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Local TV Station Engages in Turf War With Cable Access Station (VIDEO)Opinion by Tim King Salem-News.com
David versus Goliath?
(SALEM, Ore.) - Salem residents may be surprised to learn that cable subscribers are footing the bill for a fight against the area's only local broadcast TV station, something Salem residents lacked for years. KWVT Channel 17 has been on the air in Salem since 2004.
Ken Lewetag and Mike Mattson, the owners of KWVT, have faced the most unusual form of competition; that is Salem's Community Cable Television group, CCTV, and its Executive Director Alan Bushong, in its quest to cover local sports.
CCTV is a cable access programmer that falls under what is known as "Public, Educational and Governmental" television or "PEG TV". These community cable stations are a requirement from the FCC, and the purpose aside from the three mentioned above, is to provide a place for members of the community to learn how to produce and run television shows, all in a non-commercial setting. In Salem, there is a very serious approach to PEG TV.
The truth is, Salem is a place where there traditionally has been sparse TV coverage, and as a result of that, the volunteer CCTV programs have seen a decent amount of popularity. CCTV producers cannot add commercials to their programs, and everything is performed in a volunteer role, except for the agency's paid staff.
With economic times getting harder, the idea of a cable-subscriber funded volunteer amateur cable station stepping on the toes of a local commercial broadcaster and locking them out of covering local sports, may be unreasonable.
One basic point is that KWVT is free for anyone who has an antenna. CCTV is only available for cable subscribers who write a check to Comcast every month. CCTV is trying to give cable viewers the advantage, but the cable company is anything but a public entity. KWVT reaches the public at large, not just those who choose to spend their money on cable.
And all the while, that same cable company, Comcast, refuses to put Salem's only local broadcast TV station into their lineup, preventing KWVT from finding a place on the local cable dial, thus denying Salem cable subscribers a chance to see the only local station.
CCTV is not a "TV station", regardless of what it is sometimes referred to. It really is only a service for Comcast customers.
As previously mentioned, the controversy at hand mainly stems around sports coverage. When Salem-Keizer high schools were built, they apparently didn't leave much spare room, so TV live trucks sometimes have to be parked in tough locations.
As a result, at least one school in the local area has a "one TV truck" rule. Lewetag says KWVT is trying to provide an essential role in Salem, with free broadcast over-the-air TV, and advertising opportunities for local businesses, but they are finding themselves in a turf war with this non-commercial PEG station. Bushong believes CCTV should have a good selection of the year's games, and that KWVT should not be allowed to cover those particular games.
Regarding football games and small spaces, Lewetag says he went to great pains to provide a "clean feed" to CCTV, but Bushong refused to take it. If he had, CCTV viewers would have gotten the same product, but it would have been shot through the new state of the art HD cameras that KWVT purchased at great expense.
Bushong said that Lewetag and he exchanged emails earlier over the contested football games, but that Lewetag suddenly quit writing back. Bushong says there has been a lack of communication.
Lewetag says he does not feel like he can easily approach Bushong, and that when there have been dealings, Bushong assigned a CCTV employee to work with Lewetag, one of KWVT's principals, instead of dealing with the matter on a personal level, as Bushong is the top executive at CCTV.
Big Money, Older Formats
Interestingly, CCTV is still shooting in the older 3x4 television format instead of the new FCC mandated 16x9 digital signal. CCTV is not a broadcaster, and cablecasters are not under the FCC mandate.
So as KWVT struggles along, investing big to have incredible new cameras and equipment, CCTV is spending $400,000 to specifically purchase cameras that still have the option of shooting in the older non-widescreen format.
CCTV's demand for a 3x4 TV signal is the breakdown; Lewetag has been told by Bushong that he has to convert the signal from modern 16x9 to the older 3x4 format before it gets to CCTV.
While Lewetag's station is extremely unique and a huge investment for the local community, he was told by Bushong that he is "just another content provider" in Monday's meeting, and that if Bushong helped prepare the product for viewing, "he would have to do it for everybody".
Again, Salem has gone decades without a TV station, and KWVT is the only one.
It appears that volunteers are being used to edge out an actual Salem TV station, something residents have longed for as the decades have passed. To many in broadcasting, this is just flat out wrong. In a city like Portland or Las Vegas, you will see that the TV broadcasters are provided room and whatever else they may need, and the PEG crews with their smaller, generally inexpensive prosumer cameras are there too, but they don't get in the way of the pros.
Of course after the meeting that I attended at CCTV today, I learned that I may be mistaken about the cost and size of local PEG equipment. CCTV just saw the one year anniversary of its brand new, gleaming building in downtown Salem. I don't know how much that cost, but it is nicer than anything I have ever seen like it. Portland's cable access station on MLK is a rambling old building in a semi-tough neighborhood, very very different.
Bushong took the time during the meeting today to show two awards that CCTV had won for their work in local sports.
CCTV is currently spending $400,000 on new equipment. Bushong claimed today that their 9-12 year old gear is very much in need of replacement, even going so far as to suggest that it has almost no value at all.
I looked at our News Photographer Jerry Freeman and winked, as he knows the TV camera we were taping the meeting with was at least 15 years old and still in superb condition. My personal camera that I've drug through Iraq and Afghanistan, is 12 years old. After the meeting, my friend Rod Stevens from KGW told me his Betacam SX camera was also 12 years old, and would be in use for at least two more years at that station. He travels the world a lot more frequently than I do.
Of course if the Comcast subscribers are paying for all the toys, the cameras and decks and vehicles may not get the level of care that a Salem-News.com or KGW camera would. Heck, I think it is unheard of for a PEG station to have any type of vehicle - this one has several. I must be in the wrong business.
And all the while, cable rates keep going up.
I guess living in the real world where we don't have time to volunteer in things like PEG TV might cloud our view of why money is being used this way, and why replacing equipment of that age would be so important.
It was also announced that CCTV is spending roughly one hundred thousand dollars to re-equip the city council chambers with new TV cameras and switching equipment because "it is very old" also according to Bushong, though people with cable tell me they watch it regularly and it looks as good as any other city council meeting generally does during a cablecast.
Salem City Councilman Brad Nanke headed the Cable Regulatory meeting today, and these officials had possibly hoped to resolve the matter between CCTV and KWVT. That did not come to pass, and the words between Lewetag and Bushong did become heated more than once. Nanke asked the two sides to not argue during the meeting, and they complied. The matter will be revisited sometime between now and next football season. Nanke did stress that he was unsure of whether or not the city actually had authority over CCTV, and they agreed to have city staff investigate the matter.
Broadcast TV in Salem
I was a Photojournalist/Reporter for Portland's ABC station when I first moved to Salem. I represented KATU Channel-2 News for three and a half years in this community. I could never count the number of times during that period that people in Salem, upon seeing my news truck or camera, would say, "Must be a slow news day?"
That's how people come to see themselves and their community when "their" TV stations are all located an hour away, in Portland. Cable access TV is great, but it isn't professional and in some places, cable access stations show really bad programming that includes, in some cases, rank sex, and that is supposed to be a right of the producer, but it never made it the serious thing that you would find in a program funded by actual business revenue.
Bushong says most high school sports are covered by PEG stations, yet Salem is the only place where I have ever seen it. Bushong said no CCTV footage can air on a commercial station, and yet I used to pick up DVD's from CCTV that we aired on KATU.
There also have been situations where CCTV footage showed up on the Statesman Journal Website, and that at the time struck all of us here as scandalous. Of course the paper is owned by the single biggest newspaper ownership group in the country; for all I know they are still doing it, blatantly breaking all of the rules while CCTV maintains that it is non-commercial.
Five years ago when we started Salem-News.com, the Salem Monthly Newspaper was launched, and KWVT also debuted on television. Three diverse media groups all set up operations in 2004 and five years later, we are all still here. It is not easy doing what we do and I'm sure it won't get any easier.
It is shameful if any media group were to fail because of shenanigans like this; where a lack of a TV station led to an amateur cable PEG station becoming extraordinarily powerful - to the point that it battled the broadcast TV station that finally did arrive.
Is Ken Lewetag a friend of mine? You bet he is, and I am proud to say so. Same goes for Mike, and the rest of Ken's crew. I've known him and worked with him off and on for years. This is an opinion piece, as cited at the top. If local media groups don't stick together, we are in trouble. If we do, then maybe we can accomplish something meaningful. It is a time for solidarity.
Salem can be what other cities are, with real paid media, and by the way, there is nothing unusual about a commercial radio or TV station covering local football, as Bushong implied during Monday's meeting.
Our economy is suffering, and a business and local employer has to put up with competition in a very unique way; it sure doesn't seem fair for KWVT or for the growing population that relies on broadcast TV for the only TV they have.
Welcome to corporate America, Salem. If you don't like it, call CCTV, Salem City Councilman Brad Nanke, Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano, and above all Comcast, and tell them you want KWVT added to the cable lineup. Tell CCTV there is a place for them, but not an exclusive one, and their purpose in this community is not "exclusive coverage" of local football.
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