Area Selectmen Invited to Discuss Future of Community TV

Conway – November 1, 2009 — Live programming, more student involvement in video productions, and a second channel devoted to government meetings. Those are some of the components of a plan being put forward to expand Valley Vision community television and get more towns involved.

On Monday, selectmen from towns throughout the valley will meet to discuss the future of Valley Vision. Conway selectman Mike DiGregorio, who has been the selectmen’s representative to Valley Vision even before he was elected to the board, has been visiting boards of selectmen around the Mount Washington Valley and speaking to them about joining forces to strengthen the TV station.

“We’re going to migrate or grow into something bigger,” he said of Valley Vision.

These discussions have culminated in a valley-wide selectmen’s meeting that will take place Monday, Nov. 2, at 6 p.m. in the Kennett High School auditorium. The public is invited to attend.

One part of the plan is to televise live programs around town. DiGregorio said Valley Vision could film Kennett High School football games, band concerts and graduation. Conway could purchase the equipment for live production at a nominal price, he said.

This plan should appeal to surrounding towns whose children attend Kennett High School, because they would be able to view these programs on TV, DiGregorio said. Those towns include Freedom, Tamworth, Madison, Albany, Eaton, Conway, Jackson and Bartlett.

It also should appeal to local businesses.

“I’ve been contacted by several businesses in town who have asked when we’re going live so they can sponsor games and advertise in their local bars when the games are on,” DiGregorio said.

Advertisements are not permitted on community television stations, but DiGregorio said businesses can sponsor programs much like they do on a Public Broadcasting Station.

“You can advertise by talking about your business,” he said, noting that people can only share information, not sales or promotions. “You have to be careful how you word it.”

Part of the goal also is to get more student involvement. Kennett High School offers a video production class, but this year the funds have been reduced in Conway due to other Valley Vision needs and limited funds. Conway selectmen have been supporting the video production class and have allocated money for it out of the Public Education Government (PEG) fund.

“It’s all franchise money, not tax money,” DiGregorio said of the funds that come from subscribers’ cable bills. “The money is used for educating students in the production world. When I first got on the board (of selectmen), I looked at the money and realized there was no money left over in the fund for Valley Vision needs and production at the high school.”

The town of Conway collects $115,000 in franchise fees each year, DiGregorio said. Between $80,000 and $90,000 is spent on Valley Vision, and the rest of the money is set aside for capital improvements for video equipment. When Valley Vision needs new equipment, it can submit a request to the selectmen to take money out of the capital improvement fund, he explained.

Several years ago, however, the town began funding the video production class, which DiGregorio said has been “eating up the money left over (in the fund).” Last year, selectmen gave the class $35,000, but this year the class got $25,000 because Valley Vision needed some new equipment. If other towns help pay for Kennett’s production class, the financial burden won’t be completely on the town of Conway, DiGregorio said.

“Conway has been paying for students who don’t live in Conway,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time before someone says, ‘Why are we doing this in the first place?'”

Live programming should interest towns with students who attend Kennett High School, because the idea is for students to become involved in the filming of high school events, he said.

“The goal is to get more students involved in video production,” he said. “Valley Vision would have to oversee the live filming.”

DiGregorio said the town of Conway also is asking Time Warner for internship opportunities for Kennett High School students. DiGregorio said Valley Vision is looking into some federal funding because, if it is able to film live, the station may be able to assist in emergency management.

For example, if something would happen in town, such as a health epidemic, and the emergency management director would need to make an announcement, he or she would be able to do so on the community TV station.

In addition to funding the production class and producing live programs, Valley Vision would like to have two channels: one for public-interest programs, such as church, cooking, gardening and school shows; and the other for government meetings.

DiGregorio said Valley Vision can ask for two channels, because the town is now in negotiations for a contract renewal with Time Warner.

“There’s been more interest with people in towns taping government meetings,” DiGregorio said.

Madison and Conway are the only towns that televise all of their government meetings. Madison’s franchise fees go toward PEG TV, and the town has its own station, which it calls Mad TV, DiGregorio said.

The town of Albany tapes its town meeting once a year. Fryeburg tapes its own programs and gives them to Valley Vision, but Fryeburg won’t be part of the valley-wide selectmen’s meeting because its students don’t attend Kennett HIgh School, he said.

“If everyone jumps on board, Valley Vision will be a busy TV station,” DiGregorio said.

All town selectmen who were invited to attend the meeting Monday said they’d be there, except for Bartlett, DiGregorio announced Tuesday at the Conway selectmen’s meeting. Nevertheless, he said, “They are interested in being involved.”

DiGregorio said he expects the meeting to have some “lively debate.”

“I’m hoping to come up with a plan to move forward and ask selectmen to commit to what we’ll do,” he said. “Some towns will have to go back to voters in the spring and get final approval. We have to anticipate that all surrounding towns would buy into our request while in negotiations with Time Warner.”

As long as the town of Conway knows by February or March whether surrounding towns will join in, Conway town officials can tell Time Warner to include the plan in the contract, which is scheduled for renewal in April.

“Time Warner has been good to work with,” DiGregorio said. “They assured us that rearranging the signal in towns that don’t have it can be done (so they can receive Valley Vision). They just want to make sure agreements are long-term.”

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