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Public Access

Last night, the City of Austin’s Telecommunications Commission had a roundtable discussion – actually a series of panels – on the state and future of public access television and community media. I led a session on innovation, including as panelists by close friend Rich Vazquez, web developer for Community Impact newspaper; Ronny Mack, IT Project Manager for the City and former President of the ACTV Board of Directors; Gary Dinges, editor at Austin360.com; Korey Coleman of spill.com; and Chris Holland, a marketing consultant for independent filmmakers. We had a great session where we were thinking outside the public access box (which is shaped like a television set). Here’s the text of my introduction:

Public access television is a product of the broadcast era, when media was distributed from the few who owned the means of production to the many who owned the means of reception. Eventually pretty much everybody had a television set, and cable access proliferated as well.  In order to give the public more of a voice and support free speech, it made sense to have a public facility that could offer anyone access to the means of production and to a channel for distribution, i.e. public access television via cable.  

The key concepts here are the public access was access to PRODUCTION and to ATTENTION.  Over the last two decades, the Internet has evolved from a computer network to a media environment, a public media network with very low barriers to entry. Anyone with access to a computer can have the means to produce media and make that media public.  However with so much media, it’s harder for anyone to get and sustain attention.  

As part of this evolution, television audiences are moving to computers and committing more mindshare to social media. To the extent they watch television at all, more and more are watching on their computers. Given this environment, do we need to redefine public access?

In response to this intro, panelists talked about how television just becomes one of many modes of distribution, and how access has to be about using Internet channels as well as the cable channel. The emphasis now should probably be more on teaching people to produce better and more effective media, and helping find ways to build audience and attention.

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