BTV without TV
Secured club’s focus and funds shift away from original purposes
Published: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 05:10
In 2002, Brandeis Television, better known as BTV, won a successful bid to gain status as a secured club from the Student Union. As a result, the club, which was described in a November 2002 Justice article as a "24-hour cable television network available only to the Brandeis campus," acquired an annual budget of $14,500, using the money to purchase camera equipment, expand broadcasting of the channel's two original series and further ensure that the channel provides an "optimal rate of production and entertainment and service to the community," said former BTV president Nate Westheimer '05 in a 2002 interview with the Justice.
Nine years later, with an annual budget of $17,000, BTV today looks quite different from the BTV of 2002.
In the years after the club became secured, BTV produced several new series including BTV Cribs, which showcased the best decorated dorms and suites; Bamboozled by Brandeis, a show about the history of Brandeis; The Beat, a weekly show about arts, news, and culture; and Slice ‘n Deis, a fictional comedy based at Brandeis.
When BTV's channel 65 was not airing new content, it aired original programming from previous years, movies, video footage of events on campus and sporting events, according to Westheimer in a 2004 interview with the Justice.
Since 2009, however, BTV has broadcasted no new original television programming, instead only airing original programming from previous years, while still maintaining its status as a secured club.
According to the Student Union's 2010 Constitutional Review Committee a secured club is one that is "essential to the main goals and purpose of the university and student body."
At the time that BTV acquired its secured status, former BTV President Avi Kaufman '03 commented to the Justice that the station "[had] three major components: ... movies, original programming and community programming."
A focus on film
The club also had a staff of approximately 40 undergraduate members, according to a 2003 Justice article.
Current President of BTV Ethan Mermelstein '12 said the club now consists of 10 members and views its role quite differently.
As opposed to producing regular and original programming for the entire Brandeis community, BTV now serves to provide resources and equipment to students who independently produce their own projects. Such projects, some of which have been submitted to film festivals, are not necessarily shown to the Brandeis community.
Additionally, BTV functioned as a notable source of funding for one student's senior thesis, according to Mermelstein.
"It is an outlet that facilitates people's productions of their own creative projects. We train students who come here with their own ideas," said Mermelstein.
To that end, "the vast majority of the time," BTV allocates students baseline grants of $350 if they make a compelling case for starting a project, according to BTV's treasurer Benedict Noero '12.
For instance, BTV's spending over the last year has focused heavily on a project initiated by Noero last fall.
The film, "Granite City," originally known by the title "Fat Night," has already cost BTV over $7,000 since fall 2010, according to a list of BTV expenses from fiscal 2010 through the present obtained by the Justice from University Budget Analyst Stephen Costa.
Those expenses include rental equipment, film processing, actors and other production costs, according to the club's documented spending.
That $7,000 figure does not include the nearly $500 that BTV has spent this semester toward fees to enter "Granite City" into numerous film festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival. This figure also excludes the $450 BTV paid to a cinematographer to assist with some of the project's filming.
According to Mermelstein, this was part of BTV's plans last year "to try to up the quality of student films instead of just us training students."
Away from television
Shea Riester '12, former president and current programming director for BTV, says that the current board is "much less concerned with the TV aspect and much more concerned with the film production … and learning about making movies as opposed to making sure the channel is always running. We've just kind of shifted focus," he said.
Although the club has shifted its focus away from maintaining the BTV television station, its inactivity can partially be attributed to technical difficulties with Media Technology Services that BTV had little control over, according to Mermelstein.
"The channel is manned by MTS, … so like for all of last year, it just was not on. … It was [on] maybe an hour on during the day," said Mermelstein.
Representatives from MTS could not be reached for comment prior to printing.
BTV also officially controls its own YouTube account to upload its original content. However, according to Mermelstein, the club has "had issues with just passwords being handed down."
As a partial fix, BTV has uploaded works, such as those completed with the video sketch group Little Hands, on other YouTube channels, according to Mermelstein and Noero.
According to Riester, "the BTV YouTube Channel is not of top importance to us. … It's more about the production process."
Today's BTV is also markedly different from the 2002 version of the club in its organizational structure.
Using secured funds
BTV, like other campus clubs, submits its expense information online through the SUMS system. From there, according to Costa, the Union treasurer approves of the expenditure and passes the information along to Costa, who in turn approves the spending and submits it to Vice President for Students and Enrollment Keenyn McFarlane, or occasionally another senior official, for final approval so that it can be processed by the appropriate office.
BTV's constitution, last updated in 2007, establishes a spending system in which a general board must approve all expenditures proposed to it by a separate executive board. However, the two-tiered board system that was in place when BTV attained secured status is no longer in place.
According to Mermelstein, "There isn't so much a general board because two years ago, the majority of the club graduated."
During the spring 2011 semester, the organization was run by one six-student board, and this semester only three students—Mermelstein, Riester and Noero—remain at the club's helm.
Noero elaborated on that topic. "Our e-board kind of is our general board right now," he said.
The club's shifted focus has also resulted in certain spending that appears inconsistent with its original purposes.
For instance, an April 2011 entry shows BTV spending $327.78 on "hooded BTV sweatshirts."
The Union's constitution, however, only specifies that secured clubs are entitled to "the guarantee to receive a reasonable level of funding to support necessary operating expenses."
In February 2011, a charge of $1,595.30 was approved for BTV to cover the cost of multiple flights to Berlin. Noero, Mermelstein, Riester and Aaron Winkler '11 went to the Berlin International Film Festival "as press members sent by the [University]," stated Noero.
According to him, the purpose of their attending the festival was, "primarily to see and view movies and to make connections for Brandeis, which includes BTV. … We were hoping that [we] would meet people, distributors, anything that would be able to help BTV students."
However, Mermelstein stated that, unlike some of the other BTV members who traveled to Berlin, he did not use BTV funds for his plane ticket because he "personally thought that that was not something that BTV needed to pay for," although he acknowledged that "there was a discussion and it was agreed upon [by the e-board] that it was."
The Justice is a secured club that uses SAF funds for printing purposes only.
Other secured clubs, like WBRS, also use funds in order to send members on trips. This month, according to Alex Chum '12, business director of WBRS, several members of WBRS went to the College Music Journal's music marathon and film festival in New York for workshops about running college radio stations and to recruit bands to play at Brandeis.
"We do post on our website from the event and we do keep a lot of contact information from the bands that we see from CMJ, and we might end up booking them," says Chum. "There are bands that we have met at CMJ and that have come here."
Mermelstein stated that he sees maintaining the quality of BTV products as a goal of the coming year. "We have a solid group of freshmen. … We want to just be sure that they're going to be active in the future," he said.
—Nashrah Rahman and Robyn Spector contributed reporting.