Professional Development

Friday Q&A: Howard J. Blumenthal of MiND TV

The short-form public access station is being rebranded and reshaped. Will state budget cuts keep the transformation from happening?

Executive Director Howard Blumenthal is leading a rebrand campaign for MiND TV. (Courtesy Photo from MiND TV)
Updated: March 14, 2009 9 p.m. Added upcoming event.
Maybe you haven’t seen MiND: Media Independence.

Last May, WYBE, the public broadcasting station on channel 35, got a dramatic remodeling. It was part of a campaign by its new CEO Howard J. Blumenthal, somewhat of a legend in TV programming.
Stodgy and struggling WYBE became Web-based and forward-looking MiND, a short-form public access station. Anyone can produce one the channel’s shows, which often run in five-minute blocks and find themselves online, in addition to your TV. The angle was a smarter, crisper YouTube.
Update: Next week, you’ll be able to check out their digs during a free tour and film screen; details below.
Last year, MiND TV was going to revolutionize public broadcasting, now Blumenthal says it’s future is hanging perilously at the will of state funding.
In January, during his budget address, Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposed drastically cutting funding for the state’s public TV, in order to meet a budget gap. As Rendell’s budget makes it’s way through the state legislature, Blumenthal holds his breath.
If that funding blunder is rectified, Blumenthal said, MiND “will become an alternative form of public media, a model that sits beside PBS, but is fresher, faster, more closely connected to individuals and learning in the community, more fun, more accessible, more of-the-people than for-the-people.”
Below, watch Blumenthal describe MiND, and then read our interview with him to see what MiND has done, what it plans to do and why the TV legend who thought up Where in the World is Carmen Sandiegoand led the design of MTV ended up in Upper Roxborough.
Below see Blumenthal give an overview of MiND TV at Ignite Philly 2, held at Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown on Sept. 23, 2008.

Transcript of interview was edited for length and clarity.

  1. What would eliminating funds in the 2009-10 budget for the Pennsylvania Public Television Network mean for MiND TV?
    The impact would be devastating. We provide a public service whose budget would be cut by more than third, and so, we would no longer be able to provide MiND’s innovative, community-oriented services. Additionally, the path to innovation for public television would be cut.
  2. Membership is flat or down nationwide for TV and radio stations, why should we care about public broadcasting?
    Membership has fallen, but not by a huge margin. Most of the public continues to believe that public television and radio are worthy of significant support. We believe that the more innovative aspects of public media -MiND is one good example – are worthy of investment because they provide a path to greater relevance, greater participation, and greater connection to public education – all made possible through technologies only recently introduced. MiND is the only public station that is independent, provides community media training and access to resources, and tries everyday to level the playing field by maintaining an open forum for all perspectives on our airwaves. MiND is extremely unique as a broadcaster and as a non-profit trying to create and support community.
  3. What does MiND do for the Philadelphia region?
    For nearly 20 years, predominantly known by our call letters WYBE, we provided public media for audiences not well-served by the larger national public media organization. With MiND, we are international in scope, and we’re highly local as well. We offer training so that media can be made and media literacy and critical thinking can be part of our society. We do this for individuals, for schools, for college students, for nonprofit organizations. We provide a way for these stories to be told. If we’re gone, those stories don’t get told, and our community loses a valuable, independent, non-corporate forum.
  4. What have you done in your year with what was formerly WYBE?
    The past year has seen rapid progress. On May 15, 2008, we launched MiND, taking our public station into the realm of short-form community generated content. We have built and implemented new technologies to take our format multi-platform. We have served more than 300 people with our free member “Boot Camps,” launched our member equipment rental program, and our new advanced training classes. We partner with non-profits, schools and film festivals on a regular basis. This year has been a year of transformation for us, and we are looking forward to substantial growth and continued evolution in year two.
  5. How is technology and innovation involved?
    We have completely reconsidered the way in which a local public media outlet can operate, and technology has made this possible. We are a fully integrated TV and web operation. We make use of low-cost video servers – not large-scale television equipment. We produce programs on inexpensive MiniDV cameras and edit on inexpensive FinalCut Pro software on store-bought Apple computers. We operate at about one-tenth of the cost of other major market public media stations all because of the currently available technology. What’s more, we’ve designed and implemented our own automation software, making low-cost operation possible not only for our local setup, but also for other public media stations in other cities who are now considering the use of our model. Imagine a low cost, high impact public television and internet service where you can tell your stories. That’s what we’re building. An opportunity for students in our classrooms to communicate not only with other classrooms but with the entire world via television, the internet and other media. Simply put, shared learning is what we’re all about.
  6. You’ve had a fairly illustrious TV career. Why MiND? Why Philadelphia?
    It’s because Philadelphia is a remarkable place, and a new center of creativity. People are willing to try new things here, and we have a spectacular community here with over 100 colleges and universities in our service area. There’s also a long and deep history of philanthropy, lots of media success stories – like TV Guide and Comcast – and a lot of important stories to tell. We’re also a large enough market to get attention. It would be tough to launch and succeed with MiND in most other places.
  7. Does Philadelphia have any major role in public broadcasting innovation or technology from your view and use of it?
    Every day, we are introduced to new initiatives and ideas that were born and implemented in Philadelphia. It’s great to be a part of this wave of creative endeavors, and we’re hoping to work with as many innovators as possible as we build MiND.

Update: Next Thursday, March 19, MiND is opening its doors for a free open house and film screening. At4:30 p.m., those who RSVP to can check out their sleek headquarters at 8200 Ridge Avenue in Roxborough. Then at 6 p.m., see a free screening of 18 and Out, a film by MiND member Leontyne Anglin.
Every Friday, Technically Philly brings an interview with a leader or innovator in Philadelphia’s technology community. See others here.

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