The first and only nationally distributed TV channel showcasing Native and other indigenous content is embarking on a new direction. First Nations Experience (FNX), headquartered at the Public Broadcasting Service station KVCR in San Bernardino, California, aims to reach new audiences, produce fresh, original shows and build new revenue streams—all while the 6-year-old channel rebrands itself.
Micah Wright (Muscogee Creek), FNX’s new chief content manager, who joined the channel in March, comes from a career in film, comic book and video gaming—he was the writer and designer of, among other games, Call of Duty: Black Ops II—and is committed to developing new content to attract both Native and non-Native audiences. “We’re working on several new shows,” he says.
Some exciting new content includes a Meet the Press-style public affairs show with longtime Indian Country Media Network contributor Mark Trahant at the helm. But there’s more on the news horizon: “Our goal is to build up to a daily newscast with another partner,” says Wright. Other content under development includes a new cooking show and a stand-up comedy lineup.
Wright also is beginning the planning process for other shows scheduled to premiere two to three years out, including two travel shows, Native fashion and pow wow documentaries, and even a Native sports documentary series. Then there’s the tech show; “It’s going to be a NOVA-type show on science with Oglala Lakota writer/producer Lucas Browneyes,” he says.
Shirley Sneve (Rosebud Sioux), executive producer of Vision Maker Media “[FNX] takes almost everything we produce,” she says. Vision Maker Media supports Native documentaries and other video content. “We’re happy to give our filmmakers more exposure,” she says, “and we partner with FNX whenever we can.”
FNX also broadcasts to mobile devices and over the Internet, which reflects how a growing number of viewers are consuming video. Sneve says that FNX’s future reach depends upon delivering its offerings via both traditional over-the-air, cable and broadcast channels and by providing online content. “Young people in particular are turning to their phones and computers for content,” she says. For example, Sneve’s daughter doesn’t own a television set, but watches shows on her laptop.
The channel is also developing fresh revenue sources. Although FNX’s initial funder, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, formally ends its exclusive support in 2018, the tribe still will provide some support, Wright says. But, as he stresses, “We’d like to move away from a sole funding source.”
Another source of revenue: licensing of FNX original content to more diverse channels and networks. “I don’t want to be boxed into only Native audiences,” Wright says. “We need to multicultural in nature.”
In addition, FNX will receive a portion of the proceeds from KVCR’s auction of its UHF frequency, known as a “spectrum auction.” “The UHF bands are tapped out,” due to their popularity with cellular providers, says Wright. The San Bernardino Community College District, which holds KVCR’s Federal Communications Commission license, expects to bring in more than $157 million for selling its frequency and moving to a new channel in the VHF band—older readers know that band as TV stations 2 through 12. The station’s digital channels, including FNX, will also move to new over-the-air homes. Cable and satellite services won’t be affected by the broadcast changeover. Angel Rodriguez, who heads the community college district’s communications, confirmed with Indian Country Media Network that FNX will be included in the one-time distribution; how much will be decided by the end of this year, he says.
Uncertainty in federal support for public broadcasting will undoubtedly impact how much funding the station, and FNX, receives. “Though this funding has created a welcome opportunity for the San Bernardino Community College District and KVCR, federal conversations about future funding for public media like PBS and National Public Radio have created uncertainty,” community college district Chancellor Bruce Baron said in a statement. “We will continue working with our community and establishing new partnerships to strengthen the educational, civic and social fabric of Southern California.”
In the meantime, FNX is also seeking other sources, including grants and new partnerships, to support its expansion.
Wright adds that FNX is expanding its broadcast reach by talking with more PBS outlets to offer Native programming on digital channels. That very day, he says, the entire state of Wyoming signed on to receive programming. “We’re talking with all Western states [to gain access],” Wright says. And several tribal communities broadcast First Nations’ offerings over their low-power stations or other means. But, in order to reach greater audiences, Wright calls upon FNX fans to call their local PBS stations and ask for the channel’s content to be included in their digital channels, which are available both via cable and over-the-air.
And then there’s the rebranding, which includes a new name for the network. Wright says that one reason for the change is that a series of semi-automatic pistols is manufactured under the same initials.
Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, welcomes FNX’s changes. “I think it’s a really great and insightful move on their part to reach beyond the Native audience and homeland borders,” Taylor (Hopi) says. “We are rich with stories and diverse cultures.”
Taylor also likes Wright’s move toward multiculturalism. “It’s a myth that Native Americans are only capable of developing content for their own communities,” she says. “The approach to universal content appeals to many audiences.”
And like Sneve, Taylor applauds FNX’s innovation in both content and delivery. “Traditional TV and radio, podcasting, internet –it’s all converging,” she says. “It’s the right time to grow and reach people in a way that wasn’t possible even 20 years ago.”