At Realscreen Summit, Kerger envisions potential for PBS Foundation

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the packed “Looking Ahead with the Pubcasters” session at Monday’s (Jan. 29) Realscreen Summit, PBS President Paula Kerger once again spoke of the potential the PBS Foundation holds for the future of the organization.

“It’s just starting to ramp up,” she said of the foundation. “It isn’t the full answer for us because the amounts of money are reasonably low, but it has given us a little more flexibility to do some things relatively more quickly.” One example: PBS was able to acquire a film on Steve Jobs soon after the Apple founder’s death on Oct. 5, 2011; Steve Jobs — One Last Thing premiered on PBS member stations the next month. “But more importantly,” Kerger said, “we can make investments on the front end knowing that we have the foundation providing money on back end.”

“In the years I spent at WNET,” said Kerger, who worked in development and served as c.o.o. during her 13-year tenure at the New York station, “an absolute game changer there was having an endowment. There’s seed money to get projects started, it provides production funds upfront and also provides finishing funds, that last little bit needed to bring a project to closure. We’re envisioning the foundation doing that at a national level.”

Kerger has long been focused on bolstering the coffers of the PBS Foundation. The New York Sun noted in a January 2006 story when she was appointed PBS president that “as a founding trustee of PBS Foundation, formed last year to raise private funds, Ms. Kerger helped to secure $13 million. In this capacity, she also demonstrated her sensitivity to the sovereignty of the member stations by establishing a station advisory group that developed protocols for solicitation.”

Also in 2006, in an interview with Current, Kerger said, “There’s been a lot of skepticism and concern about the foundation and that it might compete with local stations. I really think there is great opportunity there.”

And in an interview in May 2011, Kerger told Current that she would be focusing more time on foundation work. “Part of it is to help the stations,” she said, “and part is to begin to cultivate relationships with funders.”

The Realscreen Summit continues through Wednesday at the Renaissance Washington, D.C., Downtown. More than 1,500 delegates from 24 countries are attending the sold-out nonfiction content conference. Also appearing on the pubcasting panel were Ralph Lee, the new head of the factual unit at Channel 4 in Great Britain, and Kirstine Stewart, e.v.p. of English services at Canada’s CBC. Moderator was Jane Root, former Discovery Channel U.S. president, and founder and chief executive of Nutopia.