KCET to drop PBS membership Jan. 1

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KCET, public television’s major station in the nation’s second-largest media market, is dropping its PBS membership as of Jan. 1, 2011, station President Al Jerome told Current Friday (Oct. 8). The Los Angeles station will be the largest independent pubcaster in America. Jerome said he and Gordon Bava, chairman of KCET’s board of directors, came to the decision “very recently.” Jerome told his staff at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Friday, and also informed PBS that afternoon. The station had petitioned the PBS board for a dues reduction or a shift to PDP (Program Differentiation Plan) status but was rebuffed (Current, Aug. 9). Jerome said discussions with PBS have been ongoing for three years, with “intense negotiations” over the last 11 months. He said a consortium among KCET and the three remaining area PBS affiliates, KOCE, KVCR, and KLCS, is still in the works. The four stations meet again in early November.

In a statement, PBS said: “PBS was notified today of KCET’s intention to withdraw its membership. At issue were KCET’s repeated requests that it be allowed to operate as a PBS member station without abiding by PBS policies and paying the corresponding dues. The Board and senior management of PBS remain focused on ensuring the people of Los Angeles continue to benefit from the full range of high-quality PBS content and services. . . . PBS’s goal is to have a financially stable service in the Los Angeles market. PBS fully supports the idea of a Southern California consortium of stations and continues discussion with KOCE, KVCR, and KLCS, PBS’ additional stations serving the Los Angeles market.”

CPB issued a statement clarifying that KCET remains an FCC-licensed educational station and is still eligible for Community Service Grants and other funding.

In a statement from KCET, Jerome said: “Our plan is to become the media partner for the many diverse, creative voices in our community with stories to tell, art to exhibit, music or dance to perform and news to report. We will partner with other public service organizations so that our viewers can learn about the good work being done, but not often reported in the commercial media. We will use our broadcast spectrum and broadband capabilities to expand public service at a time in our history when people of all ages want to actively participate in the recovery and growth of our region.”

Jerome also posted a letter to viewers on his Ask Al page on the station’s website. And the station’s Twitter feed is explaining that as of Dec. 31, KCET will no longer livestream PBS shows but that programming will be available on PBS’s video site.

Additional coverage:

— KOCE President Mel Rogers in Huntington Beach, Calif., tells the Orange County Register that KCET has “done a good job for public television over the years and it’s time for us to step into the breach” to carry the PBS programming lineup for area viewers.

— The Los Angeles Times Showtracker television blog quotes a media expert that KCET’s departure signals to other PBS stations “that affiliation isn’t that important anymore.” Jeffrey McCall, a communications professor at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., also said that the move also increases doubts about the future of pubcasting. “PBS certainly does not play the essential role it once did in the nation’s media landscape,” McCall said. “For years, PBS provided things that couldn’t be had from the traditional networks. Now, with cable outlets, not to mention the Internet, the public doesn’t rely on PBS for such fare.”

LA Observed is reporting that longtime KCET personality Huell Howser apparently is unsure of his future with the station, and told his Twitter followers to e-mail Jerome with any concerns.

— On a call-in show on Southern California Public Radio following the announcement, the score was negative calls, five; positive, one. The enthusiastic support came from a local woman who runs a broadcast production company.

2 thoughts on “KCET to drop PBS membership Jan. 1

  1. According to the October article in Currents.org about KCET’s decision to leave the PBS umbrella:

    “Station staffers are crafting a 24- to 36-month plan to transform the station and its content offerings.”

    I am troubled by what appears to be KCET’s lack of preparation before making this momentous decision to leave the PBS fold.

    Why didn’t KCET craft a 24- to 36-month plan prior to announcing they would drop their PBS membership?

    Why didn’t KCET have a full program schedule that would be ready for viewing on Jan. 1? (the article makes it sound like KCET will have much dead air space, or even be off-air, for awhile)

    While KCET has grappled with the issue of network dues for some time, the story suggests that much preparatory work was needed before announcing publicly their plans to sever ties with PBS.

    If I was a donor I’d be very upset about the lack of a long-range plan and a program line-up come Jan. 1 before making this important announcement.

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