On the ropes, public access TV will try a new business model

LACONIA — Lakes Region Public Access television will change to a new business model later this year, one which will see sharply reduced fees to communities and which will rely on business and corporate sponsorships for revenue to sustain its operations.

Chan Eddy of Gilford, chairman of the board of directors, outlined the new business model at a meeting held at the LRPA studio at Laconia High School last night, which he has previously described as a fee or service model with sponsorships much like those seen on the Public Broadcasting System.
He 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 two direct public access channels (Channel 24 and Channel 26) for each community in the coverage area with Channel 25 remaining a regional channel. It is anticipated that the new contract will take effect on July 1.
One of changes in the yet to be ratified contract will see the annual $30,000 grant which MetroCast has previously provided for LRPA-TV ending. That has raised the concern of City Councilman Bob Hamel of Laconia, who represents the city on the LRPA board, that the loss of those funds, coupled with lower income from franchise fees from member communities, will mark the death knell for LRPA-TV.
''LRPA is going down,'' Hamel told members of the Laconia City Council Monday night as he expressed concern that with each individual community concentrating on its local government and education channels that there won't be enough support to keep the regional Channel 25 operating.
He also questioned whether the communities who will be running their own local channels realize how much it will cost them to do their own programming.
Nancy LeRoy of Laconia expressed concern over what will happen to the WLNH Children's Auction under the new contract but Eddy said that it will continue to be broadcast.
Meredith Town Manager Phil Warren, who represents that town on the board and is a member of the committee negotiating the regional agreement with MetroCast, says that the current LRPA model was going to die this year anyway.
''Two more towns are leaving us. It's just not sustainable to continue to operate it this way.'' said Warren.
Some 13 municipalities, including the 11 in Belknap County, originally contracted with LRPA and paid their agreed upon share the station's overhead through a portion of the franchise fees they collected from MetroCast. However, the number of contracting municipalities has shrunk to a half-dozen — Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith, Laconia and Northwood — which now share less than a third of the franchise fees they collect from MetroCast with LRPA., which has an annual operating budget of $126,000.
Eddy says that budget should be at least $500,000 and has set a $300,000 fundraising goal for the first year.
He said that Laconia, which currently pays $43,000 a year will pay only $1,900 under the new model but expects that the between 50 and 100 corporations will sign on as sponsors in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, which coupled with other fundraising activities will produce the needed revenue.