Public Access: Produce Your Own TV Show

You can have your own TV show. It’s easier than you might think and best of all, it’s absolutely free! How, you ask? The answer is public access.

Public access television is non-commercial airtime made available to the public, free of charge. The only requirement to utilize public access, is that you live in the community where the show will be produced. Most public access facilities offer training in shooting, audio and editing, and provide all the equipment you’ll need.

While the law no longer requires that cable companies air public access programs, a certain percentage of cable revenue in any market must go to the host city or municipality. A portion of this money goes towards public access television, so most markets (even small ones) have a public access channel and a modest studio.

Does producing and broadcasting your own public access TV show sound enticing to you? This article will tell you how to get started.

Getting Started

The first step is to contact your local public access station and sign up for an orientation class. Most facilities have ongoing seminars and continuing education to help you increase your production knowledge. If you have questions during a shoot, a staff person is usually available to help you.

Once you finish the orientation and get tested on the equipment, you’re ready to produce your show. Usually, you must submit a finished program to the public access facility before it airs so someone can view your tape and make sure it fits the station’s guidelines. Once approved, you will receive a time slot for your show to air.

Remember, your program has to be non-commercial; that means you cannot say or show phone numbers, dates of events, prices or store names within the show itself. You can put phone numbers at the end of the show, typically for no longer than 10 seconds. Anything longer than that is considered advertising.

Everything You Need

If you have no experience with video or TV production, public access can be a great place for you to start. At most public access stations everything is provided for you–a studio for shooting, editing facilities, digital video cameras for location shooting, computer editing systems, microphones and audio cables, dressing rooms and more. This is a big help for a beginner or a person that does not have equipment.

Although most studios now have well-maintained digital equipment, this is public access, so don’t necessarily expect cutting-edge equipment. They will, however, provide everything you need to shoot and edit a program.

Other producers are usually available to crew for you, and in turn, it is expected that you will crew for them. Most facilities have a book that lists people who are certified and available to work on a production crew.

Different Time, Same Channel

Depending on your city, you may have to wait for a time slot before your program can air. And, you don’t always have the option of choosing the time slot you like.

Typically, you will not have a time slot for more than 13 weeks, so it can be hard to build an audience to follow your program. You may be on Saturday at 8 p.m. and then moved to Wednesday at 7 a.m. Your 8 p.m. audience will wonder where you went. You cannot advertise the move in advance, because you won’t know where you’re going until the move has been made. There is typically nothing you can do about this. The facility has to make space for new producers.

If you are in a facility that has a lot of producers, you may be asked to go off the air (if your show has been airing for a long period of time), to give new producers a chance.

The Golden Rule

Each station will have its own rules and regulations about the use of equipment, crew and timeslots. Check with your local access station for specifics. However, there is one guideline to which all public access programs must adhere: You cannot make any money from the show.

The station staff will watch your show carefully. If they find that you’ve produced a commercial show, you can be banned from having a show, or using the facilities and editing equipment.

You’ve Got Access

The opportunity is there for you to take your own program to the airwaves. Despite some restrictions and scheduling irregularities, managing your own public access time slot is a wonderful opportunity.

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