The Alliance for Community Media Northeast Region recently hosted its conference, and sought to bring community radio into its extensive fold.
Formed in 1976, ACM is a national organization that represents over 3,000 PEG (Public, Educational and Governmental) access groups, mostly television, and community media centers. NFCB and ACM have long had a strong bond; the community media leaders linked their San Francisco national conferences a few years ago, and both work to advance their efforts for media in the public interest.
As part of its event, ACM sought to put before members a variety of new engagement initiatives. These included a panel and exhibit from the area’s Maker Fair organizers and a film festival featuring local youth filmmakers. The ACM-NE conference also featured the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.
NFCB’s panel on underwriting was heavily attended. PEGs deal with a number of issues. Contractual rules, city pressures on how funds are raised and navigating rates are just a few of the puzzles stations are trying to figure out. Many are worried about audience trends that could cripple and even kill community television programming.
Recent case law has allowed cable companies, which are obligated in most areas to pay franchise fees that support PEG broadcasting, to not pay back into franchise fees when customers purchase Internet services. The problem? As more and more people cut cable services, they’re turning to streaming via the web. In short, customers are still watching television programming, but cable companies don’t have to give back because courts say Internet services are separate, streaming be damned. The public’s access to television is hampered in the short term, but darker clouds loom on the horizon as streaming adoption goes up.
In addition, a unique panel on low-power FM, which more PEG stations are delving into, featured key stakeholders, including NFCB.
PEG stations, as central community media institutions, are seeing growing interest in hyperlocal radio. Many managers and others in attendance have organizations that are in construction mode for LPFM, or are exploring the possibilities. From basic questions, to discussions about content, volunteer management and more, LPFM certainly faces the same challenges as full-power community radio, and how PEG stations, with their many stakeholders, deal with extra hurdles remain big questions.
In all, ACM-NE was great opportunity for community media unity and learning.