Monday May 28, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Southwestern Vermont's public access television station, CAT-TV, celebrated 20 years on the air with commemorative balloons and a special two-hour live broadcast from downtown Bennington during Mayfest.

In the midst of directing Saturday's live cablecast, Executive Director Lisa Byer said the station had seen consistent growth through the past two decades: From one channel to three, from a staff of three to six. In the process, they've also gone digital, high definition, and live and on-location -- including Mayfest and the Bennington Battle Day Parade.

"I think that, as with anything, we need to evolve and change," Byer said, queried about the future, where she says public access television will still play an important role. "We don't have a local affiliate."

A community needs assessment survey conducted last year found that many residents in CAT-TV's viewing area turn to it, in particular for coverage of town meetings. "It's nice to know people are watching," Byer said.

A recent renewal of CAT-TV's contract with Comcast Cable will provide continued funding for the public access station through 2017.

At the same time, the 2011 survey found areas to improve on -- like explaining public access television, and how to get involved. "One thing we learned was people didn't really know what we were about," Byer continued. "One thing we're trying to work on is promoting the opportunities ... and being proactive about getting out there."

Last year's survey resulted in an action plan with practical goals, like more outreach. As opposed to the "old model" based on the idea that public television "shows what people bring in," Byer said CAT-TV was attempting to lower the barriers of entry and draw more people by providing more complete technical assistance.

Byer said CAT-TV filled many outlets for those involved, including creative and free speech, with some "people (who) come because they've got a creative vision.

Other people want to learn more" about the technical aspects of production, she said. "And other people want to cover events (to find out) what's going on in the community."

An invite-only event at the Bennington Museum next month for members and supporters will continue the 20th celebrations.

Membership with CAT-TV is free for individuals who live, work, or go to school in the station's viewing area of Bennington, North Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury, and Woodford.

Free orientation sessions -- the first step to becoming involved -- are scheduled regularly, including an evening session this upcoming Wednesday, June 13.

For more information about orientation or membership, call CAT-TV at (802) 442-8868.

Contact @Zeke_Wright on Twitter or ewright@benningtonbanner.com