Almost a year into recession, pubcasting lost $167 million in investments and “other” revenues

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After almost a year of recession, the public TV and radio system lost $167.7 million in its “all other” revenue category, CPB says in its recently released annual system revenue report for fiscal year 2008. The category includes gains and losses on stations’ investments and assets, including endowments, as well as results from capital campaigns and subsidiaries. The country’s official arbiter of recessions, the National Bureau of Economic Research, says the present recession began in December 2007. This revenue report reflects numbers from 70 percent of stations with fiscal years ending June 30, the remaining 30 percent ending Dec. 31.

The losses in that revenue category overwhelmed TV and radio’s relatively healthy gains from members, underwriters and colleges, leaving the whole field down $73.4 million or 2.5 percent, to $2.85 billion. All of the overall decline was in TV, totalling $78.8 million or 4 percent. Public radio’s core revenue gains were stronger; it ended the year slightly better than flat, with a $5.4 million increase over ’07.

The radio system continues to post healthy membership revenue increases, almost doubling in the last decade, from $154 million in 1998 to $304 million in 2008, moving toward closing the gap with public TV, though its overall revenues are just half of public TV’s. Over the decade TV’s member revenues grew less rapidly, from $341 million to $430 million.

Public radio joined TV’s worrisome decline in number of contributors, which is overcome in both systems by increasingly generous average gifts. Each lost about 100,000 contributors in a year. TV’s long membership slide continued; it has lost almost 1.2 million donors in a decade. Radio’s membership had slipped for only two years after a four-year plateau.

Before panic hit Wall Street in fall 2008, public TV business underwriting earnings were still healthy, rising $42.6 million or 16.3 percent in a year. Radio underwriting rose $6.9 million or 3.5 percent.