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Business Profiles for $500?

Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce will charge a fee to some guests on its public access show, Business Focus.

The Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce has recently implemented a charge of $500 to certain guests who want to be featured on its television show that airs monthly on public access TV.

According to the chamber, their program called Business Focus “highlights member personalities and features interviews from businessmen and businesswomen influential to Greater Reston.”

As part of its new “sponsorship program,” member businesses not invited to be on the show can pay $500 to have their business profiled, said Brian Bauer, marketing and communications director for the chamber.

The half-hour long show, which uses a news magazine format, features three guests each month, with each guest allotted about 8 minutes. The show discourages anything that resembles an infomercial, and guests on the show cannot promote products, said Bauer.

“The way we had it previously, we never offered a way for [business members not invited on the show] to showcase themselves,” said Bauer. “If we just threw it open to all 1,200 members, then everyone would want to go on.” According to Bauer this is “just another way to get the word out” for businesses.

But the new sponsorship program could be construed as advertising for businesses unbeknownst to viewers watching the program on public access television.

OTHER PROGRAMS that use Comcast Studios on Sunset Hills and air on Channel 28 don’t charge guest fees. Mary Fenelon, who hosts “Community Voices,” feels she is providing a free service for the Reston community. “I’m delighted to have people come on and discuss issues of concern to the community,” said Fenelon, who has been hosted the show for six years.

She’s not too sure what to think about GRCC’s decision to charge $500 to have a guest featured on their program.

“I guess they could do that as a fund-raiser,” Fenelon said. “But one of the things we really need to be concerned about is that this is public access TV and we all have the advantages of using this for free, so I think it is a strange approach.” She noted that she hasn’t given much thought to it before.

GRCC developed the idea to charge guests to accommodate members asking to be featured on the show and raise money for the chamber.

“We’ve had a lot of members say they would be willing to donate to the chamber to go on the show,” said Bauer, who added that the program is so new there has yet to be a business to utilize it. However, Bauer did explain that invited guests to the show, businesses that support that month’s theme or issue, will not be asked to pay the fee.

A spokesperson for Comcast said the cable company enjoys a good working relationship with the chamber and the local community, but didn’t comment directly on the guest fee. “We help in the production side, but editorial control is something that resides with the chamber,” said Jim Gordon, Comcast spokesperson.

Other people are waiting to learn more about the guest fee before coming to any conclusions.

“I certainly recognize the need for the chamber to raise a budget, but I would like to know more about it before making an opinion,” said Patrick Kane, who helped form the chamber 20 years ago and was one of its first chairmen.

Doug Bushée, a Reston Association board member and a member of the GRCC, was unfamiliar with the policy.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about that,” he said. “On the surface, it sounds like paid advertising.” He said he would like to know what residents thought and if viewers would know who had paid to be on the show and who hadn’t.

In addition to paying $500, some members can get on the show by choosing to purchase the chamber’s most expensive Incubator sponsorship package, the platinum package. According to the GRCC Web site, this package, which costs $7,500, entitles the business to an interview on Business Focus among many other things.

The show, which airs Mondays at 7:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., recently announced a new host, Donna Miller of Miller Musmar, a member of the chamber’s executive committee.