Just like bookstores and video rental outlets, radio stations, television stations and newspapers are being forced to reinvent themselves to ensure long-term stability, the City and County of Denver is taking an innovative approach to modernize public access media.

The city is ensuring that public access media remains relevant and accessible by adapting to rapidly changing media engagement habits and diminishing funding, and the introduction of new content platforms and technologies. A new public access partnership model — Denver Community Media — will help us achieve that.  Denver Community Media is an all-inclusive, independently functioning, community-access blueprint that will take the accessible media concept into the future.  

In partnership with Rocky Mountain Public Media, the city is building a permanent home for community access at the state-of-the-art Buell Community Media Center being constructed at 21st and Arapahoe streets.

Jenny Schiavone, chief marketing officer for the City and County of Denver.

Slated to open in spring 2020, the new building will feature multimedia production and educational spaces, including dedicated and shared studios for video and audio recordings, edit bays, classrooms, and studio and field production equipment.

The city also is partnering with Emily Griffith Technical College to offer robust educational opportunities under Denver Community Media, with a shared vision of creating a media workforce pipeline.

Gone are the days of filming public access TV in the basement. The proliferation of smartphones — a video camera in nearly everyone’s hands — and platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat have completely changed the content creation landscape.

The new community media center will provide cutting-edge technology and enhanced training, educational and professional opportunities. The center will include shared office space and studios with the latest technology and equipment for community media radio, TV and podcast production. Plans also call for community classrooms for trainings, editing suites, and a digital studio.

What’s driving this change? Consumers are cutting their cable cords at a rapid pace. There are simply too many other content choices and easy, efficient ways to engage with them. The fewer subscribers our cable partners have, the less funding community media services receive as part of our franchise agreements with Comcast and CenturyLink. Cable and satellite TV subscribers peaked in 2012. Since then, cable TV has lost millions of subscribers a year as consumers adopt Internet-based streaming services.

This steady and sustained decrease in public, education and government (PEG) funding has forced the city to seek innovative solutions to ensure the long-term stability of all programming and services under the PEG umbrella, including public access TV. Denver Community Media is the sustainable answer.

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While our contract with Open Media Foundation will expire this month, we will continue to readily accept content from the organization and its loyal group of members and contributors.

Between now and when the Buell Community Media Center opens, Denver Community Media also will invite access to studio space, rent equipment, broadcast content on public access channels and hold community media trainings. Community members can submit content electronically to Denver Community Media through our website.  

Community media content will continue to air on channels 56, 57, and 881 as it does today and will be programmed from the Denver 8 TV production facility. Community content submissions will follow established public access guidelines and will not be curated by the city. Denver Community Media memberships will be available for free through June 30.

Communities across the nation are facing similar public access challenges with decreasing funding, limited access and old technology. Denver is making this change now for the benefit of our community and to keep “public access” both public and accessible.

Change can be difficult, but if public access does not evolve, it will disappear. This approach ensures that our community will build on the city’s commitment of promoting a local focus, diversity of voice, and independent, non-commercial media content created for and by the people of Denver. More importantly, it ensures that our community will continue to have a voice on the public airwaves, whatever form those “airwaves” take in the digital future. 

Jenny Schiavone is chief marketing officer for the City and County of Denver and has spent much of her career working in support of the local cultural and creative scene. She is an unabashed media geek and content consumer.