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Public Access Underwriting – A How-To Primer


So you have the RVTV Underwriting Policy in hand. This gives you the rules of the road, but what steps must you take to actually put it into practice?

The point of underwriting on a non-commercial television program isn’t the “hard sell” TV advertising we are accustomed to on network television. Not only is it not allowed, it goes against the spirit of community-building that we’re here for.

Instead, underwriting is a ‘means’ to allow individuals, organizations and businesses in our area to fulfill the ‘ends’ of sponsoring compelling, engaging and relevant programming that educates, entertains and/or enlightens.

Thus an underwriting ‘spot’ or 15-second video clip really signifies a sort of ‘donation to the cause’ that tells the viewing public that the underwriting individual, organization or business is helping to sustain local programming.

As we all know, locally-oriented media in various forms has experienced a significant decline, whether in print, on the radio, over broadcast television and with PEG (public, education & government) access cable TV. A recent Pew study confirms that readers/viewers are putting down the paper and turning away from the channel when locally-produced, relevant content disappears from the ink or from the screen.  Simply put, media consumers know when they’re being fed cookie-cutter national content devoid of community involvement.

When you approach a person, non-profit or company with your pitch to support your local stand-alone program or episodic series of programs, you are not just playing up the content you intend to produce; you are selling the very idea that media produced here in the Rogue Valley (or Southern Oregon or the State of Jefferson if you’re setting your sights more regionally) has an intrinsic value itself.

Do remember that you are not representing Rogue Valley Community Television or the Southern Oregon Digital Media Center when pitching your underwriting – you are representing yourself as the producer of your public access programming.


So now that you know the ‘why’ behind Public Access underwriting, how do you go about actually doing it?

The first place you should start is by assessing the needs of the individual (doctor or lawyer), organization (charity, school) or business (likely a local mom ‘n pop) in terms of how well they are communicating their message to the local public and what else they need in this regard.

Your program should not be tailored to this need – RVTV does not do ‘pay to play’ programming – but you can target your potential underwriters by figuring out whether they would want their endeavors associated with the program you are producing already.

Are you making a live music show? Local musical instrument stores, CD/vinyl shops, nightclubs and the like are your natural audience. Producing an outdoors-oriented ‘get back to nature’ sort of program? Perhaps a gear shop or camping-type store would work. Use common sense, and use the social networks you’ve built up in the community (another way in which proper use of Social Media tools is vital).


Your first meeting with the prospective underwriter should never be a pitch. You are there to further assess their potential interest in the program itself, and to see whether community media is (or could be) important to them. Introduce yourself as an independent producer (either representing yourself or your production crew, not RVTV) and establish a relationship.

One to two weeks after this initial contact, see if you can meet with the potential underwriter during a time that is convenient and non-busy for them. Provide them with a one-sheet summary of your program or series, which should include:

–          A general description of the content featured on your show

–          The target audience of your program

–          Names and bios on the leading talent featured

–          How often you intend to produce episodes, if applicable

The pitch should consist of a simple promise of what you would provide in exchange for X production support (X being a figure which represents the off-set of direct expenses you incur in making the program). Basically, it’s a 15-second spot, played either at the beginning or the end of the program (or every half-hour if it’s a program longer than 60 minutes), which you are offering to produce on their behalf. Your offer of underwriting production may include the following details:

–          A value-neutral video of a product, service or location;

–          The non-gratuitous description of what the underwriter is offering;

–          All relevant contact information for the underwriter (address, phone, web);

–          Most importantly, a ‘thanks’ or acknowledgement of the support the underwriter is offering to produce the non-commercial program.

Whomever you speak with, carry yourself with the highest-possible professionalism you can muster.  If they say ‘no’ now, they may say ‘yes’ later once they see that others are jumping in to support your efforts. Burning bridges is never a good idea when it comes to building community support.


If the answer is ‘yes’ you are off and running! Just make sure that your terms are mutually clear and in writing, and that you complete your Underwriting Spot to the complete satisfaction of both parties involved (as well as conforming to the RVTV Underwriting Policy).

You should plan out your shoot ‘on location’ (if that’s what you’ve agreed to) with the same care and attention to pre-production details and crew/equipment needs as you would to your own show. Meeting the highest quality standards up front will save you potential headaches later with re-shoots and re-edits.

Please give RVTV a call at (541) 552-6898 if you have further questions.