The hardest part of what we’re trying to do is compensating people (ourselves included) fairly for the work we do as part of creating DIY Television. This is both a matter of being fair to the people we are working with and also building an environment for the creation and distribution of independent media which can sustain beyond the time donations of the people who start it.
Making at least some money is a practical necessity of our movement, because this movement has to sustain and succeed when the ones that came before it failed. Financing is what toppled or otherwise undid so many of the previous DIY TV movements.
So, be up front about it. Your network will have a website. Make it obvious on that website that you need money, what that money will go to, how much money you get to keep out of each of the various options you make available, etc. etc. etc. Have options for your viewers and for businesses in your community to pay you.
Accept cash and paypal. Consider setting up a patreon style subscription for behind the scenes access, etc, but also just accept funding from people directly. Sell merch, sell ads.
You’re providing a service, and you should be paid for it. It’s okay (important, even) to request compensation.
We run advertisements. Our target is roughly 2 minutes of ads per half hour of video (although we frequently broadcast less.) We sell these advertisements to businesses and individuals in our community that we believe are values aligned with our goals. We are not a public access network, we do editorialize who we will allow to advertise with us.
Selling ads can be hard while you’re building up your initial viewers, and bootstrapping can be complex. Our strategy to mitigate this bootstrapping problem has followed this basic outline:
- We approached 10 businesses in town and offered three months of advertising them for free in exchange for them running our live stream on one of their TVs (or for letting us install a TV to run the live stream.)
- We approached the local chamber of commerce to show our live stream in their lobby, produce original content for us, and to promote showing our stream and advertising on it to other local businesses in the community
- On the strength of those 10 installations in businesses around town, we began selling advertisements to other businesses (and, in each case, we made the same “3 months free” offer, because expanding our viewer base is as valuable as getting new revenue right now)
So far, this has worked very well! Our reception has been a little overwhelming, and people seem to be genuinely excited about the material that we’re making available.
Learn to screen print. It’s much easier than it seems at first glance (although prepping a screen for the first time can be frustrating. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to produce 100+ t-shirts or posters in a day.)
You don’t really need any special equipment to produce screen printed t-shirts, although a way to expose your screens to UV, and a way to heat set the ink from your shirts quickly are useful.
Make a shirt for every original show you produce, make “fan club” shirts for your actors or characters, make a shirt or two for your network. Make slogan shirts, etc. etc. etc. Produce them on demand in house if you can.
We also work with a local antique mall that allows hand made goods. We sell our posters, shirts, DVD samplers, etc. from a bookshelf at that antique mall. This might not work well in your community, but it has worked well in ours.
We make stickers. We started making them in house, printing from an inkjet printer on to vinyl sticker paper and trimming them by hand. That’s exhausting. Now we order rolls of 3×3 “labels” from Sticker Mule. We sell stickers, we give stickers away with other orders, we leave some for free in the businesses that run our stream. This has proven Incredibly effective at spreading the word.
We print a zine called TV Forecast. It’s about our TV shows, and our production techniques. Some of the sections of this book were adapted from (or have been adapted for) TV Forecast. We sell copies for $2, and consign them through businesses throughout town.
What good is television that no one watches? We’re building a movement to transform communities through the power of participatory media and that means we need people watching television. There are two big components in finding new viewers: 1) They have to know you exist 2) They have to care.
Make propaganda: stickers, flyers, and posters. Put them up all over town. Talk to local businesses and try to set up your stream there. Run commercials for yourself on your platform.
Have a website. Publish regular blog posts and run a newsletter (we use tinyletter, but that is not an endorsement.) Send out an email blast once or twice a month about what you’re doing, what you’re airing, and why. Keep talking about Why (they have to care.)
Send press releases to your local paper (if you still have one) about what you’re doing and why.
Wear shirts with the logo of your network. Carry business cards. Talk to people, hand them out.
In my experience, people absolutely LOVE the idea of DIY TV, and will be very interested in learning more, but you have to give them an action to take. Make it obvious when they engage with something you’ve created as to what their next steps can and should be. (Our flyers say things like Find us On Roku. Subscribe online. Make TV With US. Advertise With Us. etc. etc.)