As it follows new “playbook,” Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network trims budget, adds execs

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Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network is in the midst of a multiyear, organization-wide initiative to reinvent everything it does, supported by a $250,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Hartford-based joint licensee hired international design firm IDEO, which is developing a 36-page “playbook” to guide the organization over the next three years and beyond.

“We may fail greatly or achieve something great,” said Dean Orton, CPBN’s c.o.o. “But either way, we’re going to try.”

Dean Orton. Photo: Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network.

Orton (Photo: CPBN)

According to a Nieman Lab article, the pubcaster plans to spend more than $7 million on the changes through fiscal year 2018.

The playbook revamps CPBN’s approach to content, organizational structure and increasing income. Orton said the network wanted to apply the “public media sensibility” to new efforts, like crowdfunding and sponsorship opportunities.

“We got so busy and tied up with the day-to-day sausage-making that goes into running a public media organization that we weren’t opening our eyes to other business opportunities,” Orton said.

For content, Orton said CPBN will use multiple media to provide material wherever the consumer might look for it. Every story should have “nine lives,” according to the playbook. “Nine lives can mean making a story available both on-air and online but, more importantly, it means that we’re exploring a topic through programming, community spaces and resources/data narratives,” the playbook reads.

CPBN’s board approved the playbook in December. It plans for the next three fiscal years. At the end of fiscal year 2018, CPBN will use financial and nonfinancial metrics to gauge what worked and failed.

“We think it will take that three years to get a take of the measure of the success of the vision,” Orton said.

The process has also included studying CPBN to trim costs and make adjustments to be more responsive to change. The network cut $1.3 million from its budget, amounting to 8.5 percent of its expenses of $17.6 million last fiscal year.

“We did a top-to-bottom scrub of everything we do,” Orton said. “And we came up with a short list of things we’ve decided to discontinue.”

The network eliminated five positions — Orton declined to say which — and shut down its master control. It will move to a joint master control, an arrangement Orton also declined to discuss, as the deal is being formalized. The changes were made not just to reduce costs, Orton said, but to ensure the organization is flexible enough to adapt to change.

“It’s not the what you should be worrying about — it should be the how,” Orton said. “How do you structure an organization for change?”

“We weren’t trying to find out [that] if we do a show at a certain time, will it make us popular,” he added. “This goes way beyond just the ‘what’ of content and service.”

To help with that goal, CPBN created a new senior team through promotions and hiring:

  • New hire Anthony Hayes was named the station’s first senior v.p. of engagement. Hayes joined CPBN from WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C., where he directed corporate marketing and sponsorship sales.
  • Dean Miller, formerly director of the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, was named senior v.p. of content.
  • Allison Lantieri was named senior v.p. of branding. Lantieri came to CPBN from Atlanta-based Digital Benefit Advisors, where she was director of field marketing.
  • And internally, Donna Sodipo was promoted to senior v.p of education. Matt Rose was named v.p. of media and information technology.

The pubcaster moves into its reinvention with a $30 million endowment and, according to its most recent audited financial statement, a fiscal year 2014 that ended with a $147,859 surplus. CPBN reported $17.8 million in revenue with $17.6 million in expenses, compared to $16.1 million in revenue and $16.6 million in expenses for fiscal year 2013.

CPBN has also entered into an agreement to relinquish the spectrum of WEDW, its TV station in Bridgeport, in the upcoming spectrum auction. CPBN struck a deal with LocusPoint, a private-equity–backed firm that has been partnering with broadcasters to buy signals ahead of the auction. The specifics of the deal were not released, but CPBN reported deferred revenue of $13.1 million in fiscal year 2013, which included the LocusPoint payment.

Though CPBN is considering new ways to raise funds, Orton said those efforts don’t diminish the importance of the core revenue streams of individual giving, corporate underwriting and major giving.

“We’re still very bullish on the traditional public media business model,” Orton said. “We’re just looking for ways to diversify that model.”

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