This commentary by the president of public TV station WTVI in Charlotte, N.C., was originally published in Current May 1, 1995. Bouton had experience with advertising on public TV in the early 1980s when he was a staff member of WIPB in Muncie, Ind., a public TV station that took part in an experiment with advertising supervised by the Federal Communications Commission.
Ervin Duggan's recent remarks to the International Radio & Television Society do not represent the views of our Charlotte PBS station. Working together as a system of public TV stations for the good of the entire system should be our objective. I don't see this happening. The following are my thoughts; I am not trying to represent anyone other than my station.It is incorrect to say that advertising will destroy our nation's public broadcasting system. This simply is not accurate information. The FCC-supervised Temporary Commission on Alternative Financing (TCAF) test of advertising on public TV in 1982-83 was a success! Those stations that actually put some effort into making the TCAF project work made it a success!
Let's not overlook the fact that at least a few of the TCAF test stations showed an increase in traditional revenue during the TCAF test. After they discontinued their TCAF test, their traditional revenue declined to pre-TCAF levels. Call it what you will--limited advertising, enhanced underwriting, expanded underwriting or just plain advertising--it can and will help us increase our revenue. This will lead to a stronger public broadcasting system, not a weaker one.
WTVI has taken the time and effort to do a full analysis of the potential for limited advertising following the TCAF model. We are convinced it will work and work very well for us.
It is not the intent of WTVI to dictate what will work for other stations. Small rural stations may need some form of federal subsidy to continue in operation. State networks may need some form of federal education block grants. These funds might come through local or state government agencies.
Community stations in medium-to-large markets that do not have the above options must look at advertising as a viable alternative to lost federal funding. Other alternatives including FCC spectrum auction revenue might also work. New sources of revenue that include the word "tax" will not fly!
WTVI supports the concept of a new class of TV license. It could be called "nonprofit community service." Stations would have the option to keep their traditional noncommercial license or apply for this new class. I propose that those stations applying for this license volunteer to give up their federal funding within a specified transition period. In return, we should receive special treatment to make this new license class a success. Exempt us from paying taxes on production services revenue. We would continue to receive copyright and performance royalty protection.
I know for a fact that our congresswoman would support this approach. Many others in Congress would applaud our efforts to help ourselves. It is time for us to stop stonewalling Congress. My Board and I are upset at the message being sent Congress by public television's national leadership. Rep. Fields has said time is running out. Let's stop the negative rhetoric and instead take a constructive approach to the challenge of funding our public broadcasting system through the next century.
Times have changed in this country. We must change with the times or be responsible for the loss of our important role in the modern telecommunications environment. We must not let this happen! Let's take control of our future, not have it dictated by Congress. They have given us the opportunity to steer a new course. Let's make the most of this opportunity to build an even stronger public broadcasting system for our nation.
Web page posted June 17, 1995
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