AOC & LUS’ Franchise

This morning’s Advocate has a story focusing on one benefit from Tuesday’s approval of the LUS’ cable franchise: Acadiana Open Channel (AOC) will benefit to the tune of $50,000 dollars and a new capacity to offer on-demand programming.

As Blanchard points out, most of the franchise agreement is, for legal reasons relating to the (un)Fair Competition Act, a clone of Cox’s 2000 agreement.

There are some differences, however, including the way the LUS agreement deals with the Acadiana Open Channel:

Each year, the Cox franchise agreement requires Cox to pay $50,000 to the open channel to run a public access channel, although that figure can go down if the city-parish doesn’t match funds up to a certain amount.

The LUS agreement calls for the open channel to get a flat $50,000 regardless of any conditions.

While there is a dark lining on this silver cloud, my guess is that Ed Bowie over at AOC’s Lee Avenue offices regards this as a good thing. After all, the perennially cash-strapped organization is getting a new, solid, continuing funding source for the next 10 years. With new federal regulations threatening to further erode the principle of local control of cable media by telling localities that they can’t demand much of anything other than cash for letting cable corporations rent their rights-of-way all public access groups are facing a bleak future. Likely LUS’ commitment will make it politically difficult for Cox to back out of its commitments just because the Feds say they can renege. Cox appears to have a good relationship with AOC. The corporation recently extended AOC’s reach into the surrounding communities recently (you can see AOC’s programming throughout Cox’s Acadiana footprint now) and provides AOC with net connection. (LUS should certainly match that.)

Even as AOC programming has solidified—it now really fills the two channel slots it has been allocated—and in part because of increased demand for its services AOC’s staffing problems have increased. This is especially true in the critical technical area that will be its future and the additional shot of money will no doubt be helpful there.

But there is a downside to the LUS’ unconditional gift to AOC. It’s unconditional. That means that should the council decide it doesn’t want to match LUS’ contribution in the same way it matches Cox’s then their decision to be chintzy doesn’t let LUS off the hook. With the Cox money the local government has to continue to support AOC or let Cox walk away with money that could be returned to the community. The way LUS has set up its contribution the city is freed from that responsibility. Of course that doesn’t free it from the moral obligation to help pay for valuable community resources. AOC is a magnet for creative types and AOC’s broadcasting of public meetings is an essential public resource. The city-parish should do the right thing.

The LUS contribution will give AOC a nice boost on becoming a next-generation public access institution. The addition of a video-on-demand (VOD) capacity is a window into that new world and LUS will be smart to put lots of local programming into its VOD library. LUS wants—or should want—VOD to be become very popular. It is by far the easiest way to get long tail content and very local content onto any network. Satisfying the actual desires every ecclectic and very local taste rather than forcing them to watch lowest-common-denominator stuff that is popular in both Peoria and New York is the best way to satisfy video customers and build market share. Beyond actually serving your customers encoraging VOD use makes a lot of sense for LUS because, frankly, Cox is going to have trouble competing in that arena. It’s current implementation is just plain klutzy and it stresses the network. At least at my house it is possible to try and log into that function and to have the network tell you that it is busy. Their network is already oversubscribed and they’ve not allocated the bandwidth to keep it flowing smoothly at times of peak demand. So to try and match LUS in encouraging a larger percentage of its subscribers to use VOD would mean investing more bandwidth in VOD–and without a system upgrade that means reducing profitable services elsewhere.

But VOD is only a hint of what is possible. Just on the other side of the closed system of downloading video from your cable company through your TV’s settop box (which is what VOD is all about) lies the unconstrained land of real “Downloaded Video,” DV (See “Die TV, Die!, Die!, Die!”). DV replaces the broadcast model based on limited bandwidth and the desire of broadcast networks and cable companies to profit off every minute you spend watching the boob tube with a system that allows you to download video you care about (instead of what some “average” American doesn’t dislike too much) video you want (and only video you want) at any time (instead of on their schedule). Setting up a download server on the LUS intranet would be the next really big leap into the next era for Lafayette and AOC. From there you could download HD versions of the city-parish show (look at the grimace on your councilman’s face in excruciating detail), or your kid’s latest soccer match, or that Monday night political show or last Sunday’s homily. Even better, download the version of the meeting your councilman commented and submitted. Or the edited version by your favorite local cynic. Or a compendium of Mr. Benjamin’s funniest remarks updated with bits from that last meeting. Those outside the intranet would get the YouTube version. (Or they could move to Lafayette.)

In the long run DV is where video is going. Lafayette could be far ahead of the curve if we invest just a little bit in a fat connection for AOC and a minimal investment in a couple of fast servers and a dozen inexpensive terabytes of drive storage. The future is cheap and available at Best Buy. It’s the vision that we’ve got find.

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