Wake Up Public Access! YouTube is Community Television.

Bainbridge Island, Washington, the town where I live, is currently at risk of losing its public access cable programming from the Comcast channel lineup. The city is apparently dropping funding. We aren’t the first community to face this issue, but I’m not convinced any community should care. What the people crying for public access fail to recognize is they don’t need a time slot on cable to access the public. Community television doesn’t need saving.

I freely admit to never watching BITV. Scheduled cable timeslots aren’t a convenient format for most lifestyles, including mine. I get my local and national news the same place you get most of your local and national news – on the Internet. BITV has an online component, but it’s impossible to know whether you’d want to watch links to streaming files with no metadata. Bainbridge Island Review isn’t perfect, but they offer decent online coverage for a community of 25,000. Video would be a nice complement to the BI Review efforts, presenting a great opportunity for those passionate about community news to team up.

If the people interested in saving BITV (or continuing public access in your community) are genuinely intersted in providing local coverage and not just political posturing about the city budget, they should be distributing video on YouTube. A quick YouTube search turns up plenty of community created results for Bainbridge Island, with BITV conspicuously absent. That tells me an online community with no funding is doing a better job of reaching the community than the community endowed effort.

YouTube is the future of community television. It extends beyond the living room to Android and iPhone, my laptop and iPad, along with the ability to stream to my television. Unlike public access cable programming, YouTube provides the opportunity for the community to particpate. In the public access cable world, there’s no way for the community to comment in a public way or to post a video response for community members to see. YouTube breaks down the barriers between content creator and consumer. Like all other television, community access is defined by the people who program it.

Beyond empowering the community to participate on all levels, on YouTube your public access channel has the opportunity to reach all the current community residents, as well as past residents and those people outside the community interested in keeping up with what’s going on. Public access television can’t deliver all that, although in other communities I lived in previously it delivered sermons from a bus, nude yoga, local hip hop, and a round table discussion of comic books, which are all thing that would find a wider audience on YouTube as well.

What’s ironic is BITV recognizes the need to adapt. They are crying out for help through YouTube and Facebook because they know that’s where the community goes. The effort is wasted. What BITV and other public access efforts should post to YouTube and Facebook is the content they create for community benefit. That’s a community effort I would get behind. I’d even donate time and money to help them do it right. As it exists today, public access programming is already dead.