Aug 19 2010

What’s the Future of KCOM?

Piedmont residents with cable TV can watch KCOM programs through Comcast on Channel 27, but as more people switch to watching TV programs and movies on their computers, what will this mean for the future of our local cable TV station?   Is this good news or bad for the programming produced in the basement of City Hall? By Denise Bostrum.

What’s the Future of KCOM? By Denise Bostrum.

In April 2009, Steve B. Burke, president and chief operating officer of Comcast, compared the growing stampede of cable subscribers switching over to watch programs on the Internet to a “wildfire.” (1) Every year more viewers watch shows online.  With and other popular websites offering free access to TV shows and films, it is only a matter of time before more shows are watched on a smart phone, iPad, or laptop, than on cable TV.  Not to be left in the dust, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable distributor — and the sole cable provider to Piedmont — now offers Fancast, a free website showing movies and cable TV shows.   How Comcast and other cable providers can turn a profit giving their products away for free on the Internet is still a hot topic in the industry, but what will this shift in entertainment technology mean for our local education/government access TV station?

While web programming may evolve into a tiered system of paid and free sites, it’s unclear how many subscribers cable giants such as Comcast will retain.  It’s also unclear how this shakeout will impact KCOM, or how it will impact the financial arrangement between the City and Comcast.  Moreover, since KCOM already streams live broadcasts and provides archived video on the City website (see KCOM On-line Video), does KCOM need to continue its partnership with Comcast at all?  Residents could easily watch all KCOM programming at any time of their choosing on their computers!

In an interview with City Clerk Ann Swift and KCOM Station Manager Kenya Davis on June 29 in KCOM’s office, they guessed that roughly 700 households in Piedmont watch televised KCOM.  This represents about a third of Comcast’s estimated 2,000 Piedmont customers a few years ago.  As television viewership continues to shrink nationwide, the question is whether we can re-imagine KCOM’s use in our community.  Can we increase viewers and expand programming without increasing costs to the station?   Furthermore, can we attract volunteers, offer student training, and resurrect a Citizen Advisory Board to oversee the station’s future and engage greater community participation?

Informal interviews with a range of Piedmont residents – from old-timers to newcomers – conducted around town in early July indicated a general dissatisfaction with KCOM’s current broadcast schedule.  These interviews will be discussed fully in subsequent articles, but the overall sentiment was that the station’s programming of live City Council and School Board meetings, sprinkled with a few selected events like the 1997 Piedmont Choir Tour, PHS Birdcalling Contests, and Public Service Announcements does not meet KCOM’s aspiration to “to enhance community life by providing programs which focus on local, social, cultural and historic events,” as proclaimed in the Station’s Overview Statement.

Where KCOM succeeds is in the other half of its mission – to “educate and inform the residents of Piedmont about their local government and its services.”  Through its live broadcasts of City Council and School Board meetings, KCOM has been key in providing current information in the unfolding undergrounding debacle and current battle over whether to develop sports fields in Blair Park, as well as other hot-button issues.  In addition, KCOM’s archived videos allow residents to stay abreast of civic discussions in a convenient, time-effective manner.

However, Piedmont could benefit from expanded viewership.  The yearly budget for KCOM of $180,000 is a basic amount to cover the cost of broadcasting KCOM via Comcast and the Internet.  While this is a relatively small budget for an education/government station, the question arises as to what is the best way to further develop this important communication resource.  Should there be a community discussion on how to best use KCOM, a vital vehicle of communication?

Over the next few months, additional articles on KCOM will include:

– its history of programming and community outreach;

– the financial arrangement between Comcast and the City and how this impacts the station;

– a look at how other cities manage their local cable access TV stations;

– ways to increase programming, viewers and community participation.

We welcome your suggestions on ways to diversify the station’s programming and to engage and expand viewership.

URLS for links referenced in article:
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