SCAN-TV shutting down, future of Seattle public access TV unclear

by Todd Bishop, TechFlash

Seattle Community Access Network, the independent non-profit group that has operated the city’s public access TV station for more than a decade, says it will cease operations at the end of the year -- without a transition period -- rather than bid for a new contract under the 85 percent funding cut proposed by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

The group, known as SCAN-TV, announced the news today -- saying it tried to negotiate a 6-month transition period with the city but couldn’t reach “workable terms.” Executive director Dian Ferguson said in a news release that it "does not appear that anyone with the authority to restore funding is listening."

Bill Schrier, Seattle’s chief technology officer, said via phone that the city asked SCAN to operate the station at a minimal service level for that six-month transition period while the city put the contract out for bid. The group’s announcement leaves the short-term future of Channels 77 (Comcast) and 23 (Broadstripe) unclear.

“There’s no way that we’ll have a new or different operator on Jan. 1,” Schrier said. “I don’t know what will happen on Jan. 1. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Longer-term, the city still intends to offer public access television, Schrier said. He noted that SCAN is still welcome to compete to renew the contract.

McGinn’s budget, in one of a series of cuts to address the city’s financial crunch, proposes “a new paradigm” for public-access TV in Seattle. That translates into a proposed reduction in annual funding from $650,000 to $100,000 a year for public access television.

SCAN executive director Ferguson reiterated today that she doesn’t believe it’s possible to operate the station under the funding levels McGinn proposes.

“It saddens and disappoints me greatly that it has come to this. SCAN has lobbied both the Mayor’s Office and Seattle City Council to reinstate funding, but has been unsuccessful,” Ferguson said in the news release announcing the plan to close. “While public support has been high, the interests of Seattle citizens and SCAN viewers are being ignored. The public support has been overwhelming, but it does not appear that anyone with the authority to restore funding is listening.”

City officials say the rise of inexpensive digital equipment and online distribution should make it possible to run the television station while reaching a wider audience, using much less money than before.

The city says the group that ends up operating the stations should be able to leverage outside funding, or additional lines of business, to make the situation work. John Klockner, the executive director of Kent-based Puget Sound Access, which operates public-access stations in South King County, has said his group would be interested in bidding.

article originally published at TechFlash.

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