (or whomever), and looking for grants. But Blaney admits that, even if successful, these efforts are a band-aid. “None of these efforts will sustain a public access operation,” he said. “When public access was created in the United States it was never envisioned that they would need to seek funding from anyone other than cable operators. The cities should be able to require it.”

Does it matter? In the age of YouTube, who’s watching television anyway?

Plenty of people, actually – and with cable access stations closing across the country, the public is losing its last access to the airwaves. For my money, the 24 freak-show of San Francisco’s cable access … coupled with the occasional brilliant auteur who appears out of nowhere and then fades back into obscurity … is the best reason for owning a television.

There will, Blaney said, be another telethon. In the meantime, the station will be holding “A Night of Blues” fundraiser, “Celebrating 50 Years of Singing the Blues in the Bay Area,” on Saturday, Sept. 1. Over 25 blues musicians will perform.

Co-sponsored by LaQuita Music and held at the African American Art & Culture Complex in the Western Addition, the event highlights Blaney’s strategy of trying to partner with other Bay Area arts & non-profit organizations, in the hope that a rising tide lifts all boats. By getting better connected, he hopes, AccessSF can get profitable.

Tickets are $30 in advance, $40 at the door. Of course, you can always watch it – for free – on Access SF.

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David Downs


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