Tuning into spirit of public-access TV

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Volunteers at 8 Ball TV invest their blood, sweat and tears for no compensation — other than knowing they’re providing a totally free and open visual platform for anyone on Earth to broadcast worldwide. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY DENNIS LYNCH | A Soho-based nonprofit has launched an entirely independent online television station and its looking for your content to fill the airwaves. The new station, 8 Ball TV, is a totally open platform for all kinds of content that hearkens back to public-access cable TV stations of the past. It operates with a simple philosophy — “no censorship, no prejudice, no hierarchy, no advertisements, no limits.”

“The idea is to have a voice that comes truly from the people, to have a space to show their work and watch other people’s work without boundaries, like most online TV has,” Lele Saveri, 8 Ball Community Inc. co-founder, said. “We want to give people a space exactly like public access, in that anyone can go there and speak their mind publicly online.”

The all-volunteer 8 Ball TV team built the platform entirely in-house and from the ground up. It started as an app that tapped into a YouTube channel. However, that forced them to show YouTube ads along with their videos. So, instead, they built a straightforward Web site and program to host the videos.

That format reduces 8 Ball’s reliance on outside resources and frees them from service terms or censorship policies of those outside platforms, giving the team complete creative control over what they broadcast.

They’re free to show anything they want, so long as they legally have a right to show it. Content creators retain the right to their videos. The only thing 8 Ball won’t allow is branded or commercial content.

So far, they have broadcast some cam-girl pseudo-porn and a video that shows how to skin a whole hog. It’s on late night on Thursdays, if you’re wondering. The porn, that is. They’ve set up the station to run videos based on local time, so content scheduled for 3 p.m. comes on at 3 p.m. local time, no matter where in the world you are.

The founders of 8 Ball have carried that D.I.Y. philosophy with all their projects since they first organized to host events at a Brooklyn pool hall in 2012 to help the place boost business. They host a zine fair every year, plus founded the similarly open 8 Ball online radio station in 2014, and host film screenings, talks, workshops and other events.

8 Ball TV operates just like a traditional TV station — with a schedule, no fast-forwarding, and no on-demand viewing. You can’t surf through stations or video categories, so whatever’s on is on. The only way to choose what you watch is to choose when you watch.

It may seem restrictive at first, but it feels more laidback than surfing Netflix or cable, because you don’t have to make any decisions. Volunteer Emerson Rosenthal recalled that the seemingly billions of stations that came with the advent of the cable box have never really satisfied many viewers. Even with all those stations, and now Netflix, YouTube and countless other online content portals, it can still seem like there’s nothing to watch, he said.

“For a time, it made it a lot harder to watch because you all of a sudden had this matrix of available TV content,” Rosenthal said. “That’s what online streaming sites are now faced with — where you want a little bit of structure instead of swimming through the red tides of Netflix for an hour and a half before you settle on something to watch. What we’re saying is there is something to watch.”

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Tommi Kelly demonstrates how to use one of the cameras that 8 Ball TV lends out to budding filmmakers.

They want student films, art films, independent series, talk shows, documentaries. Anything and everything is fair game, so long as it’s at least 15 minutes long or can be compiled into at least 15 minutes. They have equipment and a simple studio setup for folks who lack them, so even people without any real experience are invited to get involved. A lot of the content currently on 8 Ball is art or focused on art, but Saveri said that’s not at all a requirement.

“We are contacting people to do how-to videos, their own shows, cooking shows, news reports every week — nothing to do with art, necessarily,” he said. “We want something truly like a public-access station. A show on chess, for example, is not art in any way, but it’s very interesting. It may be a more artistic crowd in the beginning, but that’s not all we want.”

Public-access television stations are the legally mandated stations that cable providers must offer for community use at the local level. They have faded somewhat in the popular consciousness as creators turn to the Internet to share content. Yet for decades public-access TV was the most effective visual outlet and the best resource available to the general public to share content directly with their communities, especially if they had no media experience.

Actor Kaci Hamilton, who has never hosted a TV show before, is behind 8 Ball’s first regular in-house studio show.

“The Dialectic” is a roundtable show for discussing sometimes tough and thought-provoking questions. She got involved with the 8 Ball community on the advice of a friend to get equipment to do the show as a podcast or on 8 Ball radio. But she jumped at the chance to make it a TV show when they offered to help her produce it in that format.

The pilot episode asked, “If you don’t or are unwilling to satisfy your partner’s sexual needs and you cheat, is that adultery justified?”

It’s perfect for 8 Ball — a discussion you won’t hear on cable TV and one that many people won’t necessarily seek out online, but that 8 Ball’s model will expose them to. Hamilton isn’t aiming for a definitive answer, only a discussion — she just wants to get those unconventional conversations out there, she said.

“I think we talk about such superficial fluff all the time,” she said. “But people don’t talk about these kinds of things because they don’t want to offend or get heated about something. I think a lot of current programming filters things based on how we will receive it as an audience. It’s sort of having the food cut up for us when we’re old enough to bite off a piece — just give it to us unfiltered.”

Rapper TRock, DJ Flacko and Joe Jeffers have hosted the hip-hop show “D-Lo Radio” on 8 Ball Radio for about a year now, but are eagerly moving over to TV. The music show is an outlet “for people who don’t have access to the market or professional tools,” particularly for folks with developmental disabilities, Jeffers said.

They collaborate with the Representing NYC network of artists and educators, and Flacko said he hopes that broadcasting video will build “D-Lo” ’s audience and help him and his co-hosts connect more strongly with their audience. It should help them source fellow artists, too, he said.

“People can follow us and know who we are, and then they can come do shows,” he said. “We want to get new talent, people who sing, DJ and produce.”

In addition to content-creators, the folks at 8 Ball are looking for anyone who wants to volunteer their time to make 8 Ball TV better, including coders, video editors and people to help source more content. To send in content, e-mail [email protected] and for all other inquiries, e-mail [email protected]

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