Little hope of increased revenues for pubcasting system, early report data shows

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Initial findings of a CPB-funded study on the potential impact of the reduction or loss of federal funding to the system anticipate further local production and staff cutbacks, as well as scant new revenue sources for stations, the CPB Board heard at its meeting in Washington, D.C. today (April 11). Matt McDonald of Hamilton Place Strategies, which also consulted on collaboration projects in New York and Illinois, presented the first phase of research, which looks at how stations have reacted to the recession. Using budget numbers from 2008 and ’09, the report shows that on average station fundraising was cut 7.5 percent; local production, 7.1 percent; general operating/administration, 5.2 percent; broadcasting engineering, 4.4 percent; and other costs, 7.6 percent.

The report also examined the viability of other income sources to mitigate loss of federal cash. On the revenue side, McDonald said, “there are no easy, high-revenue options” — short of more commercial-like advertising. “The reality is that revenue increases won’t make up for cuts in federal spending.”

“The strong message here,” noted CPB President Pat Harrison, “is that the federal appropriation is the key, there isn’t a silver-bullet fix out there” if that drops off. The numbers show that the argument by some on Capitol Hill that pubcasting could simply raise its own money “is false,” she said, “and if in fact that were possible, we’d be called commercial media. There’d be no CPB, no oversight. In order to raise money, stations would have to give way to more commercial time.”

McDonald anticipates completion of the first phase of the report within the next few weeks. The second phase will explore the fallout of losses in federal funds, including the impact that reduced local programming may have on member fundraising, and estimates of the number of stations at risk of closing or becoming pass-throughs.