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CPB to back election shows, math/science, maybe PBS Kids Go

Extended version of article published in Current, Aug. 27, 2007
By Jeremy Egner

CPB will extend its subject-specific learning projects into math and science and stoke a variety of projects about next year’s elections, according to its 2008 business plan. And it may fund a $15.4 million broadband version of the stalled PBS Kids Go! channel for school-age kids.

The corporation will also extend training for major-gift fundraising to radio development officers after its positive reception in public TV, boost operational efficiency for small TV stations and look for ways to kick-start growth of pubradio’s listener base. 

The CPB Board approved the budget and business plan during its Aug. 6 [2007] meeting in Honolulu. Budget documents and audio from the meeting are available at

CPB’s $415 million budget for 2008 includes $400 million from Congress plus expected interest income. It’s the third consecutive fiscal year with the federal appropriation mark at $400 million.

As a result, major spending categories — largely determined by congressional formula — remain essentially unchanged from the past two budgets. Just over $278.2 million will go to station operations and projects in public TV, and $92.8 million supports radio.

Station community service grants for stations will remain level compared to 2007, but CPB will devote a bit more cash to programming for radio ($750,000 more than last year) and TV ($2.25 million more) in 2008, due to a slight increase in interest revenue. “With the exception of the interest income,” William P. Tayman Jr., CPB c.f.o., told the board in Hawaii, “this is identical to 2007.”

Pubcasting also expects appropriations of roughly $24.2 million for Ready to Learn, just under $27 million for upgrading the pubradio satellite system and $29.7 million for digital conversion.

The multiagency spending bill that funds pubcasting hasn’t passed, but, unlike in past years, the House and Senate generally agree on system funding levels. Congress will likely approve the final bill in September, said Tim Isgitt, CPB v.p. for government affairs, at the board meeting.

CPB hopes the Democratic congressional leadership that has gone easier on pubcasting this budget cycle might also consider reauthorizing the corporation for the first time since 1992. “Important elements of our authorizing statute are relics of the media environment of the past and no longer fit the digital, multiplatform age,” according to CPB’s business plan.

This fall the corporation will convene meetings of system leaders to consider updates to the Public Broadcasting Act and craft a “proactive approach” to reauthorization in fiscal year 2008.

New life for stalled kids’ channel?

After passage, the budget remains fluid. CPB President Patricia Harrison can change line allocations by up to 10 percent with board chair approval.

Moreover, some big items in the budget are still hazy and subject to change.

CPB tentatively set aside $15.4 million over the next three years to help PBS develop and launch an online version of PBS Kids Go!, its proposed channel for school-age kids, according to the business plan. Last year the network proposed to offer Go! for stations’ DTV multicasting, but too few stations expressed interest in the service to make it viable. 

“If we elect to fund this project,” the document says, Go! will be a “virtual playroom” with TV program segments, games and learning tools.

Reps from CPB and PBS would not elaborate beyond confirming they are in discussions about the project. “We are having good conversations with PBS and are in the process of making our decision,” CPB spokesman Michael Levy said.

Slightly more is known about another new project. The proposed Math and Science Initiative would, like CPB’s ongoing project focusing on American history and civics (July 2007 article), spend millions on multiplatform projects targeting specific subjects.

CPB plans to devote roughly $3.7 million to the project in 2008. The total cost over the next three years is estimated at $18.7 million.

The venture will develop a national public TV series, local productions, digital learning tools for schools and other activities for older kids. The corporation is talking with Segway and biomedical device inventor Dean Kamen about bankrolling a math and science project similar to the inventor’s FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which sponsors a robotics competition for students [website]. CPB is in “very early stages of conversation,” said Vinnie Curren, executive v.p., at the board meeting. (FIRST reps didn’t return calls for comment before Current’s deadline.)

Somewhat further along is the relatively new Public Awareness Initiative, which will cost roughly $2 million in 2008 (July 23 article). CPB received pilot grant proposals from 98 public TV and radio stations, Levy said. Those will be whittled down to 20 grantees that will begin work between now and April. The objectives will also shape many other CPB decisions.

“Everything now falls under the question of, ‘How do we increase public awareness of public broadcasting ... and the valuable role it plays?’” Levy told Current. “With every request we receive for funding, we’ll think about, ‘How does this work to further that end?’”

CPB will also earmark $5 million of the digital transition funds for special projects including station new-media experiments and development and prototyping for the American Archive concept, which aims to create a comprehensive digital repository of pubcasting content.

Additional new projects for 2008 include:

Election 2008 Initiative ($3.9 million) pays for new tools, content and “interactive experiences” focusing on party primaries, convention coverage and other election-related content.

Statewide Collaborative Project ($1 million) to promote outsourcing and “other joint arrangements that provide scale and efficiency to small stations’ operations,” according to the business plan.

Radio Major Gift Initiative ($1 million) to back work by the Development Exchange Inc. to create a companion piece to CPB’s effective training program for pubTV major-gift fundraising.

Models for Community Interaction in Radio ($500,000) to support station-based projects pioneering new ways of engagement, such as Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Journalism venture [recent article].

Latino Leadership Initiative and Audience Service Pilot ($350,000) will work with pubradio stations in Los Angeles and elsewhere to create programs that target Latino audiences.

Growing Radio Audiences ($250,000) to study ways to spur growth of pubradio’s audience, which has stalled over the past four years, by strengthening core programming.

Education Impact Evaluation ($200,000) to develop ways for public TV stations to objectively measure the impact of their education services on their communities, allowing them to gauge the return on investments in this area and tout achievements to funders, lawmakers and communities.

More cash for civics, questing talent

While they don’t qualify as shiny new endeavors, several key projects begun in previous years will get continuation cash in 2008.

CPB is beefing up the Opportunity Fund, created in 2005 to fuel public TV projects deemed key by its primetime research. The corporation is putting $11.5 million—up from $9 million last year—into the fund, at least part of which will finance this fall’s primetime addition, Wired Science (April 23 article ).

The corporation will spend $6 million next year to produce the two or three best multimedia, multiplatform projects to emerge from the American History and Civics initiative, launched in 2005 to teach history and civics to hard-to-reach middle- and high-school students. The results of the venture should be in schools by the beginning of 2009-2010 school year, Peggy O’Brien, senior v.p., educational programming and services, told the board.

The Local Service Initiative, launched last year, will get another $2 million. The matching-grant venture backs public TV station projects that explicitly strengthen local connections.

For example, local service grants are fueling a $1.6 million partner project by state networks in Maryland, Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky to develop high-tech teaching tools designed to boost local students’ skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, says Rob Shuman, president of Maryland Public Television.

Other existing ventures getting new funds include:

Greenhouse Fund ($1.25 million) to fund producer-training programs such as PBS Next Generation, WGBH Producers’ Academy, WETA News Academy, AFI Digital Content Lab and the New Media Institute, held annually by the National Black Programming Consortium.

StoryCorps Griot ($1 million) to expand the African-American offshoot of David Isay’s sprawling oral history project (Dec. 18 article). The original StoryCorps project will also get another $800,000.

Native America Calling/National Native News($900,000) to support Koahnic Broadcasting Corp.’s radio news services. CPB will also give $200,000 to other Native radio endeavors, Native Public Media and Native Voice One.

Public Radio Talent Quest ($500,000) to produce at least one each of the most promising radio and new-media pilots to emerge from the CPB-sponsored talent competition (June 11 article).

Primetime TV Audience Research ($400,000) to continue studies of adult viewing trends and attitudes.

Emma Bowen Foundation for Minority Interest in Media ($400,000) to help place, mentor and train minority high school and college students within pubcasting stations.

Web page posted Sept. 3, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee


With many possible users for their DTV multicast capacity, most pubTV stations in 2004 wouldn't commit to carrying the PBS Kids Go channel for kids ages 6-8.


Three new PBS Kids shows encourage and teach reading skills, fall 2007.


Audio recordings of the August 2007 meeting and related documents can be downloaded from CPB's site.

Included is the proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 (PDF) adopted by the CPB Board.

To start defining the scope and priorities of public broadcasting's ambitious but unshaped American Archive proposal, CPB is hiring an initiative manager (RFP with Sept. 7, 2007, deadline).