22/08/2006 - 22:00

Not for profit: Digital TV an access issue

22/08/2006 - 22:00


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Not-for-profit television station Access 31 has a bit of a perception problem – not regarding its output or programming, but rather on the issue of funding.

Not for profit: Digital TV an access issue

Not-for-profit television station Access 31 has a bit of a perception problem  – not regarding its output or programming, but rather on the issue of funding.

Access 31 chief executive officer Andrew Brine says a significant proportion of its potential audience thinks the broadcaster is a government-funded enterprise.

“There is a bit of a perception out there that Access 31 relies on, you know, state and federal money and the universities and all these sort of things,” Mr Brine said.

“It doesn’t, it never has.

“We have to generate our income primarily through sale of sponsorship.”

Mr Brine says life at Access 31 isn’t getting any easier, with free-to-air television as competitive as ever, pay TV starting to pay its way, and an internet-driven shift in focus for many advertisers.

This comment comes despite a bumper year for Access 31.

Not only did the station turn a $46,156 loss in 2003-04 into a $953,414 surplus in 2004-05, it also almost doubled audience numbers from 450,000 viewers a month in 2004 to more than 830,000 viewers in March 2006.

The surplus figure was substantially driven, though, by one-off grants, mainly a combined $1.8 million from Lotterywest and the Western Australian government for the broadcaster’s new facilities in Belmont.

“I think the 2005 financial year was a very significant year for the station and obviously for the community because it enabled us to establish the facilities and the equipment needed to really drive the service forward.” Mr Brine told WA Business News.

Access 31 is unlike most commercial television stations, which try to catch their audience at 6pm for the news and then all through the evening.

Instead, it attempts to fill the void left in local programming by free-to-air television and reach niche markets, according to Mr Brine.

“We’re not in the mainstream as such and we don’t really want to be, quite frankly, because we’re filling this huge void in local programming on Perth television,” he said.

 “Access 31 is broadcasting somewhere around 200 hours a month of local programs, which is more than all the other free-to-air stations combined.”

Created in 1998 and since 2004 the first permanently licensed community TV station in Australia, Access 31 claims a healthy sponsorship base.

Sponsorship and program sales in 2004-05 amounted to almost $1.2 million, up more than $40,000 on the previous year.

Mr Brine says the channel generates around 50 per cent of the income needed through the sponsorship of 160 small businesses. About half of the money coming through small businesses is repeat business.

However, it’s not all easy going, with the recent withdrawal of one of the channel’s main clients, as well as other costs increases, adding to the organisation’s financial pressure, according to Mr Brine.

There is also the looming issue of the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting between 2010 and 2012.

“We’re very anxious of course,” Mr Brine said.

“We don’t have any idea from the federal government of what they’re going to do in terms of our future in the digital world.

“Already there’s been hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars expended in getting all the other free to air in digital, but not one cent has gone to community TV.”


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