Cord cutting has become something of a dirty word in the cable industry. But Access Tucson is hopeful its severed ties with the city will lead to an entirely new lease on life.
The Tucson Community Cable Corporation, the nonprofit entity that operates Access Tucson, missed a funding deadline by a mere 15 minutes. The city, instead, agreed to a deal with Brink Communications that includes partnerships with KXCI and WaveLab recording studio. Even if TCCC had gotten the necessary paperwork filed in time, it's unlikely the city would have continued funding the entity.
As it was, discontent had grown between the two parties in recent years, but there was still that lifeline, so Access Tucson trudged along.
"Access Tucson spent way too much time having the city choke the life out of it for budgetary reasons," TCCC Chairman of the Board Glenn Wolfgang says. "I know that sounds bad, and I really appreciate the city, but the city wasn't taking the tax dollars and promoting Access Tucson. They were taking fees away from Access Tucson. The city took our funding from Cox (Cable) and used it for the general fund, and they did that over several years, and did that until there was nothing left of Access Tucson.
"I love the city. I will promote the city and small businesses. I will help people who want to be involved in media find jobs. I will do all of that, but I am going to do it without having to be a slave to the city and begging to them. With the last breath of Access Tucson's connection to the city, we were promoting the city, but bless them, I am so happy I don't have to ask them for money."
Still, the city brought important funding to the organization. Furthermore, it provided something that's difficult to acquire in its current form: Access to TV channels as part of the agreement with Cox. But no city agreement means no TV, so the Tucson-bred nonprofit lost its namesake, and that means it has to undertake new approaches to keep things going.
Step one: a website presence, Tucson.org, which Wolfgang envisions as a hyper-local combination of Trip Advisor and Yelp.
"It's a site where the community can help promote Tucson by telling people where the good places are," Wolfgang says. "It also helps nonprofits and focuses on events in the Tucson community. We'll be inviting the community to share what they like, but also what they do, which is part of it. Part of promotion for the city is helping city residents promote the city themselves. It's about letting the city speak up. The people who will make Tucson.org grow will be adding their own thoughts on what to do in town, what are the good restaurants, what are their interests in town."
Other aspects include access to teaching editing courses—a Final Cut course could begin as early as this month—and the ability to provide editing opportunities for local creators.
"We have access to a commercial business, Southern Arizona Video Productions; they've been a great partner of ours for many years--but it's not fair of us to force people who are making money out of their building so we can have editing stations," Wolfgang says, also pointing out the organization will continue to provide volunteer production assistance for KOLD TV's coverage of the Rodeo Parade and other nonprofits in their own financial pinch.
Additionally, Wolfgang envisions a kickstarter type campaign in the near future for the purposes of archiving more than 30 years of Access Tucson material.
But what about the next 30 years? Or the next 30 days? Where is the programming of the future? Whether it be interviews with city leaders or the charming crackpot elements that helped to broaden Access Tucson's standing, and in its own right played a role in defining the nostalgic satire of community media.
"We're giving them a platform to put out their material, but they can submit material to us at our board meetings," Wolfgang said. "That's because you have to sign an indemnity form, basically saying you're in charge of the content. It's yours, we're not libel. Come to us and submit it and sign the form. We meet at the Joel D. Valdez Library, but beyond (the different meeting location) it's basically the same."
Other orders of business include compiling and digitizing old and new material and incorporating a live-streaming component. If all goes well, Access Tucson would like to find studio space similar to what was available at the old building on Broadway in the not-too-distant future.
Old-fashioned advertising on Tucson.org and donations from willing contributors will play a far more important role in Access Tucson's future prosperity.
"Think of it as baby steps," Wolfgang said. "Ten years ago, Access Tucson was the No. 1 community media organization in the country. Today, Access Tucson doesn't even have a channel. But we have a vision."