MONTPELIER — ORCA Media is headed up the hill in a move from City Center to the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
News of the move came this week after discussions began last spring and a lease was signed at the end of last month. ORCA Media is expected to begin service out of the college’s Stone Science Building at the beginning of March.
Officials involved said the move would create savings for ORCA Media while adding a new revenue stream for the college.
ORCA Media has occupied space at City Center since 2003 and has been a popular community service for both recording and transmitting local meetings and events. ORCA Media also offers studio and recording facilities for people to produce programming and learn the finer points of filming, editing and production.
Rob Chapman, the executive director of ORCA Media, said he was excited about the move.
“We were given the opportunity to look at some space up at the college, and they were very gracious and accommodating and we were excited to see what the partnership might look like,” Chapman said. “So, we’ve been in negotiations for a few months now and when we finally decided that it was going to work out, we would move our operations up there.”
Katie Gustafson, vice president for finance and administration at the college, also welcomed the partnership with ORCA Media.
“We’re thrilled to welcome ORCA Media to our campus and find opportunities to match their interest in content with the college’s existing programming,” Gustafson said. “We see ORCA’s arrival as a first step in encouraging other nonprofits to join us on the VCFA campus.”
Chapman said the new space was slightly bigger, at 2,200 square feet, compared to the 2,000 square feet it occupied at City Center.
“I think it’s comparable (space) but I think it’s more effectively laid out,” Chapman said.
Chapman said there would be some welcome cost savings after ORCA Media saw revenue drop about $26,000 in 2018 because of the increasing number of cable subscribers switching from cable to streaming services. ORCA Media’s annual budget is just over $400,000, Chapman said.
“In general, you’re seeing less and less cable subscribers and our revenue is based on a percentage of the cable revenue,” Chapman said. “So, as we looked at ways to diversify out funding and cut costs, this move is, obviously, playing into that. The biggest threat is that people are moving away from a cable subscription to streaming services.”
Chapman said the loss of revenue was part of the decision to relocate.
“Downtown Montpelier is more expensive, obviously, than up at the college, so we’re grateful for the opportunity to enter a great campus and save some money as well,” Chapman said.
Chapman said the initial discussion about joining forces with VCFA began last spring, involving Mike Abadi, chairman of ORCA Media’s board of directors.
“He brought it to my attention and connected us with the college, so I’ve been working on negotiating the details and trying to get the lease signed,” Chapman said. “Finally, we were able to sign the lease at the end of January and move forward with the logistics of moving.”
Chapman said the VCFA location would offer ample, free parking and allow ORCA Media to stay open later, because City Center closes at 6 p.m. Hours of opening for ORCA Media will be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. But the move would also mean less-convenient access for people in the downtown, Chapman conceded.
“The thing we’ll miss is being in the downtown, but the pros outweighed the cons on that one; it really seemed to be the only con, that we would be losing the accessibility in the downtown,” Chapman said.
Chapman said it is hoped that the move to VCFA would increase opportunities to train people to produce their own programming.
“We have probably 20 to 25 regular producers, people coming in and using the facilities, so we would like to see those numbers going up, and we hope to increase our training opportunities and seminars,” Chapman said. “And then our main function is to go out and cover events — municipal meetings, the State House and things like that.
“We can’t really get a sense of just how many are actually viewing (that content). We’re not commercial so we don’t get ratings for our content — it’s more of a public information service,” he added.
Most of all, Chapman said, the staff at ORCA Media were excited to be working with VCFA after the move.
“We think they’re a great organization, and we’re excited to develop and strengthen that partnership,” Chapman said.
Abadi, who has been on the ORCA Media board of directors since 2006, also welcomed the move to VCFA, which would expand creative opportunities.
“It’s not just about contributing rent to VCFA,” Abadi said. “Our missions overlap with arts, culture, education and media — there are lots of possibilities.
“We’ve already sketched out where offices will be and public space, and how the studio is going to work, and it will make for better workflows, too. We didn’t even dream we would actually get this good a fit in terms of the missions of the two organizations,” he added.
Abadi said the move, to save money, was precipitated by both concerns about cable provider Comcast trying to avoid its obligations to provide public-access TV channels and the loss of revenue from customers switching to streaming services.
Abadi said the move would also coincide with a switch of public-access channels on the interactive cable guide, effective February 17 through April 17. Channel 15 (Public Access) will become Channel 1075, Channel 16 (Education) will become Channel 1095 and Channel 17 (Government) will become Channel 1085. Programming will run on both groups of channels until the “lower channels go dark” after April 17.
Abadi said the change of venue for ORCA Media would also allow it to serve other communities in its 12-town catchment area “more robustly” in the near future.