FARMINGTON — Mt. Blue TV (MBTV), the nonprofit public access station with its studio based out of the University of Maine at Farmington campus, is providing the community with the opportunity to watch live events from town select board meetings to Mt. Blue basketball games.

“The pandemic dealt us a hand and we’re dealing with it, but we’re not going away,” Mt. Blue TV Executive Director JP Fortier said during a Zoom interview. “And just the fact that we can utilize technology like Zoom, being able provide coverage of the basketball games, it feels really good. Right now, we really are a resource to the community.” 

When the Maine Principal’s Association released winter sport guidelines that included no spectators at games due to COVID-19 precautions, Fortier sent a camera crew to the Mt. Blue High School to livestream basketball games.

Mt. Blue basketball camera operator Jacob Fortier at Mt. Blue High School last year. No spectators are allowed at games this winter due to COVID-19, but Mt. Blue TV has continued to livestream games to its website and Facebook page for fans. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Blue TV

“We have gotten some great feedback about the live-streamed games on MBTV,” Mt. Blue athletic director Chad Brackett said in an email. “JP, Andre (Cormier), and the whole crew do a wonderful job getting our games out to those who can not be here to watch them live. Mt. Blue fans from Florida to the mid-western states who have been able to watch the Cougars play have let us know how happy they are with the service.”

Fortier said that basketball games have received over 700 views.

“There’s a lot going on with community access television that people maybe don’t know about or at least don’t know as well as they could,” MBTV board president Stan Wheeler said in a phone interview. 

The TV station has also continued to provide access to Farmington and Wilton’s select board meetings and Franklin County’s commissioner meetings. With Farmington selectmen approving 2021’s town meeting to be held by referendum vote, Fortier is exploring options for MBTV to host a public hearing in which residents could call in with questions for town officials.

Mt. Blue TV Executive Director JP Fortier has been with the public access station since its establishment in 2000. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Blue TV

“We try to do as much as we can with what little we have. We’re always looking to expand,” Fortier said who has been the director of MBTV since its inception 20 years ago.

The station is also relaunching its cooking show with Wheeler, “The Simple Gourmet” which is shot in Wheeler’s kitchen and directs viewers through his favorite recipes such as a smashed Japanese cucumber salad and hot and sour soup.

Wheeler has also been involved with MBTV since its establishment by serving on the board and emphasized the importance of the station creating its own content.

“One of the things that the station clearly needs is station-produced programming and in the pandemic, it’s harder to do that,” Wheeler said. “They’re still doing Tom Saviello’s show, “Talkin’ Maine with the Bowtie Boy” but that’s almost all. We need locally produced content.”

Fortier plans on utilizing Zoom to relaunch the Western Maine Storytellers’ show “Telling Tales” hosted by Rob Lively who showcases different storytellers and their craft.

“People are still very wary about going out in public, but we’re hoping to utilize Zoom and get that program going again,” Fortier said.

Yet another option for station-produced content are projects initiated by sponsors who through their support have the station’s resources available to them. The Farmington Diner recently became a MBTV sponsor and owner Rachel Jackson is planning a show that would showcase tales about the iconic town diner and its patrons.

The station also seeks support from businesses who have the option to either become basic or premier members. MBTV provides basic members with advertising by including a shoutout and business logo display during aired programming and for premier members, the station will produce promotional content for the business.

“We’ll produce a video for them and feature that video on the channel along with online and livestreams,” Fortier said. “And the nice thing about that is we’re willing to let them use that video and use it on their own social media or if they want to play it down at the movie theaters or whichever.” 

Part of the public access concept of MBTV is that community members also have the station as a resource. Anyone can request equipment tutorials and rentals and produce a show at the studio.

“We do have the word access where people can actually come in, learn how to use equipment and make their own programming…especially right now during the pandemic, we wouldn’t be able to do the access part as easily but typically if anybody ever wanted to borrow equipment, we could give them training and they could do so,” Fortier said. 

District 18 State Senator Lisa Keim, left, hosts “Our Towns,” a show produced by Mt. Blue TV in which she interviews locals such as Kenny Jacques, middle, and Joel Gilbert, right, from the Jay and Livermore Falls area. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Blue TV

To offer such services, MBTV relies primarily on franchise fees, a 3-5% kickback revenue fund provided to towns from cable companies using the municipality’s infrastructure to run cable lines to its customers. Farmington, Wilton, Jay and Livermore Falls all forward those franchise fees directly to MBTV.

The decreasing trend of cable subscribers directly impacts MBTV and the station is looking for more members and donations. It may expand to individual membership programs.

“The big hit for us during the pandemic was the memberships and sponsorshipsThrough the pandemic, we lost about a good $20,000,” Fortier said about the station’s budget that averages $130,000.

Fortier said that it is truly a community effort — the ongoing support of members, towns contributing their franchise fees, volunteers hosting shows and the studio space that UMF has graciously offered — that keeps MBTV alive.

To learn more about Mt. Blue TV and watch programming, visit the station’s website at http://www.mtbluetv.org/ and its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MBTV11/.


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