Randy Borden bought a distinctive, mid-century building in downtown Lakeland to house two of his dreams: a video news-and-information service about Lakeland and a performing arts venue for shows attracting up to 200 people.
While Borden recently had to close LkldTV, the for-profit video service, he wants to make it clear to Lakeland that LkldLive, the non-profit venue, is alive and kicking.
The fate of the building at 202 N. Massachusetts Ave. isn’t as clear. Several people have approached Borden with purchase or lease offers. He’s sorting through them and hoping to arrive at a favorable deal that will allow LkldLive to continue its eclectic programming in the building’s 205-seat black box theater.
Here are some of my perspectives on the closing of LkldTV, the people who worked there and what’s next.
LKLDTV and LKLDNOW
First, some disclosures: LkldNow and its parent organization, Linking Community Now Inc., are completely independent of LkldTV and LkldLive. That said, I have been involved with both.
I was part of a small group Randy met with when he was making plans to turn LkldTV into a serious business. Randy allowed me to work in his building for a few hours here and there when I needed a perch in his corner of downtown, and I sometimes attended his staff’s weekly story-planning meetings.
In addition, I serve with Randy on the board of the non-profit LkldLive.
Simply put, Randy spent thousands of dollars a month maintaining LkldTV and its eight-person staff, and he lost confidence that the operation would pull in the revenue needed to reach profitability any time soon.
As losses mounted, an operation that once filled Randy with optimism became a source of frustration.
The revenue model was based on selling ads to local businesses. But most of the business owners LkldTV approached found it more expedient to take advantage of the micro-targeting and low rates available through Facebook and Google, the duopoly expected to sop 60 percent of U.S. digital advertising this year.
Chuck McDanal, who headed LkldTV business operations as CEO, also says the company was victim to bad timing involving Facebook policies and sales staff employment. He remains convinced that given more time, LkldTV could have raised sufficient revenue.
The goal: “Amplify the diverse voices of the Lakeland community by sharing compelling hyperlocal stories that inform, entertain, inspire and transport.”
The highly-produced videos typically offered upbeat looks at people, organizations or locations that contribute to the community or make Lakeland distinct.
The staff prided itself on professional audio and video quality, but the time it took to produce the pieces grated on Randy, who describes his approach as more “rough and tumble.” He had built two studios around the ability to push out live video and would have been happy to point a camera at a news anchor and just see what happened.
The demise of LkldTV left some talented people trying to figure out their next career move. The team:
- CEO McDanal brought organizational efficiency, a sense of direction and a disarming snarkiness.
- Executive Producer Jen McLaughlin led the creative staff and free-lance videographers with both empathy and decisiveness.
- Producer Calvin Knight contributed a keen eye, a hearty laugh and a wealth of community knowledge from 30-plus years as a Lakeland photojournalist.
- Creative Director John Pitts, a man with the soul of an artist, contributed distinctive graphics and color schemes.
- Editor Frank Branca added a sense of adventurousness and inventive camera and motion techniques learned from his origins as a skateboard documentarian.
- Videographer Brandon Reardin, a recent Southeastern University graduate, offered enthusiasm, goofy humor and deep pop culture knowledge.
- Administrative Assistant Ariel Brown presented a welcome smile at the studio entrance and a passion to learn the technical side of the business.
For those counting, that’s seven people, not the eight mentioned above. The ad sales position was vacant at the time the business closed.
LkldLive continues holding its own events and renting the facility to outside organizations. Upcoming shows include:
- Improv comedy Friday night
- A showing of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” on Saturday night
- Lunchtime ballet Oct. 13
- A bluegrass BBQ dinner/performance Oct. 14
- A metal rock opera Oct. 20.
Executive Director Shane Lawlor has been given the go-ahead to schedule events through at least February. Borden hopes to craft a deal that would allow LkldLive to continue operating in the “Studio B” space.
It’s not one of their finer qualities, but many newspapers have long ignored media outlets they view as competition. (That’s changing at larger media outlets. The New York Times, for example, now routinely links to other news and opinion sources, particularly from its newsletters and apps.)
I never saw LkldTV as a competitor, but apparently The Ledger did. They waited until its demise to write about it.
Unless personalities are involved, it’s less clear why The Morning Newspaper’s editor has asked staff not to write about LkldLive, a venue producing some of Lakeland’s most interesting and eclectic entertainment. The newspaper started including LkldLive events in calendars earlier this year; maybe it’s a fluke, but those calendar mentions stopped about a month ago.
I’m editorializing here, but The Ledger does its readers a disservice by hiding some excellent entertainment options.
What does the demise of LkldTV say about the viability of other local media outlets in Lakeland? Probably not much.
While The Ledger is the big dog in town, there’s been enough space for several niche print publications to operate. Among them: The Lakelander, Wes and Liz Craven’s magazines including one about senior care, and Woman to Woman.
The entry of the monthly Haven magazine to Lakeland last week shows at least one more publisher sees potential in Lakeland print advertising.
Digital-only publications are more untested and face steep challenges in an adspace dominated by international giants like Facebook and Google.
LakelandLocal.com was probably the first Lakeland-focused general news site when Chuck Welch founded it in 2006. Its business model could be called non-existent since Chuck unabashedly pursued a non-commercial course.
LakelandMom.com, which was honored with a Lakeland Vision Cygnet Award this week, carries a few sponsorship ads, but I suspect they’re not enough to enrich April Mucci, the site’s smart and hard-working proprietor.
As for LkldNow, time will tell if our non-profit model will become sustainable. Unlike LkldTV, our operating costs are modest, especially since I’m not drawing a salary yet.
My aspiration (and my board’s) is to grow enough revenue to pay myself and hire other journalists, but I have focused more during the last two years on generating content and growing audience and reputation.
The good news: Prospective sponsors are starting to seek us out, and we get much-appreciated donations through out Support page.
NEXT FOR RANDY
As he sells or leases the building he bought in 2011 and works to preserve LkldLive, Randy Borden wants to pursue another dream that he calls Wikiism.
It’s a visionary plan that is too complex and far-reaching to detail here. Suffice it to say that it involves amending the U.S. Constitution and restructuring the way individuals and organizations maintain and access information on the Internet.
It’s a tall order, but visionaries have to dream big.