Why the future of Channel 31 is brighter than ever
No, community broadcaster Channel 31 isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.
Channel 31 – now known as C31 – was scheduled to go off air on December 31, after a 2014 government decision was made to close the self-funded network and bring 22 years of television broadcast to a close.
But an announcement from the Federal Minister for the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield, brought some relief for C31 staff, volunteers and producers alike – extending the channel’s free-to-air broadcast license for six months.
The uncertainty of the channel’s broadcasting future has caused an uproar amongst the giant community media hub in Melbourne, who argue that organisations like C31 act as a springboard for young people to build their careers.
The likes of Rove McManus, Amy Parks, Hamish and Andy, Merrick and Rosso, Peter Helliar and Corrine Grant all had their start on Channel 31, before launching successful commercial television and media careers.
Board Director of C31, Laura Racky, says the value of the broadcast spectrum that C31 owns is ultimately what is driving its forced closure.
“We were dealt a pretty shocking blow with the decision by the minister to not renew our license to broadcast on TV,” she says.
“The reason we were given was so it could be sold to commercial free-to-air channels, or subscription TV providers to run tests. The government knows that there is a lot of money involved in the spectrum we access, and that other community broadcasters access.”
But regardless of the six-month extension, Racky and other board members are also eager to clarify the misconceptions which have lingered over the future of C31.
“We want to let the community know that we’re not going anywhere, and there are actually many very exciting projects that are coming up in the future.”
A organisation renowned for providing access, C31 will continue to give opportunity to marginalised members of the community by moving online and adapting to the ever-changing way people consume media content.
“We’ve realised that it’s very difficult for a community broadcaster to compete with big players,” says General Manager of C31, Matt Field.
“But where we plan to really make an impact is by exposing community television content on social media platforms, to not only the Melbourne region but now to people around the world.”
With a brand new, on demand streaming platform for the channel now available online as well as a smartphone app for Apple and Android users, viewers will be able to access the entire backlog of C31 at any time, in any location.
“Fundamentally, we’re not really changing,” Field says.
“All that is changing is the way that our content is being distributed.”
As part of the many new offerings Channel 31 are providing, the station have begun to build a video service, where they will assist community groups and small non-for-profit businesses to get their content off the ground.
“Our role next year will be to give producers and volunteers, who otherwise might not have had a good grasp of technology, the tools to understand and turn their ideas into a reality.”
The channel has already started this service, facilitating the creation of a television show for the South Sudanese community in Melbourne.
“This community has been dealing with issues that the media have perpetuated; stereotypes, gangs and violence,” he says.
“So by giving them the support, training and facilities to produce this program, they will be able to tell their stories and communicate with the South Sudanese community across the country.”
Channel 31 are also on their way to becoming the first, non-for-profit YouTube certified organisation, meaning that C31’s content will be distributed and operate from one of the biggest online platforms around the globe.
“We’ve been working with YouTube Australia and they’ll be making available workshops for volunteers,” Field says.
“There are a vast number of people logging onto these platforms, and we want content from multicultural groups, people with disabilities, young people and all other voices that may otherwise never be heard to be out there, for all to see and appreciate.”
The community station, which receives no Government funding to operate, relies solely on sponsorship and a dedicated volunteer base to run on a daily basis.
The annual revenue of C31 sits at around 2 million dollars per year – in comparison, the commercial Nine Network amasses over 900 million dollars in revenue annually.
“I think what’s really been interesting for me is that people think this station is a juggernaut,” Racky says.
“Like any other TV station, people think there must be hundreds of people that work there, when in fact it is our huge volunteer base that drives the station. We are very thankful for the people that come in every day, without pay, to help produce amazing content.”
Many flagship television programs are produced in the C31 studios, including music video show, 1700, which gives young people the opportunity to build skills in the media industry, gain in studio experience and interview musicians live on broadcast television.
1700 host Aimee Craig is an aspiring television presenter, and believes that she would not have been able to network and develop her presenting skills without the opportunity afforded by the station.
“I've always been outgoing and quite confident but wasn't sure what I wanted to do in life,” she says.
“Because of 1700, it's helped me understand that there is a way to break into the media. I no longer worry about getting practical experience because it has been provided to me in such an encouraging environment. Channel 31 is vital for young people – it not only gives me hope that one day I could be a TV presenter, but it is also giving young people a chance to follow their dreams.”
While the broadcasting future of the channel currently remains unclear, the station is showing no signs of slowing down. With an exciting future of online broadcasting ahead, the sense of community and comradery amongst staff and volunteers is more evident now than ever.
By Julia Sansone