Minneapolis Television Network’s studio is moving, and it’s not without the help of men in drag baking and laughter yoga.
A 27-hour fundraising marathon of diverse acts raised more than $5,700 in public donations over the weekend to help the local-access network move its St. Anthony Main home base to northeast Minneapolis this spring.
And beyond gaining the new neighborhood’s artsy, mom-and-pop-shop vibe, the station’s relocation comes amid a financially shaky time, as recent budget cuts have forced downsizing and new talks on the future of cable TV.
“We’re kind of at a turning point,” MTN board member Nancy Brown said. “We’re realizing that the technology has advanced a lot. The needs of the community have changed.”
The station, which went live more than 30 years ago, offers media training and programming for members, from youth to retirees, and airs wacky entertainment sketches and news discussions for Comcast subscribers on channels 16, 17 and 75.
The telethon flirted with the bizarre.
Trippy-screen animations, time lapses of boat docks, monster-truck footage and the re-emergence of the “Freaky Deaky Show” filled screens for hours as donations ranging from $10 to hundreds of dollars streamed in.
To garner funds, hosts boasted network favorites like “Viva and Jerry’s Country Music Videos,” which features a husband-wife pair playing bar games and tinkering with household knickknacks, and alcohol-infused talk show “Drinking with Ian.”
But the shows exist in a changing era for media consumption as similar local-access stations are shuttering nationwide due to audiences moving away from cable TV.
“There’s so many different services out there now, media services,” MTN executive director Michael Fallon said. “Cable is kind of an outmoded model.”
The city’s budget, passed in 2012, set aside the station’s lowest subsidy in at least nine years, with skepticism from Minneapolis officials over MTN’s content and importance.
Artistic expression and providing a free space for anyone to access broadcasting equipment and perform are huge assets to the community, said Paige Tighe, MTN marketing and outreach manager.
According to a 2013 report by the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, the local public access model is surviving. More than 40 percent of St. Paul cable subscribers watched some portion of its programming.
MTN viewership, on the other hand, is challenging to track, Fallon said. It’s a project the station will attack after its move.
The northeast move will put the network in the black next year, he said, which will leave budget room for conversations on a new business model.
A loan from the city’s Department of Community Planning and Economic Development and a city grant are helping support the move. The new studio has special equipment for “quick-and-dirty” productions to keep up with the instantaneous trends of digitized media.
With makeshift beds nestled under their work desks, MTN staff and volunteers pushed through the marathon of experimental television starting at sundown Friday and ending at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Camera-ready performers waited for their minutes of local fame in the studio’s motley-painted lobby as African folk tunes and gabfests preceded a five-hour static shot of a guy sleeping.
It was programming manager David Paul, who bought an air mattress just for the occasion and tried catching some shut-eye while fielding donors’ calls while on TV.
And even into the obscure hours of the night, his phone kept ringing with money-giving viewers on the other line.
“I think this is our last push,” Paul said. “We’ll either be around for a few more years, or not.”
Jessica Lee is a University of Minnesota student reporting for the Star Tribune.