Independent videomakers can sometimes get downright desperate in their search for an audience. A friend
of mine once went so far as to suggest hijacking a cable office–an idea I quickly talked him out of. (He
wasn’t so desperate that he wanted to make video from behind bars.) Even so, if you’ve ever tried to get
your work on the air, you know how he felt, don’t you?
Finding an audience for your productions (preferably a paying one) can be a frustrating experience. It
just seems like there’s not enough outlets available. Even on leased access or public access cable TV, air
time is hard to find. And if you do finally get your broadcast dates, your show will probably air after
midnight or before dawn on weekends. No matter how good the program or how large the anticipated
audience, convincing cable station managers can turn into a full-time job. And that’s not why skilled
videomakers like yourself exist on this earth.
So what’s an indie to do? For the non-felonious out there who’d rather not hijack a cable station, I can
provide you with some info on a non-exploited media outlet–an avenue of distribution that can lead you to
your audience, and hopefully to some cash as well.
What am I talking about? Low-power television, now playing on a channel near you.
Low-power television (LPTV) is a form of UHF television broadcast that has been in use for more
than 10 years. It’s very similar to its big brother UHF; the only differences have to do with technical
considerations and broadcast signal strength.
LPTV stations typically beam programming to viewers within a limited range of the broadcast tower.
What this means is that the LPTV broadcaster takes on a typically "local" flavor. LPTV stations tailor their
programming to suit the specific needs of the small, "community-like" broadcast area. And guess what,
folks? There’s not a whole lot of local programming laying around for these stations to use. So the
managers are turning to local independent video producers to create the needed schedule-filling shows.
Bob Klaus, Vice President of WAI-TV29, is in just such a position. "Presently, we’re on a nationwide
search for talent and production offerings to fill our line-up. I’m always on the lookout for fresh, original
programming that will appeal to our diverse viewership."
WAI-TV29 broadcasts in the Northeast Ohio area, specifically covering the highly populated Cleveland
and Akron markets. In addition to its broadcast signal, WAI-TV29 airs on the Warner, TCI and Northern
Ohio cable systems, adding a large number of potential viewers. A recent rating by Arbitron showed WAI’s
viewership hovering at about 100,000.
"A new outlet just developed for us that we’re really excited about," continues Klaus. "Kent State
University recently installed Flashnet, which is a cable system that goes directly into all of the dorms on
campus. Our channel is on Flashnet, and that adds a substantial viewership in terms of market
demographics. I can tell an advertiser that we have direct access to the high-buying and high-TV viewing
18- to 22-year-old market. And in terms of programming, this opens up more doors as well. We’ve just
started showing Much Music, a syndicated MTV-like music video program. I think it’ll be really popular
with the Kent State audience."
As you can see, LPTV stations aren’t just little backwoods mom-and-pop operations. Low power doesn’t
have to mean small audience.
TV 29’s daily schedule includes programs from many diverse sources. "We use several satellite
systems to gather the majority of our daytime schedule," says Klaus. "I can cherry-pick the best that
Channel America, Much Music and Network One have to offer. One may have the best movies, and that’s
good for afternoons. Another may offer syndicated talk-shows, and those work in the mornings. We try to
choose what best suits our audiences and what will deliver the highest possible viewership to our
advertisers. But we’re never locked into anything. Our schedule today is radically different from what it
was two months ago. And two months from now, it will probably change again."
Lovin’ The Locals
Local programming is an important part of Klaus’s schedule. In fact, the station produces more than
25 hours per week of local shows.
"The local shows we produce here are vital. These programs create a tie with the community. They help
the viewer connect better with the station. Obviously, we can’t program 24 hours a day locally, but the
shows that do run are quite popular."
And just what type of local programming does WAI-TV29 produce? One of the highest rated is
NewsTalk 29, a nightly, call-in talk show hosted by two Cleveland area celebrities. The program often
covers controversial topics and political issues that get the phones ringing. (Your humble author even
appeared as a guest once, and I can honestly say there was no lack of calls coming in.)
"We usually receive twice the number of calls we can answer. Ken Jurek and Joel Rose (NewsTalk 29
co-hosts) know how to get the viewers excited about a topic, and that’s what makes the show work. It’s
very current, and the live format allows for constant variation of subject if interest appears to decline,"
states Klaus. The show airs at 10:00 p.m. every weeknight; this has proven to be a popular time format.
"Calls come in from all demographic groups, too; there’s no one specific type of listener. The number
and origination of the calls is also a good yardstick for rating the program."
High School Sports: A Good Niche
The station also excels in its coverage of local sporting events. While the major affiliates and larger
independents in the region cover the pro and college games, TV29 has found a niche in producing high
school sports programs.
Local football stand-offs prove the most popular. Games air on Saturday mornings and afternoons,
immediately following the Friday night events.
"Advertisers know people are going to watch. Everyone involved with those games, from the students
and the parents to school faculty and citizens of the representative cities, are potential viewers. It’s a great
way for advertisers to feature their store or service in a specific city. And our ad costs are very reasonable,
so time sells out quick!"
Football is not the only sport broadcast on TV29. Basketball games are finding their way on the
channel, along with other school events such as holiday choir concerts.
Pet Talk, The Akron Area Home Show, Back Talk, Auto Care
and the Outback Health Food Show round out the rest of WAI’s local schedule.
"It’s obvious that the talk-show format is our forte," Klaus notes. "In addition to the relative ease of
production, that type of programming is also cheap to produce. And when you run a small station such as
ours, that’s always important. Right now, we produce a high-quality product. We don’t want to sacrifice
that quality by trying to do something we’re not especially adept at yet. We’re still learning. As our level of
technical sophistication rises, so too will the level of our local shows. But for now, it’s working great."
What about independent producers? Do they have a chance to "air their wares" on independents like
"Of course," Klaus remarks enthusiastically. "It’s actually quite simple for an independent producer to
get their show on my channel. All they have to do is buy the air time, and then it’s theirs!"
What Klaus is talking about is an arrangement that’s sort of like leased access. Producers are able to buy
blocks of time from the station. Prices vary depending on the time of day and day of the week. Currently, if
you want to buy time on 29, prices range from $50 per half hour on Sunday mornings to upwards of $400
for a Friday or Saturday night.
Though this is clearly a viable option, Klaus really hasn’t had many takers. It could be that people just
don’t know the opportunity exists.
"Producers can make money with this setup in addition to getting their programming seen," starts Klaus.
"Depending on how we work it out, the producer may have several commercial spots that they can sell off
to try and recoup their investment in air time."
Say, for example, you bought an hour of time for $300. Within that time period, you may sell ten or
twelve commercial slots at $50 a piece. If you’re able to do that, you’ll actually make a profit. This is, of
course, an ideal situation, but it can work.
And what if a producer can’t raise the "buy" money, but still has some programming he’d like to get on
the air? As I pointed out earlier, Klaus is actively looking to acquire talent and programming for his station.
Though his schedule is currently full, he’s always looking for new and better productions to include in the
lineup. And, by the end of 1995, Klaus is going to put two additional stations on the airwaves, creating a
"mini-network" of sorts. "With all the programming hours that we’ll have to fill, we’ll keep searching for
Follow Through, Please!
When I asked him about independent buys, where the station purchases the program outright, Klaus
says he hasn’t been all that impressed. "To tell you the truth, there really hasn’t been a whole lot of follow-
through with any of the independent producers I’ve spoken with. I’ve actually seen lots of proposals, but
none of these guys bother to follow-up. You know the saying, ‘It’s easy to talk a great game.’ Well, the
same goes for television production. I’ve heard lots of stories about how great a show is going to be, how
the audience is going to love it, how the talent and crew are all lined up, etc. Until I can actually view some
representative product, I really can’t commit. Would you want to buy something you’ve never seen? I doubt
it. The bottom line is, you have to show me something before I’ll get serious." So here’s a prime
opportunity for local independent producers to air and possibly profit from their work–and it’s slipping
Klaus is not adverse to working with independents. In fact, he likes the idea that utilizing their services
would probably save him money. It’s just that nobody has conviced him that these semi-pro videographers
can handle the responsibility.
"If I received a professional proposal, accompanied by a representative example of the proposed show,
I’d get very interested. It just hasn’t happened." (For hints on how to carry this out, see the sidebar.)
As for the future, Klaus sees more avenues for independents with LPTV. "I don’t actually refer to my
station as LPTV. We’re just a television station. The LPTV classification is something that has to do with
technical stuff that the viewer isn’t even aware of. As long as they can turn on their television and tune in
my station, TV29 is just like every other signal coming into their homes. And that’s quite an opportunity
for an independent. Their show will be broadcast along with every other programming choice on the
dozens of channels available. And as we add stations, the already numerous opportunities for independent
programming will blossom as well."
For those indies out there looking for an outlet, you can contact
Klaus c/o WAI-TV29
P.O. Box 2170
Akron, OH 44309
His isn’t the only LPTV station out there that’s looking for programming, though. I’ll bet
there’s a station near you that’s just waiting for contact with a good independent producer.
Beats the heck out of going to jail for breaking into a cable station.