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Hearing on public access TV’s future - BCAT looks to get greater piece of Cablevision, Time Warner pie

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Hundreds of Brooklynites are expected to turn off their boob tubes and march down to the New York City College of Technology this Thursday, where they will sound off on the pros and cons of their cable service. But will the speakers be screaming, “We want our BCAT TV?” That’s the hope of the local community access network heads as they and their parent non-profit company Brooklyn Information and Culture (BRIC) spread the word about the hearing, as well as the ramifications it could have on future programming at Brooklyn Community Access Television (BCAT). “Right now there are two cable companies operating in Brooklyn and the contracts that these franchises have with the city expire in the fall,” said Leslie Schultz, executive director of BRIC arts media, which oversees BCAT’s operation. “In order to get a renewal, they [the cable companies] have to provide how they are meeting the cable related needs of the community and one of the ways they meet that need is by supporting public access programs.” That’s where BCAT comes in. Following the mandate put forth by the Federal Communications Commis-sion (FCC), Cablevision and Time Warner Cable are both required to pay for the lion’s share of BCAT’s programming, which is the borough’s main source of community access television. When the cable franchises renew their contracts with the city every ten years, community access channels get to renegotiate their contracts, which could ultimately mean more funding for BCAT. The new revenue would help increase and improve their programming as well as educational programs, Shultz said. It could also mean the creation of satellite sites as well as a “mobile learning lab” so everyone throughout the borough could access the programs that BCAT has to offer. “Right now, BCAT gets about $4.85 per subscriber,” said Schultz. “But over the last ten years the cable market has grown. No one could imagine ten years ago the degree people would be communicating via video and BCAT provides the resources necessary to do this to thousands of people for free.” Currently, BCAT receives just over 80 percent of its funding from the cable companies. Schultz would not comment on just how much BCAT will be asking from the cable companies in the next go around of negotiations. “Right now the cable company revenues are enormous – they are as high as $500 million a year,” she said, adding that the 2.6 million Brooklynites should get their just compensation in increased community television access. Currently, BCAT airs over 500 hours of community produced and selected television each week, as well as offer free access to state of the art television studios and production facilities. Over the years, the channel keeps growing and changing, providing primetime ready news and sports shows, programs profiling Brooklyn’s many diverse neighborhoods as well as roundtable discussions, which this writer routinely participates in. BCAT also officers the Brooklyn Free Speech Initiative, which is comprised of shows “that residents want to produce,” according to Greg Sutton, BCAT’s executive producer. “If someone wants to do a show about anything — the post office, the transit system, the department of sanitation – they can do it through the Free Speech Initiative,” said Sutton. “We respond to the public. If they want shows on health information or business or entrepreneurship, we provide the programming.” And the ideas continue to flow forward onto the airwaves. BCAT just announced that they will be premiering two new shows in February: “Caught in the Act: Art in Brooklyn,” about the borough burgeoning art scene as well as “BK 4 Reel: Brooklyn Teens Movies,” which will premier videos directed and produced by borough teens. “We offer non-profit programming at industry standards,” Sutton said. In order to move forward, BCAT is encouraging all of the station’s supporters to voice their opinions at the hearing, which will be held by the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). According to Commis-sioner Paul Cosgrave, DoITT wants to “gather feedback about cable television service issues and concerns for all New Yorkers” as well as “gain insight as we proceed to negotiate renewal agreements with the City’s existing cable television providers this spring.” The January 31 hearing will be held at the New York City College of Technology’s Klitgord Auditorium, 285 Jay Street at Tillary Street, between 3 and 7 p.m. Those who can’t make it to the hearing but wishes to lend their support can sign a petition available at www.briconline.org/bcat. One can also fill out a survey about BCAT and its programming.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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