April 24, 2019

Contract Negotiations at an Impasse Between Town and Local TV Station

By Anne Levin

If you are looking for a video of the most recent meetings of Princeton Council on the website of Princeton Community Television (PCTV), you will be looking in vain. The station is no longer taping and airing municipal meetings due to an impasse over how much funding it should receive from the town (the meetings are currently being taped in-house and are available on the town’s website).

“Right now, our contract has not been renewed,” said George McCullough, executive director of PCTV since 2006. “We can’t come to any resolution. It’s about money. It certainly will affect how we operate in the future and whether we exist at all.”

In the United States cable television industry, a cable television franchise fee is an annual fee charged by a local government to a private cable television company as compensation for using public property it owns as right-of-way for its cable.

Municipal officials say they have been trying to get PCTV to raise money privately, as other nonprofits do, and rely less on the town for funding. PCTV currently receives $232,000 of the cable franchise fees that the town receives  from Comcast and Verizon. PCTV’s contract that started in 2015 paid $259,999 and has been gradually decreased since then.

Council president Jenny Crumiller said Monday that the town has been “nudging them along” for the past six years. “We offered them a generous contract, but they say no,” she said. “But we haven’t had a final meeting, so we’re hopeful.”

PCTV was created by the former borough and township in 1997. McCullough was originally a contracted employee of the borough, until the nonprofit was formed by the town and he was made executive director.

PCTV “is intended to provide an outlet for members of the Princeton and neighboring communities to broadcast locally produced programs as well as other quality programming,” reads the organization’s website. The channel produced more than 600 original shows last year.

“It’s a staggering figure when you think about it, and it probably makes us the largest producer of local programs in New Jersey,” McCullough said. “The town should realize that we’re not just a television station. We’re a community center. People from all walks of life come in here and interact with each other. It’s a tremendous resource. And there needs to be some kind of local programming.”

“Most towns use cable franchise fees to help provide taxpayer relief. It’s great that PCTV is providing this regional service, but funding shouldn’t be coming to them only from the town,” said Mayor Liz Lempert. “They need to do what other nonprofits do and also rely on private fundraising.”

Crumiller added that some of the people who create programming at PCTV come from outside of Princeton. “So I see this as being responsible to our own taxpayers.”

Lempert said, “It’s a wonderful thing to have a cable access channel in town, and we want to see them be successful. But it can’t be something that’s borne by our residents who are already squeezed with taxes, because it’s not fair. It should be structured like a non profit with some municipal support.”