LRPA TV looks to give public broadcasting biz model a try

LACONIA — Lakes Region Public Access television will have a new look in the future — based on the Public Broadcasting model, relying on sponsorships, grants and even membership dues, rather than fees assessed for each member community.
Dale Eddy of Gilford, a member of the board of directors of LRPA, last night described the new model as fee for service and said it will greatly reduce the fees paid by member communities, many of whom have opted to handle their own videotaping of public meetings.
Eddy said the board is grappling with a number of changes, including those being negotiated in a new 10-year contract with MetroCast  Cablevision, which will include a direct public access channel for each community. The new contract will go into effect in January of 2014.
LRPA is the public, educational and government (PEG) cable station serving central New Hampshire broadcast by MetroCast on channels 24, 25 and 26. It is a nonprofit corporation with an annual operating budget of approximately $126,000 funded by contracting municipalities, grants and sponsorships. The station's studio is located at Laconia High School.
The station is perhaps best know for its annual live broadcasts of the WLNH Children's Auction, which have been widely credited with taking the financial results of that 5-day event into the stratosphere, starting in 2000.
Denise Beauchaine, director of LRPA, said that the station's programming, via MetroCast, reaches 21 municipalities in four counties — Belknap, Merrimack, Grafton and Rockingham — encompassing more than 50,000 households.
MetroCast bills its subscribers a franchise fee, which it then disburses to the municipalities in return for being able to operate a monopoly public service within their boundaries. But there is no direct legal connection between the franchise fees and LRPA-TV.
Meanwhile, LRPA bills its contracting municipalities for services rendered. Beauchaine said that prior to the recent recession, 13 municipalities, including the 11 in Belknap County, contracted with LRPA and paid their agreed upon share the station's overhead. However, the number of contracting municipalities has shrunk to a half-dozen — Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith, Laconia and Northwood — which Beauchaine said share less than a third of the franchise fees they collect from MetroCast with LRPA.
Eddy said that the old business model no longer works and the new model is designed to produce enough revenue to keep LRPTV in the black and enable it to fulfill its original mission.
''It's far more sustainable than what we have now and it will far more palatable to the communities we serve,'' said Eddy.
He and Tilton Selectman Joe Jesseman, who represents Tilton on the board of directors, recently gave a presentation to the Belmont board of selectmen on the new business plan, which both said was well received.
Eddy said that as only four of the eight board members were present at last night's meeting that the full board will need to more thoroughly review the new model at its next meeting and be prepared to look at the revenue side of the new plan.
''We have the basic outline but need to flesh out the details,'' said Eddy.
LRPA Board Chairman Ken Curley of Northwood said that the name brand of the new model will be Channel 25, which will continue to air its currently scheduled programs which have a regional focus, while Channel 24, the educational channel will be airing community bulletin board material and Channel 26 will become the local government channel for each community which chooses to broadcast its own meetings.
He said that there has been some discussion of how Channel 26 can default to the regional programs on Channel 25, such as Belknap County commission and convention meetings, rather than continue to repeat the same local government programs unique to each community.
The board also discussed a request from the Belknap Economic Development Council to shoot footage of its Business Resource Fair which will be held at the Taylor Home Woodside building on Sept. 11 from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. The board voted to approve the request and bill BEDC half of its production costs.