PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – The potential closure of a cable access studio in Peekskill has hosts of local shows reeling and worrying about the future of community-generated television.
The studio, located on Park Street in the city’s bustling downtown, has been around for decades and is the only one left in the area.
The studio had been owned by Cablevision Systems Corp., but became Altice USA’s after the Bethpage, N.Y., company acquired the cable television provider for close to $18 billion in 2016.
Altice and the city are currently in negotiations over the renewal of the franchise’s 10-year contract.
Use of the studio is not a stipulation in the proposed contract, which is, according to city officials, still up in the air.
At any rate, nothing is a done deal until the Common Council votes on the matter.
If the studio becomes off limits to public access users, it leaves hosts with only two options—either pay for their own equipment, space and staff, or hike all the way over to Norwalk. Conn., to use Altice’s facilities there. Communities that would likely be affected if the public access studio closes include: Ossining, Cortlandt Manor, Yorktown, Somers, North Salem, Lewisboro, and Pound Ridge in Westchester and some towns in Putnam County.
In a statement released last month, Altice said it has upgraded equipment to allow hosts to digitally upload their shows from, say, their smartphones.
Neither option works well said two of them: state Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, an Ossining resident, and Yorktown’s James Martorano, an attorney and former town councilman.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Martorano is a regular columnist for Halston Media, publishers of this and four other community newspapers in northern Westchester.)
Martorano has hosted “All About Town” for 25 years. It is aired on Channel 74 weekly, and taped about once a month, he said.
He has interviewed everyone from politicians and authors to scientists and religious leaders.
Galef, whose offices are based in Ossining, hosts two shows: “Dear Sandy” and “Speak out with Sandy Galef.” The former focuses on individual interviews while the latter tackles subjects of general interest to her constituents on the state level, such as health care and medical marijuana.
Martorano, who served on the Yorktown Town Board from 1991 to 2010, said that it feels like déjà vu all over again.
While councilman, he voted against a proposed contract with Cablevision because “it failed to guarantee” that the Yorktown studio would be kept.
“As soon as the contract was signed, they closed it,” Martorano said.
So, everyone had to travel to Peekskill to use Cablevision’s studio there.
The cable television company was not that interested in putting money into the studio, and, he claimed, adding that its seems true for the new owners as well.
“The equipment is old” but serves the purpose, he said. As for the studio: “At least it’s there.”
Having to drive to Connecticut is one thing for the hosts, but to ask guests to travel that far is, Martorano said, “insanity.”
No one seems to disagree that public access programs are a great asset to any community.
“It gives regular people the chance to have their voices heard and also contributes to the creative fabric of the community,” Martorano said.
It also, he said, gives residents, who may not be able to travel to an event, or attend meetings, the ability to watch from home.
Though this would not be immediately affected if the Peekskill studio closed, Galef said she feared that closing public access studios is a trend that may lead to corporations charging for the airing of school board and local government meetings.
Fewer locally produced shows would give Altice more space for advertising, Galef said, adding: “It’s all about the money.”
According to one media report, Daniel Ahouse, Altice’s governmental affairs director, told the Common Council last month that while his company was looking forward to serving residents, it is not obligated to keep the studio in Peekskill.
Included in the proposed contract are an $85,000 grant for three community access channels and a hike in the franchise fee, the media report said.
Altice released the following statement on Friday, Sept. 29.
(It is printed here verbatim.)
“Altice USA has a longstanding relationship with the city of Peekskill, and we are pleased to provide state-of-the-art broadband, TV, and voice services to Peekskill’s residents and businesses, including free services to the schools, libraries, and municipal buildings. We are committed to the Peekskill community and continue to invest in our network and services with the recent launch of our Altice One all-in-one entertainment and connectivity experience and the upcoming deployment of our fiber-to-the-home network, which will bring even faster, more reliable service to our customers in Peekskill.
Altice USA’s proposed franchise renewal with the City reinforces the company’s commitment to the Public, Education and Government Access needs of the community with additional funding and our continued operation of the local public access channel. To meet the evolving needs of public access users and with advances in technology that provide more ways than ever to create and share content, we recently made upgrades to our system that give users the ability to digitally upload their programs for air. This change has been well-received by our users, the majority of whom create their content independently. We will continue to work with the City to address the needs of the few remaining public access users that currently utilize the studio to create content.”
Martorano, who remembers being “saddened” by the closure of the Yorktown studio, called the current situation “a darn shame.”
“It’s the end; no one’s going to go to Connecticut,” he said.
Galef represents the 95th District, which spans two counties and includes Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining, Peekskill in Westchester and Philipstown, Cold Spring and Kent in Putnam.
The Ossining resident, a former Westchester County legislator and teacher, said recently that she feels it would be “a real disservice” to any community facing a reduction in public access shows.
Equipment is expensive and beyond the financial reach of most potential local hosts, Galef said.
Altice, the assemblywoman said, has not been focusing on upgrading the studio’s equipment.
Even though it initially seemed supportive of keeping the studio available for public access programs, it “just wanted to get rid of it from Day One,” she said.
When asked what she would do if the Peekskill site becomes off limits, Galef said: ‘I have no idea. But I’m not going to Connecticut.”