Casualties of cord-cutting – the end of public access TV?

A 2021 photo of the JMA Wireless Dome (formerly known as Carrier Dome) in front of the Syracuse skyline, home of Syracuse University Athletics.
N. Scott Trimble |

Syracuse plans to close public studio due to lack of use

One of the causalities of cord-cutting and the continuing rise of technology is using the public studio at your local cable company to produce a public-access show.

This appears to be happening in Syracuse, N.Y. as part of the city’s new agreement with Charter Communications, who market their products through the Spectrum brand name. The city is extending their deal with the company – but without the requirement to make television production facilities available to residents, according to

As you know, Disney pulled their channels over Spectrum systems a few weeks ago for days over a retransmission payment dispute and other issues. As part of a new deal, Disney opted not to return several cable channels to Spectrum, including Nat Geo Wild and Disney XD.

“In the old days, people would go in there and film studio shows,” First Assistant Corporation Counsel Joseph Barry told the Syracuse Common Council a few weeks ago, referring to the success of since-deceased local personality Walt Sheppard who used such facilities early in his career. “Spectrum basically said no one is using it. It’s just not a facility that makes sense in today’s world.”

However, the rise of YouTube, TikTok, and smartphones with HD video cameras and the availability to produce content anywhere has eroded the use of such studios as the reduction of cable subscriptions through cord-cutting has reduced reach. Producers can actually reach more people using video sharing platforms as they have a tech-savvy audience. Dropping the studio would save Charter money, as city officials have agreed to drop the requirement, and Charter said it would donate the studio’s equipment.

A public hearing on the proposed franchise agreement took place Monday at Syracuse City Hall. Despite the studio closing, the city plans to continue the operation of its PEG channels – which stands for public, education, and government.

As this space reported in 2019, the FCC slashed franchise fees for local cable companies, reducing the revenue stream municipalities can receive as more and more households cut the cord. This meant fewer dollars to operate PEG channels, such as Chicago’s CAN TV. While CAN is still available on traditional cable providers Comcast and RCN, it is absent from satellite TV’s Dish and DirecTV (full disclosure – the writer of this piece is a DirecTV subscriber.)

Despite declining reach due to cord-cutting, CAN TV is still around and viable as they expanded into streaming on YouTube and other platforms to reach non-cable subscribers and those who cut the cord. It has been a success, according to a March article in Crain’s Chicago Business.

However, tensions have risen behind-the-scenes. According to a report in South Side Weekly last month, CAN TV is in turmoil as complaints have surfaced from residents and employees alike from censorship to budget cutbacks to mistreatment by managers. CAN TV has also seen an exodus of employees and complaints from community members about the unavailability of studio use. It is not known if the tensions are related to the FCC’s 2019 actions to slash funding, but CAN TV’s executives’ salary has reportedly soared.

It’s easy to see why others with the means and the tech knowledge use social media to produce their own programs anywhere they want without the need of a studio, bypassing the red tape nonsense at a government-funded local public access network whose usefulness is becoming more irrelevant by the day.

With the above issues and the decline of cable TV, it’s a perfect storm threatening the viability of PEG channels. While Syracuse shutters its studios, other cities may soon follow.


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