The colorful Wa Du Shuda Days local festival in New Lisbon, Wisconsin is just one of many community events covered by the Lemonweir Valley Telcom (aka Lynxx) station. CEO Jim Costello takes pride in his station’s coverage of local news like that. “We’re rural. A lot of our market is Madison, but we’re 1 ½ hours away, and Madison not going to cover our stories. So we decided to do local, and that makes us unique.”
Lemonweir Valley Telcom has been a local phone company for more than a century. But these days, telecommunications means more than phone service. It means getting into broadband and IPTV. It means competing with the likes of DirecTV, Dish, and the cable companies. “But none of them are doing local,” says Costello, “The difficulty for a small company is – how do you put a channel together? The editing, cameras, going to events – that’s a lot of money. It’s not like you can charge your customers for that.”
So Costello went in search of a content collaborator, and found the perfect partner in a local video production company called Image Pictures, based in nearby Tomah. Image Pictures co-founder Peter Malinger picks up the story: “We wanted to focus on the good things that happen in our community. The Lynxx 24 TV tagline is ‘Connecting You to the Community’, and we felt a news broadcast would be the perfect vehicle for that. So we put together a team, held auditions, and showed them how to do TV. We don’t pay a huge amount of money, but people enjoy doing it. They have a passion for it.” Costello agrees: “I think every town is full of artistic creative people. I don’t think they’re that hard to find. They will do it because that’s what they love to do.”
Once people realized that making a news program could be fun, the Lynxx 24 news show staff grew from 4 to 14 in just a few years. On Thursday evenings they file into the studio – Image Pictures sets out some food – and in this collegial atmosphere, they put together a weekly news show. People get to see their friends and neighbors on TV, and their kids in sports. Costello says it’s what his customers want to see. “Someone will say ‘Did you see the game?’ They’ll say, ‘Where?’ On Lynxx 24. Our customers will say, ‘You gotta get Lynxx!” That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we do it. It’s fun to have a product that gets a lot of great reviews.”
Encouraged by the positive feedback, Lynxx expanded its programming to include shows like a science program produced by local teachers, and featured in the local press. It also covers football, wrestling, basketball, and parades. People love parades! Over time, Malinger decided that good news is not only popular, it sells too. Some of the production costs are defrayed by offering local businesses a chance to sponsor a show. The rest of the costs are covered by Lemonweir Valley Telcom, which pays Image Pictures an annual fee (“about equivalent to a single full-time employee position”) and covers the infrastructure costs, including their TelVue broadcast server.
Costello has a vision. “We want to be different. That’s what TelVue allows us to do – interface and bring local content to our viewers. That’s the biggest thing we have. With Gigabit fiber, we can stream everything. From the first of the year, we’re going to stream the news show live. We can bring a football game back into the studio to switch between multiple cameras, and record that directly to the TelVue server, 20 miles away, for playout. It opens up opportunities we haven’t had until now. This is going to change the game!”