Last we heard of Seattle's public access outlet, Seattle Community Access Network (SCAN), the station's management was plying reporters with pumpkin pie and pleading with the Seattle City Council to restore their funding. Mayor McGinn proposed cutting $558,000 from the public access budget and putting the contract out to bid, which amounted to a death sentence, SCAN officials warned.
That was nearly a month ago, before council restored money to some programs (but not others) and passed the final city budget. Since then, we've heard nary a peep from the rabid SCAN fans who were talking about pursuing federal criminal charges against City Council. So what happened?
The council did indeed cut the funding and open up a competitive bidding process for the public access provider contract, SCAN spokesman Jamie Flaxman said this morning. But this is not the end; SCAN intends to still be on the air on January 1.
More public access gossip and an update after the jump!
Right now, the city is looking for a transitional provider to fill its public access slot on Comcast until the bidding process wraps up in July. SCAN is negotiating to be that transitional provider, which would give them $30,000 and allow them to keep their spot on the air. Even if they get the money, Flaxman said "It is way below what we currently receive. It will still end in most of our services being reduced."
The decision on which services would be reduced or cut remains up for discussion by SCAN's Board of Directors. Flaxman said programming would remain on the air, but indicated that there would be a "significant reduction" in SCAN's open-to-the-public hours from their current 80 hours per week to potentially less than 10 hours. Additionally, nearly all of SCAN's employees have been given layoff notices to take effect as of December 31.
If SCAN doesn't get the transitional contract, it will cease to exist as a television station and likely become an online-only provider.
Meanwhile, other providers seem to think they can replace SCAN and offer similar services on the $100,000 the city has reserved in next year's budget for the bid winner. Among them is Puget Sound Access (PSA), a public access provider in south King County. PSA is said to be comfortable with the smaller budget, but they also don't provide the same services as SCAN—they have offered less community-generated content and more rebroadcasts of public domain movies.
The new provider's budget doesn't have to be limited to $100,000. In fact, according to the council, they would love to see the next public access provider seek outside funding. They're even planning on using that as a criterion for the competitive bidding process that the city will open up sometime early next year.
SCAN had originally claimed that $100,000 from the city was not enough to maintain their operations and seemed disinclined to participate in the bid process. Today, Flaxman indicated that they may submit a bid for the reduced-budget contract after all. Necessity is the mother of
bitter desperation invention.
UPDATE (12-9-2010): SCAN's city funding was coming from franchise fees paid by cable subscribers, not from the city's general fund. In this year's budget, the Department of Information Technology reapportioned the majority of the franchise fee revenues that would have gone to SCAN to instead expand the city's email capacity. The manipulation of this funding loophole was what led some SCAN partisans to call for criminal charges against city lawmakers for violating the Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act of 1984.