CPTV may not be able to show you big-time UConn women's basketball anymore, but how about your local Little League tournament? Or some Ultimate Frisbee? Stafford Motor Speedway racing? Or perhaps the state's best fishing holes?
You won't find this 24/7 programming on your regular CPTV channel. We're talking "CPTV Sports," the new and improved reincarnation of the old Connecticut Sports Network known as CTSN.
This expanded version is being shown statewide on six different cable networks and digitally on the air on channels in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven.
If you've ever been channel-grazing through the upper reaches of your cable provider's offerings and come across some Connecticut high school football or roller derby or local college field hockey, it's probably CPTV Sports.
"We try and touch on everything we can with sports in Connecticut," explains Bob Yalen, director of CPTV Sports. As the state's only 24-hour local sports network, Yalen's operation now involves coverage of more than 40 schools, organizations and professional sports teams like the Connecticut Sun, this state'sWomen's National Basketball Associationfranchise.
No one at Connecticut Public Broadcasting is pretending all this local sports stuff will replace the now-lost University of Connecticut women's basketball games that were a CPTV mainstay for nearly two decades. UConn decided in May to accept a bid from New York-based SNY, which can offer 14 million viewers compared to the one million homes that watched the games on CPTV.
CPTV is now scrambling, as is almost every other public TV station in the nation, to come up with alternative forms of programming and financing that will allow them to survive competition from cable and network television.
The UConn connection did bring CPTV millions of contributions from viewers and corporate sponsors. But there were also heavy fees and extra programming costs (estimated at about $1.5 million annually), so station officials say the loss of the hugely popular UConn games isn't as financially hideous as it might seem.
The biggest loss is likely to be in viewership. How much CPTV Sports can help in that area is something of a mystery at the moment because there's no formal way to measure ratings.
Prior to last November, when public broadcasting's three-year-old CTSN was expanded into CPTV Sports, the programs were only on two cable systems and it really wasn't worth the cost to get viewer ratings. Yalen says the station now expects to start paying for ratings in the near future.
Until then, Yalen is relying on feedback from viewers in the form of e-mails, telephone calls and personal contacts from people at events. He believes there are lots of folks tuning in: "Parents who want to watch their kids play… and kids who want to watch their games." Coaches also use the coverage to scout players and upcoming opponents, Yalen says.
Yalen used to work for the Mohegan Sun casino and before that spent 26 years in sports television with ESPN and ABC Sports. His current job is a little more down to earth.
Carol Sisco, a CPTV vice president, says the budget for the expanded sports network will be about $500,000 for the coming year — a whole lot less than what the station was spending on UConn basketball.
At the moment, CPTV Sports has just two full-time employees: Yalen himself and his production guy, Joe Coss. "We use a lot of interns," he explains, adding his network also relies on experienced freelance camera operators on an event-by-event basis.
"We'll go out about five times a week to get original programming," Yalen explains.
Some games or sports programs might be aired six or seven times, and the rest of the round-the-clock schedule is filled with documentaries and coaches' shows and whatever other sports-related programming Yalen can come up with.
The documentaries can range from Ken Burns' "Baseball," a big-time history of the national pastime that was first aired on CPTV's regular stations, to shows filmed and produced by CPTV or local colleges and universities.
One great thing about this sort of local programming is that the people running it are big on responding to feedback from viewers. In fact, says Yalen, he loves viewer suggestions about what sort of things CPTV Sports should be offering.
"I'm constantly getting e-mails saying, 'Why not do a fishing show or why not do this,'" he says. "And we've taken some of those suggestions."
Right now, for example, Yalen says he's got camera dudes out shooting a series on Connecticut's best fishing holes.
No, it's not UConn women's basketball or Barney, the big purple dinosaur that CPTV turned into a national phenomenon. But CPTV Sports does seem to be catching on, according to Yalen.
"All I know from what I'm hearing … is that people are watching," says Yalen. "If nobody was calling up complaining or making suggestions, then I'd worry."