CPB funds will go toward helping pubTV execs make spectrum decisions

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CPB will spend $3 million to give public television executives access to expert advice on the upcoming broadcast spectrum auction.

The extremely high value of spectrum as appraised by an Oct. 1 FCC report, “Incentive Auction Opportunities for Broadcasters,” created a “considerable amount of confusion” among managers, said Michael Levy, CPB e.v.p. Previous estimates had been much lower.

CPB now believes, based on conversations with general managers after the report was released, that “perhaps as many as 50 to 60” of those executives now feel compelled to “revisit their thinking” about whether to participate in the auction, Levy said.

The topic generated discussion at a CPB/PBS General Managers Strategy Meeting Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Levy said. About 80 GMs attended the meeting, according to PBS.

“The reality as we saw it across those two days is, the general managers feel they have little time to react to the numbers” in the FCC report, Levy said. The auction is scheduled for mid-2015.

The report was intended to stir up interest among broadcasters for the voluntary auction, in which a station can give up all its bandwidth and its license to broadcast, share a channel with another station, move from a UHF to a VHF channel or decline to participate. The congressionally mandated auction aims to free up bandwidth for mobile devices.

The paper, produced by the investment banking firm Greenhill & Co., said that a full-power station in Los Angeles could fetch up to $570 million by giving up its channel; in New York, that could be $490 million. Even stations in smaller markets such as Providence, R.I., could be worth $160 million or more.

But public television managers, Levy noted, are also focused on mission and universal access to public media service. And they are concerned that lack of service could damage public broadcasting’s ability to reach underserved audiences such as minorities or rural communities.

Stations may need additional time with attorneys, or expert assistance to determine “the realistic value of spectrum in the market they serve,” Levy said. They may need help developing strategies for auction bids or channel sharing, or technical assistance with a UHF/VHF swap.

CPB is still working out details of how the $3 million will be allocated, Levy said. The corporation is talking to stations to better understand specific needs, and it’s speaking with “a number of firms to get their suggestions for how they best can help,” he said.