A visionary approach to an old medium brings locally-focused news and programming to the Blue Water Region
By Paul Natinsky
The Port Huron area was slated to construct a local TV station years ago, but the network affiliate, Channel 46, never took flight. Into the breech stepped EBW TV, a live-streaming and on-demand television station. This is not your grandfather’s television station. It’s not a local affiliate of a major broadcast network. Instead, EBW TV, as the station is known, is borne of the community and reflects the best it has to offer.
Founders Larry Boulier and Don Fletcher started the project four years ago, offering on-demand good news stories about the community. They now provide live-stream broadcasts of local football games, baseball games and other events, a daily “spotlight” feature and are developing a You Tube channel for the station that will constantly flow recorded and live events—just like a television station, but without the massive capital investment.
Larry is the technology guy, says Fletcher. Boulier’s day job is his audio-visual business, Impact Communications, which provides services to health care giant Beaumont Health, local school districts and other clients. Don is the community liaison. The retired CEO of Port Huron Hospital (now McClaren Port Huron Hospital), Fletcher now does community volunteer work, economic development counseling and works as an executive coach. Boulier worked with Fletcher at the Port Huron Hospital and later became one of Fletcher’s executive coaching clients.
We want people to work, live and play in St. Clair and Sanilac counties.’ That’s kind of our mission and our message.”
– Larry Boulier
The pair teamed up on EBW TV four years ago upon Boulier’s return from a Las Vegas conference on the potential of live-streaming.
“He came back from the show and he said, ‘Hey, Don, the latest thing that is going to happen is streaming. It’s a new technology. I want to do that in the greater Port Huron area,’” says Fletcher.
For both men, EBW TV is a labor of love. A way of giving back to the community in which they established their careers.
“With all of my community contacts, we went to the city, the county, the community foundation…We got all of the community involved in this concept of putting an in an Internet TV station,” says Fletcher.
The station has enjoyed tremendous support from the community, says Fletcher. It now creates several news segments per day. In addition to its news magazine “Spotlight” feature, it brings in outside contributions such as McClaren Port Huron’s “Today’s Health” and features live-streaming events that include local high school football and baseball games.
EBW TV is not a traditional news organization. Its focus is on “positive messaging,” says Boulier.
“It’s not in our vision to do what we would call hard news,” says Boulier. “We’re more like Entertainment Tonight.”
Boulier says investigative reporting and hard news are well covered in the community, particularly by the local newspaper, which has been on the beat for 75 years.
“That is a unique niche that we have,” says Fletcher. “National (television) news takes two or three minutes (for positive stories). You go to ABC, CBS, and at about three minutes to seven they have a feel good story. People are hungry for good news. So our niche is ‘the good news station.’ We want to tell people all of the good things that are happening, and that’s who we are.”
Complimenting that “good news” approach is EBW TV’s direct involvement in the community. The Port Huron area Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) found EBW TV through its advisory committee, says Lesley Murphy, a digital media instructor at St. Clair Tech, a division of RESA.
Fletcher says RESAs exist in counties around the state to help students find hands-on vocational experiences.
Seven of RESA’s 40 students worked at EBW-TV this year and RESA sent students last year as well. Murphy says she would like to continue the program. She says the number of students who participate will depend on how many have areas of study that match up with EBW TV’s needs. Some of her students are graphic designers, photographers and study other areas that are not a natural fit with a television station.
RESA’s involvement with EBW TV mirrors the real-world experience students will have when they enter the workforce, says Murphy, who worked for Fox Sports Detroit for eight years. This year, RESA sent nine or 10 candidates for interviews at EBW TV. Seven were chosen for competitive internship spots, where they work 2.5 hour days.
While EBW TV is occupying many of the traditional roles of a television station, it is difficult to measure viewership the same way, as television stations depend on the complex algorithms of Nielsen or Arbitron ratings. Still, says Boulier, EBW TV has seen individual visitor totals to its site reach 50,000 in a community of 152,000. He added that the visitor totals include people out of state in “Florida or out west,” who have ties to the community.
Even a labor of love has a bottom line. Fletcher says it took the station three years to break even, but Fletcher and Boulier kept reinvesting in moving the station forward from on-demand to live-streaming and soon to continuous broadcast on You Tube.
“We’re at breakeven now and, frankly, the first couple of years it took all of our efforts to just produce quality content,” says Fletcher. “After we got the content quality, we focused on the revenue side. We know that this is a limited market so we have to break into co-op advertising.” (editor’s note: co-op advertising features shared cost between a manufacturer and a retailer. For example, Ford Motor Co. shares advertising costs with Ford dealers in local markets).
From the beginning, EBW TV was not intended to enrich its founders. Its goal was to fulfill its mission to serve the community.
“We have really won the hearts and minds of leaders in the community because we do positive messaging. We have a saying, ‘We want people to work, live and play in St. Clair and Sanilac counties.’ That’s kind of our mission and our message,” says Boulier.
So far, it looks like Everything Blue Water TV is hitting its mark.