Forget any preconceived notions that may linger based on parodies, such as Wayne's World.
Public access television may not be the most high-profile medium out there, but for the right community- or issue-based client - or even the right off-beat celebrity - it can be great way to deliver a message and generate an audience.
"People don't realize what a powerful tool public access television can be, especially in small communities," points out Nikki Smirl, outreach organizer for the independent news program, Democracy Now. "In many areas, it's the only way for people to view our show."
What may surprise people about public access is its reach. Anthony Riddle, executive director of the Alliance for Community Media, says public access is essentially a narrowcast medium with a lot of locally produced programs for very local audiences. But, he adds, "with 3,000 community televisions channels across the country, that's tens of millions of homes that you're reaching."
Scott White, president of BizCom Associates, says he was able to get two clients - a developer and a builder - on to a public access channel in Allen, TX, just outside Dallas. "It wasn't a hard sell for my clients because in Allen it was a really well-run program, and a lot of people in the community watch it," he says. "Public access can be especially good for stories that have more visuals than maybe just straight news."
Riddle says in markets in New York City - where he was formerly director of the Manhattan Neighborhood Network - public access programming often ends up being the news source of choice for specific ethnic groups. "During the Kosovo War, we had a group of Kosovars come to us and put on a news show," he says. "I know it wasn't watched by most New Yorkers, but the majority of Kosovars here paid attention."
Public access is also a good way to target other niche interest groups. For example, appearing on a book-themed public access show can certainly generate a great amount of awareness about an author. It's also worth noting that several celebrities, including RuPaul and sports personality Max Kellerman, got their starts on public access.
"A lot of these stations have been around for years, and many public access channels are located between the major networks [on the television dial]," explains Jason Crow, access coordinator for Cambridge (MA) Community Television. "So by targeting a group of public access stations in different communities you're getting yourself on some pretty valuable real estate."
PITCHING... Public Access Television
Public access TV can be a cost-effective way for community groups to deliver a message to a local audience, so leverage the technology available at your local community television center
By directing content produced for public access programs onto such sites as BlipTV, you can create a viral campaign that can dramatically expand your reach
Most local TV centers don't allow content with an overt call to action for a product, making it a tough sell for product-driven PR