Wednesday, July 25, 2007

County’s cable station is revamping its image

Key component will be reeling in young viewers

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Check out the county’s government access cable station at any given time and you’re likely to see some county meeting, an interview with a county official or fuzzy pictures of traffic.

While this type of programming may be popular with older residents, County Cable Montgomery Channel 6’s format does not pique the interest of county youngsters. To make the channel’s shows appealing to a wider audience, the channel is undergoing a complete makeover.

From rebranding the station’s image with a new logo to cross-promotion of educational channels, viewers should see changes by the fall, said Donna Keating, a program manager in the county’s cable administration office.

Her office estimates about 230,000 county households subscribe to the channel through the county’s three cable providers.

‘‘We are trying to be more responsive to our audience. We do not have access to Nielsen ratings, but we know that we have activists that look at the channel because of the number of replays for the council and town hall meetings,” Keating said. ‘‘We believe that the missing piece is the young people.”

Channel 6’s transformation is included in a work program for the county’s public information offices to better relay information to county residents.

‘‘We are wanting to make the cable channel more accessible to folks,” county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said. ‘‘Now we’re basically a video [Freedom of Information Act] with the meetings that we air, and we’re trying make the programming more interesting and increase its relevance to the public.”

Rather than static interview programs, Lacefield said the new programming would include a more ‘‘newsmagazine-ish” format.

‘‘We have the ability to go live a little more now and be doing more live programming at county events,” he said.

To meet new programming requirements and accommodate a larger staff, CCM’s production office, on the third floor of the Council Office Building in Rockville, will be expanded.

‘‘The room functions as everything: our small studio, production room, office, editing and dubbing room and storage area,” said Mark Matarese, a production manager of CCM’s programs for 10 years.

In addition to the room expansion, CCM’s staff will grow by an extra editor and photographer. Most of the employees, who produce CCM programming, including Matarese, are contracted through Montgomery Community Television. This year’s contract with CCM is about $513,000.

Keating said the station revisions would be completed using existing funds in CCM’s $2.044 million budget for fiscal 2008, which began July 1. An added $50,000, sponsored by Councilwoman Valerie Ervin will also be used to produce youth programming.

Ervin, a former school board member, would like to see the channel produce programming similar to the Silver Spring Gandhi Brigade, which uses youth ‘‘reporters” to detail community interest stories. One of their projects included a report on the project to turn Silver Spring’s artificial turf open area into an ice rink.

‘‘This gives kids who normally would not have an opportunity to experience the equipment and production and audio⁄visual training,” said Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.

To reach the younger audience, Keating’s office is working with the public schools system on student-produced programming.

‘‘We try hard in the [public access] network not to have redundant programming, but there is enough student programming that we can share,” said Chris Cram, operations manager within the Instruction Television Department of MCPS. ‘‘If we can get more eyeballs to see the great stuff that students put together, I’m all for that.”