Austin @ Large: Access of Evil
It's a conspiracy! Defending Austin from the music network.
Today (Thursday), the City Council is set to vote to sweep up the husks and leavings of AMN and dump them into ACTV's sandbox with an eye toward freeing up Channel 15, current home of the Music Network, for the privately funded (that is, "professional") music and arts channel being flogged around City Hall by people from L.A. Or something like that. I'll be watching to see if some evidence of, you know, a policy strategy regarding either the music industry or the city's telecom infrastructure burbles up from under the dais. I'm not hopeful.
You may be wondering just what bestial acts are being performed by council members in the Polaroids AMN General Manager Louis Meyers must have in his possession for AMN to merit the council's continued favors after so many years of embarrassing failure. But more likely, the council is blackmailing itself; the desire to keep AMN alive, in whatever form, by any means necessary, will help take the blame and sting out of the city's failure to pull off what seemed like such a no-brainer and such a good Austin fit. It's a pretense that I expect will be maintained until AMN's corpse starts to really stink.
But Alex Jones doesn't care about that; he sees not a flummoxed City Council trying to scrape AMN off its full plate and feed it to the dog, but an insidious conspiracy of state-run media infiltrating the libertarian paradise of cable-access. Tyranny! Free speech is under attack! As I watched last week's raucous meeting of the council's telecom subcommittee, itself infiltrated by Jones, his acolytes, and dozens of ACTV producers in various states of grievance, I could only think of the bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "I'm being oppressed! I'm being oppressed!"
Such reveries made watching the proceedings bearable; surely, subcommittee members Jackie Goodman and Betty Dunkerley have now done ample penance for their sins in trying, beyond reason, to keep AMN on life support. (New papa Raul Alvarez mostly sat like a stone through the harangues.) Now, in case it's not clear already, I think Alex Jones is 90% poseur and 110% asshole, which makes him truly larger than life. But on balance, I think the ACTV producers are onto something here.
Cart Before Horse
Technically, they were onto someone else's something; the (apparently separate) decisions to welcome AMN into the access fold and to rejigger the formats of ACTV's three channels into content-specific programming were made by the board of ACTV, not by anyone at City Hall. But I also doubt that ACTV which only a couple of weeks earlier had reportedly thrown heavy shade on Meyers' bright idea for a merger is entirely unaware of the wishes of what should be at least a four-vote council majority. If Goodman or Dunkerley had told Meyers, or ACTV, or the city's own telecom staff, that they liked ACTV just as it was and really didn't want to see it reinvented and certainly not just to make room for the Music Network this episode of the soap opera might well be over.
Now, I'm agnostic on the wisdom of turning the three ACTV channels into an arts-and-education channel (featuring AMN), an inspirational channel, and a free-speech channel. It would certainly disrupt the current free-for-all flow, where Truckers and Hookers and Sunday Best and the Esoteric Science Roundtable can all appear on the same channel on the same day. But it might also make ACTV more, um, accessible to those of us who aren't access junkies and who'd tune in more often if we knew how to avoid watching Alex Jones. The fact that ACTV producers might not get their ideal time slots doesn't seem to me to be much of a problem, but then again, I know how to program my VCR.
Many producers expressed to the council subcommittee exactly the sorts of outrage and anguish you'd expect from rank-and-file workers whose outfit is being dramatically reorganized, and perhaps downsized, in ways that don't make sense to them, about which they were not consulted. But several also hit on an obvious disconnect: ACTV is more than three decades old having gotten its start even before the city had the franchise agreements with Time Warner and Grande Communications that now provide for its operations. (I trust the libertarians who have eagerly suckled at the access-TV teat realize the irony here.) It has operated on a shoestring all that time and is by many measures one of America's most successful access systems. The AMN story is, as you know, quite different. By this reading, if there were any justice, ACTV would take over Channel 15, send Meyers packing, and put its own (fairly substantial) music programming up under the AMN brand name.