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Local TV channels face static future

Evan Pappas, Staff Reporter - February 27, 2013

Ellensburg could be facing the loss of access to local TV channels in the city’s upcoming contract renewal with Charter Communications.

The city’s renewal with Charter would most likely reduce or remove access to local channels by Central, ECTV, and the Ellensburg School District.

“As far as I’m concerned, the university evicting Channel 2 from campus, it is going to severely hurt town-gown relations,” Art Clark said. “It’s really hard to be optimistic about Channel 2 right now.”

Ellensburg and Charter initially entered their agreement 15 years ago. Part of this agreement was that Charter would provide four channels intended for public, education, and government use. One channel was given to the Ellensburg School District, two were given to Central, and one was given to the community.

ECTV, which had been located in Brooks Library, is now being moved off campus after the inter-local agreement between the city and the university expired in December 2012. The combination of the Charter renewal and the loss of office space has put ECTV in an unfavorable position. Clark, cable television commission chair, is worried this could be the end for ECTV, and has made it clear they need more funding in order to survive. Kurt Newman, ECTV director, is not too confident about the future of the public access channels either.

“It could mean that Channel 2 could no longer be in existence,” Newman said. “I do think that if the city loses their public access it will never come back.”

Linda Schactler, director of public affairs at Central, said the move off campus is a positive change and is important to the survival of the station.

“If ECTV is going to survive and be robust, they need to be in a place where the community can see them and access them,” Schactler said.

Schactler says it doesn’t benefit the university or ECTV to be in the library, and there are no additional costs if they are able to find unused office space. The goal of the transition is to keep ECTV intact and slowly transition to online content.

One of the common threads the city and Central have been discussing is the move from traditional broadcasting to online content while keeping local content relevant. Trends in recent years have pointed to the rapid growth of online video content as a primary source of access for the community. The current issue is whether or not they can find a larger audience online. There is some resistance to moving online. Clark is adamant the city would be leaving viewers behind if it made the move to online content.

“Nobody is going to sit and watch my church service on their phone,” Clark said. “There are tons of us that don’t want to watch online.”

The City Council knows some would not want to transition to an online format, but the audience for public broadcasting is small, so moving online can open up opportunity to grow the audience. City Council member Nancy Lillquist has stated that while plans for ECTV are still up in the air, the hope is the channel would not go away, but change form to be more compatible with the changing trends.

“In order to reach more people, we would need to be looking at transitioning into an internet format,” Lillquist said.

The city wants to keep the channels for as long as they can to help facilitate a slow transition to a new format.

“Beyond that it’ll depend on community interest, cost, and programming,” Lillquist said.

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