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Local Stations Are Canceling PBS Contracts

From a deeply saddened New York Times:

Burdened by PBS Dues, Stations Consider Withdrawing

May 22, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. — Television executives who gathered here last week for PBS’s annual meeting enthusiastically embraced projects such as the five-part “Women, War and Peace” and heard the actress Anna Deavere Smith speak so passionately of PBS’s role in bringing the arts to Americans that Paula Kerger, PBS’s president and chief executive, teared up.

But while Ms. Smith’s keynote address and the gloriously sunny skies contributed to an overall atmosphere of enthusiasm among member station representatives, some executives did not see much of the nice weather. They were holed up trying to fashion a plan to keep public television programming on the air in Orlando after June 30, when WMFE — the city’s major public broadcaster — ends its contract with PBS. The station is being taken over by the founders of a religious programmer, Daystar Television.

Imagine the horror they feel at such a prospect.

WMFE announced in April that it was selling its TV station (it will keep an NPR-affiliated public radio station) because it was unable to pay its PBS dues of just under $1 million annually. José A. Fajardo, the station’s president, said that the public television model was no longer viable because of decreased donations, including a 34 percent drop in pledge contributions from viewers.

Who knew that local PBS affiliates even had to pay dues? This is the first we are hearing about it.

And WMFE is not alone. In this financially troubled time, some PBS stations are questioning whether they can continue to find a way to make the PBS business model work.

They might as well question the reasons for living.

In Los Angeles, KCET, a PBS station for four decades, quit PBS on Jan. 1, and went independent, citing PBS dues.

How come we never heard anything about this at the time? As you will recall, the government funding of PBS was very much in the news back in January.

Unlike in Orlando, a much smaller nearby PBS station quickly stepped up to continue providing PBS programming to the Los Angeles area.

This year, PBS narrowly averted another major loss in Chicago, where the board of WTTW-TV told management to examine the question of withdrawing as well. “Our board, they are smart business people, and when they look at our business model they scratch their heads and they say this is upside down from a business standpoint,” said Dan Schmidt, WTTW’s president and chief executive.

In Chicago, as in Los Angeles and Orlando, one crucial issue is that there are simply too many places to see PBS programs; each of those cities has more than one PBS station. The biggest station pays the highest amount of PBS dues and gets rights to all of PBS’s marquee shows, like “Masterpiece Theater” and “PBS NewsHour”; smaller stations pay less but can still broadcast some of the most popular shows, as long as they wait eight days

So there really are two Americas – at least as far as PBS is concerned. Money talks and everybody else walks.

WTTW decided to stay in the fold — for now. Leaving, Mr. Schmidt said, “was on the table along with everything else, but at this point we are committed to making this work.”


What no one knows is how many other stations are contemplating quitting. The PBS station in Waco, Tex., shut down last year for financial reasons, and there are murmurs of half a dozen more stations, at least — no one will name them on the record — that are on the fence and could leave depending on whether state and federal financing fall through

Now we understand. This is another plea from the New York Times for more funding for PBS. They never give up.

PBS is retooling its dues formula, which may help some big stations and will also require each market’s secondary stations to pay more…

Excellent. This is is just like the government raising taxes.

And that always works.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, May 23rd, 2011. Comments are currently closed.

12 Responses to “Local Stations Are Canceling PBS Contracts”

  1. mr_bill says:

    As an interesting addition to the above article, it may be news to a lot of people that the government funds the “programming” as well, though not in the way one would expect. Federal grants are given to those who produce the content shown on PBS. My understanding of the arrangement is that this grant system is administered separately from PBS. The grant recipient makes the [government approved] show and then “sells” it to PBS. Of course, our tax-dollars are used by PBS to “buy” the show from the producer the government paid to make it. PBS turns around and charges the local stations to broadcast the show. I bet it would be very interesting to have a look at PBS’ accounting books.

  2. Right of the People says:

    GASP! You mean there might be some kind of impropriety going on here? How is that possible? This is a government funded function. (sarcasm off now)

    I stopped watching PBS years ago, I couldn’t stand their insipid whining for money. Now I see why they always had their hands out, PBS was raking them over the coals to provide good, PC programming, yawn. Early on my wife and I noticed the pattern; if you wanted to know when they were fund-raising, just look at their program guide. If there was something on you might be temped to watch, they were fund-raising for sure. If it was the same old boring crap which makes up 90% of their programming, it was business as usual.

  3. U NO HOO says:

    Here in our neighborhood we get two PBS stations by cable, our local station and WHYY. Why two stations? Wouldn’t one be enough for many of us, and that would cut PBS budget in half, well, sort of.

  4. Rusty Shackleford says:

    I don’t have cable or satellite for TV, though I buy a lot of DVD’s. Over the air, I get about 40 digital channels, almost 1/3 of which are PBS stations. Many are just repeaters but they are on different transmitters. When I first scanned for channels on the new TV, I could only think “what a wast of tax dollars”.

    Indeed, there’s a reason why the joke works: “The Federal Department of Redundancy Department of the United States”.

    Anything worth spending money on, (or not) is worth spending LOTS of money on. Government has proven itself to be the worst money-management system in all of history.

  5. proreason says:

    PBS, without the political broadsides, could survive in the public market.

    But insist on keeping the outrageously biased propaganda, and the good stuff will fail as well.

  6. TerryAnne says:

    I actually watch DCs PBS late on the weekends (after 9) because I don’t have cable and it shows old Doctor Who, Fawlty Towers and Are You Being Served reruns.

    I’ve yet to send them one penny, though. And never will. :)

    • U NO HOO says:

      Hey, me too, our local PBS has The Brit Coms Saturday night, 8 PM til midnight, a perfect wind down for me.

      I’m kind of nostalgic about our local PBS station, I worked there when it went on the air in 1965 while I was at university nearby.

  7. bill148 says:

    Perhaps they need to expand their “business model” to a late nite Big Bird and Ernie porn show…commentary by Moyers ……..whole new crop of contributors.

  8. bousquem says:

    I think the only things I will usually always watch on one to the two PBS stations in my area are probably “This Old House” with spin offs and “New Yankee Workshop”. My parents also watch some of the british miniseries or mysteries along with antiques roadshow, though the mute button comes on or the channel gets changed when ever the station has a funding drive, which seems to be weekly. It use to be alot nicer with ages ago with less political crap clogging the channel but even Sesame street and such has been given the PC makeover it seems.

  9. MZmaj7 says:

    “Who knew that local PBS affiliates even had to pay dues? This is the first we are hearing about it.”

    “How come we never heard anything about this at the time? As you will recall, the government funding of PBS was very much in the news back in January.”

    Exactly. Transparency for thee, but not for me.

  10. leerm8680 says:

    If they still showed EastEnders and Monty Python every night, I would donate, Not a lot though.

  11. BillK says:

    Actually, this did make the news, but only in the local market; for example the KCET story was pretty big news in Los Angeles media at the time, do a Google search on “Los Angeles Times KCET.”

    The stations have to pay dues to PBS for access to programs, then they have to pay for each program. For being “public” this is no different than any other television network.

    Or, your tax dollars are used to help produce programming and to run PBS, but then your local affiliate has to beg viewers for cash because otherwise they will have nothing to show. Nice little racket there.

    Despite what they have to say, I don’t think there’s any doubt a cable network or local stations would LOVE to be able to put programming like Sesame Street on if the programming were available to the highest bidder the way syndicated programs are.

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