MVTV moves forward with new programming and building

The new home of MVTV, the Island public access cable television station, is taking shape. — Photo by Steve Myrick

MVTV, Martha’s Vineyard’s cable community television station, expects to begin on-air broadcasting from its new, modern facility now under construction off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road by mid-May once Comcast Communications and the six Island towns sign off on a new agreement.

Negotiated over the past two years by the Island Cable Advisory Board (CAB), which is made up of representatives from Island towns, the contract is expected to be signed soon.

“Sheetrock is almost done and the finish work will be underway this week,” executive director Stephen Warriner said last week. “Despite weather delays, everything has gone well. We are slightly behind but only ceilings, paint, plumbing, and driveway construction remain to be completed.”

Mr. Warriner added, “It depends largely now on Comcast and the towns reaching agreement so Comcast can extend its cable to the new facility a quarter mile from here. We hope to be moving over in May.” He added that the station will continue to broadcast from its current cramped space on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School campus if unforeseen delays occur.

The move to the new 4,000-square-foot facility, nearly three times larger, is also dependent on MVTV signing agreements with each of the six towns selectmen. Those agreements are necessary to provide MVTV with operating funds for the delivery of community, education and government news and information on three public access channels on the Island.

“We hope to finalize agreement with Comcast by mid to late March,” Jennifer Rand, West Tisbury town administrator and chairman of the CAB, said last week. “Based on negotiations to date, we are confident we’ll reach an agreement that is fair and equitable.”

The scope and nature of future programming, however, hinges on how much of a projected $620,000 capital budget is used to improve and enhance broadcast infrastructure in individual towns and how much is available, projected now at $300,000, to MVTV for facility and equipment upgrades, board chairman Anne Lemenager said this week.

By law, public access television receives a portion, five percent for Island towns, of Comcast’s cable-only revenue, estimated at $500,000 per year, to operate channels 13 (community), 14 (education), and 15 (government). Capital funds, however, are amounts negotiated between cable providers such as Comcast, and municipalities.

Comcast and the CAB have been wrestling over terms of a new 10-year deal for nearly two years as town officials held out for infrastructure improvements and extension of cable service to Chappaquiddick and some other isolated homes, largely up Island.

In the interim, MVTV has made substantial upgrades to its equipment, including the ability to film, though not broadcast, in high definition, improvements in audio, editing and server equipment and a large cache of digital on-demand programming. “We’ve become one of the better public access systems: we now produce 600 programs and more than 800 hours of government affairs, all using digital format,” Mr. Warriner said.

MVTV‘s stated mission is to provide equipment, studio, and training to residents willing to produce shows.

Mr. Warriner noted that a news program MVTV launched last year has attracted viewer attention and that MVTV membership has spiked 10 to 15 percent in the past 18 months. “In the new facility, we will have a ‘hot’ studio, which means the set and cameras are in place to be used immediately by producers,” he said.

Ms. Lemenager said that the combination of dramatic changes in technology and individual town requests for airing of additional programming of town board meetings create pressure on the use of remaining capital funds.

“We’ll likely get $300,000, but town needs for additional upgrades in equipment and service to Chappy have impacted capital funds for MVTV, so we have to figure out what we can do and not do,” she said. “It’s amazing how much the technology has changed in two years since contract negotiations began and it’s still in flux.”

Ms. Lemenager noted several areas in which decisions about capital spending have to be made. “Laying wire may not be the best thing to do now,” she said. “Conventional servers are becoming obsolete. Wireless Internet, the “cloud,” will be the server of the future.

“And the scope of our mission is larger than in most communities. Unlike the town of Taunton, say, which has one station for a community of 50,000, we cover six towns. That’s six times the amount of meetings. To their credit, towns want more meeting coverage. To do that, using unmanned cameras, we have the logistics of consolidating meetings in a camera-ready room, for example. So there is a lot to consider.”

Mr. Lemenager said she was grateful for the work of general contractor John Folino of Cape Building Systems (Mattapoisett) and the efforts of West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel who serves as MVTV’s building chairman. “I can’t say enough about John,” she said. “We’re still on schedule despite northeasters, hurricanes, and blizzards, and Richard has done a phenomenal job in managing the process.”

Ms. Lemenager took the MVTV chairmanship in December 2011 in the wake of abrupt resignations of former executive director Julienne Turner, founding board chairman Denys Wortman, one employee, and several board members over MVTV’s direction, while also in the midst of often contentious contract negotiations with Comcast.

She said that MVTV has come together as a functional organization in the past two years. “We have become a team,” she said.