Act. Build. Learn. Repeat: Alaska Public’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

by Kelsey Savage, PBS Interactive 

The last place you’d expect a television station with a professional grade studio, rich history, and skilled studio technicians to look for inspiration is the indie and amateur filmmaker crowd that populates YouTube and Vimeo. Yet, that’s exactly what Alaska Public Television is wisely doing.

About a year ago, if you’d tuned into Alaska Public, you’d find a PBS stream with virtual pledge programs. According to Slavik Boyechko, APTI’s Membership Manager, “Any kind of local production would be kept in the studio or would be too cost-prohibitive to even consider.” The station had exhausted its supply of documentary films about Alaska, the bulk of what local viewers were interested in, and didn’t have the capital to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a professional-grade film. Instead of throwing in the towel and discounting their commitment to “inspire Alaskans with stories of their time and place”, the station adopted a start-up mindset.

To help with this initiative, employees stepped outside of their formal job descriptions and embraced an experimental attitude. For instance, despite not having a webmaster, Alaska Public’s website is one of the top five most trafficked sites in the state due to a station-wide commitment to establishing an online presence.

As Membership Manager, Boyechko used the Internet to teach himself how to code, develop Wordpress sites, and gain basic graphic design skills. He even became a de facto filmmaker. To tackle video production, Boyechko read blogs and online forums offering advice to novice filmmakers and was able to secure some DSLR cameras for the station (they’re relatively cheap and used by lots of indie filmmakers). The station started small, first producing TV spots and pledge breaks, but eventually worked their way up to a 30 minute documentary about a funky, local fashion show, Object Runway.

Now, according to Boyechko, Alaska Public is looking to “[produce] weekly video programs for TV and web, generate new revenue with video-produced underwrite spots, and establish our television station as the home for local up-and-coming filmmakers.” This is exactly the kind of spirit and ingenuity that will allow PBS, member stations, and broadcast companies in general to stay relevant and adapt to the changing digital landscape. 

If other stations are looking to replicate Alaska Public’s dive into local film production, Boyechko suggests joining the online and local filmmaker community. “Spend every waking hour learning everything you can, and then go out and produce, produce, produce. Some folks get caught up on the camera/audio gear, and while that's an important aspect, it's more fruitful to borrow equipment (or use what you've got) and start learning to make videos,” he recommends.  Essentially, he is PBS Interactive’s motto personified: Act. Build. Learn. Repeat.