For 35 years, St. Paul Neighborhood Network has been St. Paul’s home for community media. We empower people to use media and technology to make better lives, build common understanding, and use authentic voice. For us, that means providing resources and training to help people tell stories that don’t get told anywhere else. It means providing digital literacy training to help people find meaningful work. It means providing opportunities for youth to build life skills and be a part of a team. Our work continues to be incredibly important to our community.
SPNN comes from the world of public access TV, and we still program four channels on the Comcast system in St. Paul. These channels provide an outlet for residents of St. Paul to both present their work and find compelling local content. Along with the channels, we also still rely on a legacy funding mechanism with just over half of our revenue coming through St. Paul’s cable franchise with Comcast. The franchise is the document that outlines what the cable company has to provide in exchange for generating a profit from infrastructure they’ve placed in the public right of way, and it’s through the franchise that we get a percentage of cable television revenue in the City of St. Paul.
These agreements are governed by federal laws passed in 1984 and 1992, which means that cable television is regulated and cable internet is not. As the cable industry shifts from traditional cable television to streaming content over cable internet, we’ve seen a precipitous drop in revenue over the last year. We budgeted for this trend, assuming a 3% reduction of that revenue in our current fiscal year, and we’ve been working to diversify our revenue through foundation grants, earned income, and individual giving. The reality though is a 9.5% overall decrease over last year’s funding.
We are not alone in this, our entire industry has been surprised by the severity and speed of the decrease.
Locally, we’ve seen CTV in Roseville, SWC-TV in Cottage Grove, and SCC in Maplewood completely eliminate their public access operations over the last few years. At SPNN, we remain committed to inviting our community to join us in making media. Indeed, it’s the heart of what we do and the services we provide. In order to continue to provide that access and the rest of our outstanding programming, we are faced with some hard decisions. As we enter into the fourth quarter of our current fiscal year and craft our budget for our next year, a fiscal year that will likely include a further double-digit percentage decrease in our main funding source, we are making some difficult adjustments to our operations.
First, we are shifting our youth programming from a focus on creative expression and building video production skills to entrepreneurship and workforce development via Media Active. Media Active does incredible video production work with an all-youth crew and we’re excited to welcome them to SPNN as of May 1. Second, we will shift to contract support for some key administrative roles.
Change is hard, and when you’ve built a family of colleagues the way SPNN has, it’s even harder. We owe it to our community and to everyone who has invested in SPNN over the years to make sure that these decisions are truly in the best interest of the organization and that SPNN is here, relevant, and vibrant for another 35 years.Martin Ludden, SPNN Executive Director