On Dec. 31, 2013, Treasure Valley Community Television went dark. True to the prediction of former TVCTV Board President Bob Neal, who told Boise Weekly in November that the public TV station would cease broadcasting at the end of the year due to a lack of funding (BW, News, Citydesk, "TVCTV May Go Dark," Nov., 13, 2013), viewers of channels 11 and 98 tuned in to see static. But that changed about two weeks later, on Jan. 17, when public access and arts programming suddenly returned to the airwaves.
"We're up and running, trying really hard to give the community everything we've promised," said acting TVCTV Executive Director Jon Adamson, a local realtor and longtime host of the Channel 11 show Property Line Today.
What the station has promised is a complete reorganization and financial self-sufficiency--the former it has achieved with a complete overhaul of the board; the latter is still being worked out.
"We had to basically start over from scratch," said Adamson, adding that a new seven-member working board, composed of content producers, has been assembled after the resignation of Neal as president on Dec. 30, 2013.
"We are a totally different mindset [from the previous board]," Adamson said.
TVCTV's troubles date back to the 2012 Legislature, when lawmakers approved a bill eliminating fees paid to the community station by cable providers. Referred to as Public Education and Government (PEG) fees, the money fed into a city fund 10 cents per Cable One subscriber, and was then funneled to TVCTV for capital expenditures.
PEG funds accounted for about $21,000 of the station's $60,000-a-year operating budget. Things went from bad to worse when in September 2013 the city of Boise, which had long upheld a service agreement with TVCTV to broadcast City Council meetings on Channel 98, opted to stream its meetings through a portal on cityofboise.org rather than go through the station. That meant the loss of another $33,000.
"So we lost $54,000 in funding in one fell swoop," Neal told BW in November.
Without PEG funds and without the contract with the city of Boise, TVCTV found itself scrambling to find the cash to keep the lights on at the station, much less pay the mortgage on its building.
Despite on-air pleas for viewer contributions, New Year's came and went and bridge funding from the city ran out. That's when the plug got pulled. It didn't have to be that way, said Adamson.
"The only reason we went dark is somebody took it upon themselves to make us go dark," he said. "[Former station officials] just gave up; they didn't do any advertising."
As executive director, Adamson is working to revitalize TVCTV through a "three-pronged" approach: sponsorships and donations, fees paid by content producers for airtime, and grant funding. Already, producer fees are providing the bulk of the station's revenue: $29 for 28 minutes of time on the air. In the meantime, Adamson is trying to find 35 businesses willing to chip in $150 a month as sponsors--TVCTV can't host advertising--and is searching for a grant writer.
"We're not limited to just one approach to keep us on the air," he said.
While TVCTV is working to shore up its finances, it may be facing another challenge, this time from Cable One.
According to Michael Zuzel, assistant to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, the lack of government programming on Channel 98 puts it in danger of being repossessed by the cable company.
"Cable One came to the city and said that channel was set up specifically as a government channel. I don't know that any other local government has been on that channel," Zuzel said. "We've decided that at this time we're not interested in returning to Channel 98 ... so after an appropriate amount of time or notice, and I don't know what that is, Cable One plans to take Channel 98 back."
Zuzel added that all TVCTV has to do is get another governmental entity--anything from the Ada County Highway District to a local city council--to air its meetings on Channel 98 and the bandwidth would stay local.
"If they can continue operations that's the best outcome for everybody," Zuzel said, but don't expect much help from the city of Boise.
"It's not the role of city government to bail them out and come to their rescue," he said.
Losing Channel 98 would be big blow to the station--not so much for the absence of government programming (Zuzel said the city hasn't received a "single complaint or concern" about the lack of City Council coverage), but because TVCTV packs the channel with content from the Classic Arts Showcase, easily the station's most popular offering.
"I hope they don't do that," Adamson said of the possibility that Cable One could take away Channel 98, though he added that the station is keen to partner with any local government and, in the meantime, TVCTV is airing content related to the history of the station's involvement with the city of Boise.
"Anything to do with state government, with local government, if we air it, we're fulfilling that contract, which is to air government content," said volunteer Bob Nicholas, who is acting as de facto station manager.
What becomes of Channel 98 remains to be seen; of more immediate importance for Adamson is continuing the momentum of the past month.
"It's been a hard 30 days," he said. "I think we've pulled off a miracle, to be honest with you. We saved it, and we're just going to continue building."