NCTV17 turns to the City of Naperville to seek financial support

NCTV17 production vehicle in front of library building
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A long-standing nonprofit television station in the Naperville community is seeking financial help from the City of Naperville to help keep it afloat.

The Naperville City Council has directed city staff to look into potential sources and options for increased funding for Naperville Community Television (NCTV17).

Councilman Benny White made the request during the new business portion of the council’s meeting on Tuesday.

NCTV17 sees decreased revenue, cutbacks

White, who has served as a non-voting city council liaison on the NCTV17 board for seven years, noted that the television station is a nonprofit organization that has seen decreased revenue and cutbacks.

“They’ve basically over the last few years have gone from 21 FTEs (full-time employees) down to 13. So they’ve cut back quite a bit,” White said.

Rise of cord-cutting brings drop in funding for station

NCTV17 was founded in 1987 and provides local news, sports, and event coverage to the Naperville area as part of the cable industry’s Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) Access Channels.

Cable companies are required to pay 5% of their gross revenue to the city their local PEG channel serves. NCTV17 receives 1% of that 5% in Naperville.

That money makes up 30% of the station’s funding. 

In 2018, as the cord-cutting of cable began, PEG funds started to decline. Over the past six years, NCTV17 has seen a 22% drop in those funds, according to NCTV17 Executive Director Liz Spencer.

That, along with rising inflation costs affecting both operations and client commitments, has placed the station’s future in peril.

“We had the reduction in PEG and we were managing the budget and working on new revenue streams. Covering that loss was challenging enough, but with rising employee costs of 30% and the loss of two premier clients, all of that has contributed to this current crisis,” said Spencer.

Other funding sources for the station include production service, technical operations of the city’s government access channel WCNC, programmatic sponsorship, fundraising, and grants. But with funds stretched thin, the station is now seeking additional help.

“NCTV17 is looking for an investment from the city to help us stabilize operations as we seek other fundraising avenues. We have served the community for 37 years and now we find ourselves in a difficult financial time and we are asking one of our long-term partners for support,” said Spencer.

Careful evaluation needed

Councilman White said the station has done an “outstanding job,” but noted the difficulty it has in fundraising compared to other nonprofits with more humanitarian causes.

Councilman Patrick Kelly agreed that the station was a valuable asset to the community, but said greater consideration would be needed before agreeing to additional funding.

“I think we certainly have to evaluate any kind of request very carefully in terms of what’s being asked for and what the outlook might be longer, medium to longer term. If the city assists now we want to make sure those dollars aren’t wasted, if we’re going to be in the same problem a couple years from now,” Kelly said.

He also suggested getting input from Naperville School District 203 and Indian Prairie School District 204 due to the amount of high school sports coverage NCTV17 provides for the two.

Councilwoman Jennifer Bruzan Taylor requested that staff also provide data about what outsourcing some of the technical services NCTV17 provides to the city itself would cost.

Conservative asks in the past from NCTV17, says Holzhauer

Councilman Ian Holzhauer, who served as an NCTV17 board member prior to being elected to council, said that the station had been reluctant in the past to reach out to the city for additional funding, even when he as a junior board member had suggested making a bigger ask.

“The attitude the whole time was ‘nope, let’s just play it straight, let’s keep our request really conservative, let’s cut our budget where we can,’ it was never, ever to go to the city for more than they needed,” said Holzhauer.

He said he hoped that didn’t work against them with this current ask.

“I kind of hate to see that be used against them now, I think they were very wise about their money, they’ve made a lot of cuts over the years, I don’t think they’ve spent extravagantly, so I’d take their request pretty seriously now,” said Holzhauer.

Station in danger of closing its doors if status quo remains

Councilman Josh McBroom asked White about the urgency of the situation.

White responded, “My understanding quite frankly is they will probably end up having to close the doors if we…remain at the status quo.”

With a show of hands, all nine council members indicated support for city staff to look into possible funding options and return a report on the matter at the council’s June 18 meeting.