MTN deals with $90,000 budget cut

The network’s executive director since 1997 will resign in March.

MTN's chairman Peter Larsen shows the equipments in a control room of one of the studios Jan 10 in Minneapolis.

MTN’s chairman Peter Larsen shows the equipments in a control room of one of the studios Jan 10 in Minneapolis.

Nick Sudheimer

A funding cut and new leadership are on the way at the Minneapolis Television Network.

MTN, which operates three public access channels, is facing a $90,000 funding cut for 2012 as part of the cityâÄôs budget passed in December.  That has fueled an already tense relationship with Mayor R.T. RybakâÄôs office.

In March, MTNâÄôs executive director, Pam Colby, will resign in hopes that a change of face will help mend relations with the city.

âÄúThe city is very interested in talking about the future of public access and weâÄôre hoping the new director will be a new partner with the city,âÄù Colby said.

Peter Larsen, MTNâÄôs chairman, said the search for a new executive director is already underway. They hope to have a replacement for Colby, who has served as MTNâÄôs executive director since 1997, by
April 1.

In the meantime, Colby and MTN must also cope with a significant budget cut.

RybakâÄôs 2012 city budget initially proposed a $250,000 funding cut to MTN âÄî nearly a third of the networkâÄôs budget. However, strong opposition from the community and several City Council members persuaded officials to reduce the cut to $90,000.

City councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden is one of MTNâÄôs supporters.

âÄúI certainly think that MTN deserves to have a future. I think like any other city organization there is a lot they can do to change, but I thought the [proposed] cut made to them was unfair,âÄù Glidden said.

Several city officials said MTNâÄôs facilities are underused and the network has too many employees.

Larsen said the networkâÄôs leaders are still figuring out how the cut will affect it. They will likely reduce studio hours and employees will work fewer hours. But MTNâÄôs programs shouldnâÄôt be affected, he said.

Many of the programs reach communities mainstream media does not, Glidden said.

âÄú[MTNâÄôs] Somali language programming has essentially turned into the go-to place for the Somali community to find out news,âÄù she said, âÄúand thatâÄôs just one example.âÄù

Larsen said the network is âÄúreally the main medium of communicationâÄù for MinnesotaâÄôs Somali community.

MTN operates on three channels and shows roughly 80 locally produced programs. Many are produced by Somalis.

Glidden also supports MTNâÄôs Video Voices program, which teaches students at Minneapolis South High School camera basics and editing techniques. 

Despite the cuts, John Stiles, spokesman for Rybak, said the mayorâÄôs office maintains a âÄúprofessional relationshipâÄù with MTN. He said almost every city office received a cut because the budget didnâÄôt raise the property tax levy this year.

MTN is funded through a larger franchise agreement between the city and Comcast.

The agreement requires Comcast to pay two annual fees to the city. One, a franchise fee, requires that 5 percent of ComcastâÄôs gross revenues, roughly $3.1 million, go to the city. Comcast must also pay a public, education or government television fee, which is collected from Comcast customers.

Historically, MTN has received all of the PEG fees and a small portion of the franchise fee.

Stiles said the city supports MTN but that Rybak suggested it start looking for other sources of revenue. A small portion of MTNâÄôs budget comes from donations and membership fees.

Colby said the latest cuts continue a pattern of decreased city support to MTN. The network is looking into different ways to attract new viewers and subscribers, Larsen said.

MTN will have more community outreach and partnerships with local organizations, he said. The board is also looking into making the 27-year-old network more technologically advanced and to increase its online presence.

Larsen said MTN wants to stream all of its content online and allow viewers to interact with producers and programs more easily.

âÄúThe Internet is everything,âÄù Colby said.

She said the new director will need to work to keep the networkâÄôs picture quality competitive with other stations and must continue making MTN more accessible to the community.

âÄúIt will be a hard place to be, but we have a lot going for us,âÄù Colby said. âÄúWe can grow from a lot of directions.âÄù