Media Primer

What Cable Access TV Can Do For You

Let’s look at the various means by which organizers and presenters can try to find an audience for their message and viewpoints:

Speaking Engagements involve a great deal of preparation and at least some expense: coordination between presenters and sponsoring groups, travel, finding and paying for a suitable venue, publicity, etc. But it’s not uncommon for only a few dozen people to turn out for the event, and usually no more than a few hundred. Of these, most are "the usual suspects," the very people who didn’t really need to hear your message. They are already on board, and you are preaching to the converted. Live events do provide an opportunity for networking and expressions of solidarity, but the overall benefit is small, as is your audience. Even if you do a hundred such presentations you may not have significantly advanced your cause, because you have not reached those who really need to hear your message.

The Internet (specifically, online video) has similar problems. Although it’s true that your potential audience is huge, your actual audience will probably be quite small. People who are unaware of or apathetic about your issue will not seek your video among the many millions offered online. Likewise, those opposed to your viewpoints will not seek your video, except perhaps to disparage it. That leaves those who are already on board and who again are the very people who didn’t need to hear your talk. Yes, there is some value in an archival video (hence this blog), and your presentation may contain information to which a few people may want to repeatedly refer, but my point remains. Browse YouTube and check the view counts of videos on your topic. They are almost always pitifully small, and chances are that even that tiny audience consists mostly of activists and those associated with the event. How does this significantly advance your cause? It doesn’t. You're still not reaching the broader public.

Television can reach a mass audience consisting of a true cross section of the population. It has the power to get your message in front of people who would never have sought it out, people who may have previously been completely unaware of your issue and viewpoints, people who may be receptive to new ideas once they are introduced to them. In a system built on lies, truth can be quite powerful...if it can be heard. TV allows you to break out of the echo chamber, where activists talk only to other activists, and get your message into Middle America’s living rooms. Just one airing of your video on TV can reach an audience many times larger than that at your speaking engagement. And if your video is aired on a syndicated TV show such as OVOC (meaning each episode is broadcast one or more times on multiple TV stations), it’s possible that your TV audience will be larger than you might ever reach in person. TV is the most effective, and cable access TV in particular the most cost effective, way to get your message heard, and can multiply your efforts many times over.

Television gives you your best chance to speak directly to those who most need to hear your message, and even a small portion of a mass audience can still be a lot of people. If your message was worth all the effort and expense of organizing a live event for an audience of a few dozen, isn't it worth the small extra effort and expense of a video which might be seen by thousands or perhaps tens of thousands?

But with this opportunity comes responsibility. You have to appear organized and knowledgeable, and your presentation has to connect with your audience. (For example, if using PowerPoint, the text has to be large enough to be legible on a TV screen.) You have to cooperate fully with your videographer so as to yield a video in which the production values support, rather than detract from, your message. This takes planning, attention to detail, and a willingness to trust your videographer when he or she asks you to make adjustments based on the technical issues inherent in capturing good audio and video. You may also be asked to rework your presentation so as to omit copyright violations, and to sign a release form.

A video which does not get seen may as well not exist. Your YouTube video which garnered 27 views isn't going to reap the results you had hoped for. There's a reason multinational corporations pay huge sums to buy ad time on TV, and why the government saturates the airwaves with propaganda masquerading as news: It gets their message in front of a mass audience, and it works. Cash-strapped community organizations can't afford this, but:

  • Air time on cable access TV is free.
  • Production costs can be quite affordable. For example, I donate my time, asking only to be reimbursed for my actual expenses, which are low.
  • Even a low-budget video can be very effective if it contains compelling and/or informative content presented in at least a semi-professional manner.

The pity is that most organizers and presenters are unaware of this opportunity, and have thus failed to make use of it. Meanwhile, cable access TV is full of religious fundamentalists and right-wing crackpots. To our shame, they are smart enough to avail themselves of this opportunity and we are not. Are we so accustomed to being marginalized that we can't imagine things being any different?

It's time to get media savvy and learn to utilize the most effective media tool at our disposal...cable access television.