Lebanon changing local television channel setup as 23-year employee retires

Sep. 16—Starting on Jan. 1, Lebanon's City Channel 6 will have a new production team providing most of the content cable subscribers view on only one of the city's cable providers; or the city's website or You Tube channel.

Instead of a single, full-time city employee and several volunteers providing local coverage for the public access channel, Lebanon City Council has approved a one-year renewable contract with Intercommunity Cable Regulatory Commission.

ICRC is a regional council of governments serving 21 member municipalities in Southwest Ohio. Each municipality has representation on ICRC's Board of Directors. ICRC provides similar services to the city of Mason.

City Manager Scott Brunka said Lebanon "Channel 6″ was launched in conjunction with the city's telecommunication enterprise in the late 1990s. He said the city initially provided cable television and internet services to Lebanon residents. The city later expanded the enterprise to include phone service.

The mission of Channel 6 was to provide an outlet for local programming focused on communicating and promoting the local community events, programs, projects, and organizations that make Lebanon unique. Coverage included city council meetings, "The City Show," events, parades, library and school programs, plus sports and school board meetings.

Joe Hackman, studio production manager, has been with Channel 6 for 23 years. When he came to Lebanon, the city's telecommunications enterprise was already in operation and was asked to broadcast a football game.

"Back then, the cable provider was not paying attention to what was going on the city and was not providing upgrades to the local cable system," Hackman said. "We're local. That's what it's all about. The whole focus has been to highlight what's going on in the community."

Over the years, Hackman has planned his vacations around city events and council meetings. Hackman said the option to go with ICRC "should be good because there will be more people available."

Brunka said the city sold the Telecom Enterprise to CBT in 2007, but continued to own and operate Channel 6 as part of the purchase agreement.

Brunka said Channel 6 operates on a budget of $180,000 that supports one full-time staff (not including electric fund support of $70,000), equipment, and production requirements. The television operation receives $125,000 per year from a CBT asset sale agreement; and $25,000 per year from CBT subscriber fees. In addition, Lebanon charges CBT and Spectrum a 3% franchise fee to operate a telecommunications system utilizing public right of way. The fee generates approximately $150,000 annually for the general fund.

City officials began looking at various options about Channel 6 when Hackman decided to retire at the end of 2022. The two options considered included:

Option 1: Hire a replacement production manager and continue to operate Channel 6 "in-house" with content only available to CBT subscribers, the website, and Youtube Channel. This would retain city control over programming and utilize the production manager for other assignments and projects. However, it was not the most cost-effective option due to reliance on one person to televise council meetings and other events; and content would be accessible to CBT cable subscribers, not Spectrum subscribers.

Option 2: Contract with ICRC to produce local programming and televise City Council meetings. Increase the franchise fee to the standard 5%, with 2% of that paid to ICRC for services. City officials said this option provides a net positive financial impact of $70,000 to the city and eliminates an expense in the electric fund; ICRC would be responsible for coverage, and content would be available to all cable providers. The city would not have complete control over programming decisions, even though the city still owns the channel.

City officials recommended Option 2, which council accepted and approved. ICRC would begin operations on Jan. 1, 2023.