Woodstock Town Supervisor Bill McKenna appointed Council member Bennet Ratcliff liaison to the public access television station after he expressed the need to have a more efficient and effective studio. Producers have long complained about insufficient and outdated equipment and some noted the same old gear was put back until the studio when it was refurbished as part of the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center.
Ratcliff would like to attract new people to the station and encourage production of content that will interest all townspeople and perhaps get the business community involved. He supports the installation of equipment to enable live-streaming the station on a service such as YouTube, a necessity to reach a diverse audience. This is especially true for younger generations, which often don’t subscribe to a television package, opting for internet-only service from the cable company.
Ratcliff’s interest in reining in the station operations and improving equipment is the latest in a long line of Town Board members and officials who have tried to do the same, with little to no success. Most recently, former Council member Lorin Rose assumed that role.
Ratcliff said he was under the impression Spectrum has provided $30,000 for equipment.
Each municipality has a franchise agreement with the area cable company. The last such agreement with Time Warner, now Spectrum, says “The franchise shall provide capital contributions for video production equipment, for the town’s exclusive use, to be utilized exclusively for the production of education/government access programming.”
It states the value of the equipment “shall not exceed Thirty Thousand Dollars,” but it is unclear how much, if anything, was actually given.
“I’ve heard as much as $100,000. They don’t commit anything to it. Last time I think we signed the franchise agreement…they did kick in a little bit of seed money to do some restoration there,” McKenna said.
The town collects a franchise fee of 5 percent of the cable company’s gross receipts for the year, which has averaged about $140,000 in recent years, but that money helps keep the tax levy down, McKenna said.
The TV station gets about $3000 in the town’s annual budget, which may seem like a meager amount, but they don’t seem to use it. “I think they’ve spent about $300 this year,” McKenna said.
Ratcliff’s interest in revitalizing the station comes at a time when producers have complained once again about technical problems causing issues for viewers. “I’m glad you appointed Bennet Ratcliff as liaison to the public access tv committee. I think that’s needed, and also needed is a good budget,” said producer Felicia Kacsik, who also operates the independent radio station Woodstock 104 at 104.1 FM. “I’ve been hearing complaints that people with new cable boxes cannot hear the public access TV channel. I don’t know exactly what it is. My guess is that somehow it’s not downward compatible with whatever the Spectrum owned and operated modulator in the studio is putting out…Whatever they do — whether they give people older boxes — some have asked for them, and have gotten them and then they get sound, or whether to upgrade the modulator, but then people with the old boxes should still be able to hear with the new modulator. Whatever they do, it’s got to be compatible so everybody hears sound.”
Producer Fanny Prizant echoed Kacsik’s comments. “I think we should get a budget to improve it,” she said.
McKenna said Spectrum was at the studio recently and they are looking into a resolution.
New franchise agreement in the works
Spectrum is pressing for a new franchise agreement to replace the one that expired April 2021, but the town is pushing back and citing service reliability complaints as the reason.
“They really want us to sign an agreement. I told them not until you address these issues,” said McKenna, who noted he forwards all the complaints he gets to his contact at Spectrum.
The proposed agreement would be valid for 15 years, offers the same 5 percent fee and does not include any contributions for television station equipment.