Public access to cable-TV channels has suffered under recent efforts by the cable industry to scale back services to cities, but the basic idea that the cable medium "should be open to all speakers" must remain a cornerstone of communications policy, according to California Assemblywoman Gwen Moore.
Public access "really represents what cable television is all about and what it should be," Moore (D-Los Angeles) said in a speech opening a seminar at the Hollywood campus of the American Film Institute. Moore is chairwoman of the Assembly's Utilities and Commerce Committee, which oversees cable-television companies operating in the state.
"Some cable operators," Moore said, "still see public access as an inconvenience, an intrusion on their self-asserted right to control all channels."
Saturday's seminar, "Cable Access in Los Angeles: Making It Work," was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the film institute. It was the first broad look at the state of access in Los Angeles since passage of the new federal Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which set broad national guidelines for the relationship between cable operators and the cities that franchise them.
Public access, a concept unique to cable, was originated by the Federal Communications Commission to allow members of the public to present their own non-commercial video programs on channels set aside solely for that purpose. Through various franchising agreements around the country, public access has expanded over the years to include channels set aside for government and educational institutions and, in some places, so-called "leased access" commercial channels.
After 1987 (when all Los Angeles franchises are set for renewal), financial support for access will no longer be a requirement of cable operators in the city. Much of the seminar was devoted to brainstorming ideas for new ways to finance access programming.
Under the terms of the new federal law, cities may require franchise fees of up to 5% of the cable system's gross revenues (Los Angeles currently has only a 3% fee). Total annual cable revenues in the state, Moore estimated, are about $300 million, which could provide up to about $15 million in fees.
The five members of Los Angeles' new Telecommunications Commission were told by members of the audience that most of that money should be reserved for access programming. The commission is preparing a draft ordinance outlining the 1987 franchise renewal requirements.
The commission, chaired by communications attorney Charles Firestone, held a brief open meeting during the seminar. Participants told the commissioners that Los Angeles should raise its fee to 5% and set aside most of the money for access programming.
"The entire 5% should be used for cable-related activities only," said Lois Saffian, co-chairwoman of the conference.
IT'S A HIT: About 730 Angelenos experienced access of another sort over the weekend at three video screening rooms on the Westside. They paid $4 each to watch an hourlong video program, "What Happened to Kerouac?"
The examination of the life and work of deceased Beat Generation writer and poet Jack Kerouac is the first bona-fide hit shown by EZTV, the West Hollywood video gallery that for two years has been the focal point of alternative video entertainment in Los Angeles.
The "Kerouac" gross is peanuts compared to "Beverly Hills Cop," of course, but EZTV founder John Dorr could barely contain his enthusiasm at the thought that his idea of video exhibition may be taking hold.
"It's small numbers compared to anything else," Dorr said, "but it's big numbers compared to what we used to get. We've never had a hit in that we filled two rooms (at EZTV's Santa Monica Boulevard location) and had to add shows."
The tape also is on exhibit at Super Video in Santa Monica and at the Apollo in Hollywood.
DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL: New research by Michigan State University has found that more and more people are zipping and zapping their ways through videoland. So many cable-TV subscribers are rapidly changing channels (zapping) and videocassette-recorder owners are fast-forwarding through commercials (zipping) that advertisers may start requesting changes in the way that TV ratings are reported.
One possibility, Michigan State researcher Carrie Heeter told the Associated Press, is that advertisers may start demanding ratings figures for their commercials, instead of the shows in which advertisements appear.
"Instead of the 'Dukes of Hazzard' being No. 1, it could be Pepsi," Heeter said.
The Michigan State study was based on five surveys of 1,500 adults and 400 children during the last two years. Four of the surveys were conducted in the Lansing area and one in a Detroit suburb. Heeter and Bradley Greenberg, chairman of the university's telecommunications department, found that 24% of the people sampled changed channels constantly, while 27% were "channel loyal" (changing channels only once every 90 minutes).
The study also found that men are more likely than women to zap TV commercials, young adults do more zapping than older adults and children of zappers are more likely to zap than their parents.