“State of Public Television” report: Haven’t hit financial bottom yet, CPB Board hears

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The CPB Board today (Sept. 21) heard an ominous “State of Public Television” update that predicts that licensees haven’t yet seen the worst of declines in state support, underwriting and philanthropic giving.

CPB management commissioned Public Radio Capital for a systemwide analysis of fiscal year 2008 and FY2009 to assess pubTV station solvency. During that time, non-federal funding fell 16 percent. Although federal support to stations increased, aggregate revenues “continued their steep downward trend,” the report said. Community licensees saw a 22 percent decrease in corporate underwriting, with national producing stations particularly impacted. Individual philanthropy is down 11 percent regardless of licensee type or station size.

And according to CPB, three more stations have requested assistance through its Stations in Financial Distress program: WTCI/Tennessee Valley PBS in Chattanooga, Tenn.; WOUB in Athens, Ohio; and WMFE in Orlando, Fla. (UPDATE: In a statement to Current, WMFE President Jose A. Fajardo said, “WMFE-TV/FM has not filed for CPB’s Stations in Financial Distress program. We have inquired about the program and have discussed this option with CPB, but have not officially filed any paperwork with CPB. To state so is premature.”)

The only relatively positive news was that following their deep budget cuts, most pubTV stations “appear to have adequate levels of short-term cash to meet current obligations” — however, those reserves are down by an average 10 percent. Also, the number of stations with high levels of longterm debt is on the decline.

In other news, the board:

— Tabled a recommendation by the Community Service Grant policy review panel to raise the NFFS requirement to receive a CSG from $800,000 to $1 million (see story in the latest Current, Sept. 20). The board considered tackling the complex issue at its next meeting in November, or in a telephone meeting. “If this were a perfect world this would be done in a month and stations would know for budget planning purposes,” Chairman Ernest Wilson said, “but my hunch is this will stay at $800,000 for the next year.” The board also tabled the panel’s suggestion for $2 million in additional funding for “minority qualified stations,” pending a definition of those grantees and research into the legality of the set asides. The board passed the remaining CSG panel recommendations, most of which supported current policies;

— Approved CPB’s request to the Office of Management and Budget for a $495 million advance appropriation for FY2014, up $35 million from the probable FY2013 funding; and $48 million for FY2012 digital support, up $12 million from that FY2011 appropriation;

— Heard from CPB President Pat Harrison that the corporation continues discussions with the Federal Communications Commission for its “Future of the Media” report due out in January 2011. That will contain FCC policy recommendations, Harrison said, “including possible revisions to the Public Broadcasting Act, which would have implications for CPB and public media.”

— And received an update on the American Archive initiative from board member Bruce Ramer, who said law students at several universities in California, including Stanford and UCLA, are assisting the project with research on the tricky issue of copyright clearance for the massive amount of historic pubTV and radio content currently being inventoried.