MTN deals with $90,000 budget cut, network’s executive director to resign in March


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 city’s budget passed in December.  That has fueled an already tense relationship with Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office.

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

“The city is very interested in talking about the future of public access and we’re hoping the new director will be a new partner with the city,” Colby said.

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

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

Rybak’s 2012 city budget initially proposed a $250,000 funding cut to MTN — nearly a third of the network’s 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 MTN’s supporters.

“I 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,” Glidden said.

Several city officials said MTN’s facilities are underused and the network has too many employees.

Larsen said the network’s leaders are still figuring out how the cut will affect it. They will likely reduce studio hours and employees will work fewer hours. But MTN’s programs shouldn’t be affected, he said.

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

“[MTN’s] Somali language programming has essentially turned into the go-to place for the Somali community to find out news,” she said, “and that’s just one example.”

Larsen said the network is “really the main medium of communication” for Minnesota’s Somali community.

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

Glidden also supports MTN’s 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 mayor’s office maintains a “professional relationship” with MTN. He said almost every city office received a cut because the budget didn’t 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 Comcast’s 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 MTN’s 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.

“The Internet is everything,” Colby said.

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

“It will be a hard place to be, but we have a lot going for us,” Colby said. “We can grow from a lot of directions.”