TV stations: Competition healthy, beneficial | AspenTimes.com

TV stations: Competition healthy, beneficial

John Colson

Ashley Allison works the camera as Kris Marsh interviews Ricky Frias, Simon Dolginow and Austin Hills during a recent taping at GrassRoots TV. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

John Masters of the nonprofit GrassRoots TV and Kutcher Miller of the commercial station, Plum TV, both deny that they are competing against each other.This is despite the fact that GrassRoots has traditionally charged local nonprofits a nominal fee to air footage about programs or events, a fee that contributes a significant amount to the station’s cash flow, whereas Plum is able to film such footage for free thanks to what Masters termed the “deep pockets” of the station’s backers.In fact, Masters said in a recent interview, “If Plum can enable the citizens and nonprofits of the valley to access the media for free, they’re helping us to fulfill our mission. The issue is, this is a tough place to do business.”The new kid in townPlum TV, which launched in Aspen only a few months ago after the network’s founders bought Channel 16 from the Aspen Skiing Co., is part of a “network” with outlets in Vail, the Hamptons, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.One of the defining statements on the Web site of Plum TV – a site that, by the way, remains under construction – is that “The rich are different, and so is their TV network.”Plum is the brainchild of entrepreneur Tom Scott, who also was a founder of a successful bottled juice company, Nantucket Nectars, and Chris Glowacki, a former CNBC executive, along with several other partners and executives.The centerpiece of the network’s programming is a live morning show in each town – a two hour program which features local events, weather and news. Other programming includes interview shows, a cooking show, “local documentaries” and a show named “Rolling Art Television” that highlights automobiles as an art form.Sponsors of Plum TV reportedly include J. Crew, Sentient Jets and Merrill Lynch, and Miller said he plans to introduce new local programming and sell local advertising space as the station grows and gets settled into its role.

“We’re just trying to bring the local vitality to the television screen,” he said. “By no means are we trying to undercut GrassRoots. We’re not trying to do community television.”Among the things he won’t try to do, he said, is hard news, which he feels is well covered by the two newspapers in town as well as radio stations.As part of the station’s programming, he said, Plum will offer shows from its other affiliates, such as an interview show featuring corporate CEOs, celebrity interviews and such perennial local favorites as Warren Miller ski films.Among the local programming he hopes to get started is something he’s calling “Aspen Biography,” featuring interviews with local personalities in well-known spots such as the Hotel Jerome. He also hopes to feature the work of locally based filmmakers, perhaps as part of a partnership with the Aspen Filmfest.”I think what GrassRoots does, they do very well,” Miller said. “I’d love to sit down with those guys to see how we could help each other.””We’re just trying to bring the local vitality to the television screen,” he said. “By no means are we trying to undercut GrassRoots. We’re not trying to do community television.”Among the things he won’t try to do, he said, is hard news, which he feels is well covered by the two newspapers in town as well as radio stations.As part of the station’s programming, he said, Plum will offer shows from its other affiliates, such as an interview show featuring corporate CEOs, celebrity interviews and such perennial local favorites as Warren Miller ski films.Among the local programming he hopes to get started is something he’s calling “Aspen Biography,” featuring interviews with local personalities in well-known spots such as the Hotel Jerome. He also hopes to feature the work of locally based filmmakers, perhaps as part of a partnership with the Aspen Filmfest.”I think what GrassRoots does, they do very well,” Miller said. “I’d love to sit down with those guys to see how we could help each other.”

The old gangGrassRoots TV, which has been around for more than three decades and which bills itself as the oldest community-access station in the U.S., offers its facilities and technical know-how to locals who have a message they want to get out to the community.The result is eclectic programming that has undergone periods of intensive community interest and, well, the exact opposite.Regular airings of government meetings are popular with political junkies and viewers who want to know what the government is doing but can’t always get to a meeting. Elections can bring a spike in viewership, as broadcast media can get the results to the citizenry as soon as the numbers and winners are official.With a $430,000 budget and four full-time paid staffers, GrassRoots counts on a regular infusion of fees and donations from its constituency.High on its list of programming goals is to broadcast local high school sporting events, which donations and grants from supporters underwrite. It also airs footage of lectures, concerts and a range of community events. Roughly 55 percent of its budget is from “earned income” – underwriters, fees for use of the studio equipment and a percentage of the money earned by shows that have dedicated sponsors, such as “The Andrew Kole Show.”Beyond that, the station relies on grants from local governments, cable franchise fees and gifts from institutions such as The Thrift Shop and the Aspen Community Foundation. It does not get money from the state or national public broadcasting corporations.”The revenue stream is not as important as programming,” Masters said, pointing out that community support for the station largely is based on what viewers can see and enjoy on the screen.

Grassroots TV, which has been around for more than three decades and which bills itself as the oldest community-access station in the U.S., offers its facilities and technical know-how to locals who have a message they want to get out to the community.The result is eclectic programming that has undergone periods of intensive community interest and, well, the exact opposite.Regular airings of government meetings are popular with political junkies and viewers who want to know what the government is doing but can’t always get to a meeting. Elections can bring a spike in viewership, as broadcast media can get the results to the citizenry as soon as the numbers and winners are official.

With a $430,000 budget and four full-time paid staffers, Grassroots counts on a regular infusion of fees and donations from its constituency.High on its list of programming goals is to broadcast local high school sporting events, which donations and grants from supporters underwrite. It also airs footage of lectures, concerts and a range of community events. Roughly 55 percent of its budget is from “earned income” – underwriters, fees for use of the studio equipment and a percentage of the money earned by shows that have dedicated sponsors, such as “The Andrew Kole Show.”Beyond that, the station relies on grants from local governments, cable franchise fees and gifts from institutions such as The Thrift Shop and the Aspen Community Foundation. It does not get money from the state or national public broadcasting corporations.”The revenue stream is not as important as programming,” Masters said, pointing out that community support for the station largely is based on what viewers can see and enjoy on the screen.

Conceding that it would “hurt” Grassroots if Plum TV began to shoot many of the same events and happenings that Grassroots historically has covered, Masters said, “I would hope that they would, instead of trying to shoot what Grassroots has historically shot, that they would try to shoot footage that we can’t do … something new, creative, different.”If Plum covers something, Masters said, Grassroots may not cover the same event since Grassroots is tax-exempt and cannot, by law, compete with private enterprise because it is considered unfair competition, a situation Masters termed “ironic” because “a couple of millionaires” hoping to ultimately make money off Plum are underwriting the station.But, Masters said of Plum’s ambitions, “I think they’re trying to be good neighbors” and not aiming to put Grassroots out of business.”I sort of look at it like we’re the big, ol’ mountain dog, we’ve been here a long time,” he explained, while Plum TV is ” the new, snippy little thing [that] wants to appeal to the high end. We’ve seen this before. Am I worried? Not really. Long after Plum is gone, Grassroots will still be here.”John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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