LACONIA — Members of the board of directors of Lakes Region Public Access television held a free-ranging discussion of the organization's future at last night's meeting as they grapple with changes which will be coming next year when a new 10-year contract, still being negotiated with MetroCast Cablevision, takes effect.
No clear picture emerged of that future, as only three of the eight board members were present, but there were indications that LRPA may be headed in the direction of a web-based, on-demand delivery for all three of its channels, 24 (education), 25 (public) and 26 (government) and sees the first six months of 2014 as a time of transition and opportunity.
One of the major changes, already taking place, will see local communities handling broadcasts specific to their community only, which will be aired on Channel 26.
Board member Kent Hemingway, superintendent of schools in Gilford, wasn't at the meeting but sent an e-mail in which he said that the current model of public access cable television produced, scheduled and delivered to homes is rapidly becoming extinct.
''On demand media will rule the airwaves and will be delivered to every mobile device wherever and whenever the user wants,'' he wrote, noting that the shift does not yet reach all households or consumers.
Board member Joe Jesseman of Tilton said he agreed in part with Hemingway's analysis but noted that LRPA-TV still has an obligation to elderly viewers who are not Internet savvy and rely on cable. He said that there will need to be a mix of approaches in order to satisfy traditional viewers.
LRPA Chairman Ken Curley of Northwood said that one thing which will be lost as the local government channel is devoted solely to one community is the opportunity for viewers to compare what is happening in other communities with approaches being taken to similar problems in their own town.
Curley and LRPA station manager Denise Beauchaine said that lack of regional programming on Channel 26 could be addressed by LRPA on Channel 25, which will be the regional channel for all of the towns.
''The towns will find it difficult to run their own programming and will find out that you can't do it with a laptop computer,'' said Beauchaine.
Curley said that the towns will find there are high overhead costs and that it is labor intensive to provide programming that local viewers will want to watch and that an opportunity exists for LRPA to dominate the local government news niche, even if it means sending volunteers of their own to tape the meetings.
Curley said the board will have to make a decision on additional personnel and equipment if it wants to move in that direction and said the board will call a special meeting sometime in the next month in order to reach a decision on what its future business plan will be.
Prior discussions have centered around a fee for service model which takes into account the changes in recent years which have seen towns retain a large portion of the franchise fees they receive from MetroCast rather than turn it over to LRPA-TV, which they are not obliged to do.
Beauchaine said that prior to the recent recession 13 municipalities, including the 11 in Belknap County, contracted with LRPA-TV 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-TV.
Also deferred by the board due to the lack of quorum at last night's meeting was a proposal to purchase new switching equipment at a cost of $15,000 to $18,000 for broadcasting the annual WLNH Children's Auction.
At last month's meeting, technical consultant Shane Selling told board members that the aging equipment used for last year's auction is no longer serviceable and that a new switcher, which could also be used in the studio year-round, would be a good investment.