Three years of talks fail to end dispute over KCET’s dues

Print More

June 2007: In a presentation to the PBS Board’s Station Services Committee, KCET protests that its dues assessments are disproportionately high and the other PBS stations in the Los Angeles market are overstepping their rights as part-time PBS members (PDP).

Also June 2007: A PBS Board task force flies to Los Angeles to meet with the four PBS affiliates: The L.A. Unified School District’s KLCS, KOCE in Orange County, KVCR in San Bernardino and KCET.

January 2008: Partly in response to KCET’s complaints, the PBS Board establishes a Membership Policies Review Committee to more closely examine PDP issues.

March 31, 2009: The PBS Board approves the review panel’s final recommendations. The new rules aim to reallocate station dues more equitably in multistation markets.

Nov. 6, 2009: KVCR President Larry Ciecalone and KCET President Al Jerome have preliminary discussions about what becomes the proposed SoCal Consortium, with all four area stations becoming PDP (part-time) PBS members, including KCET.

Dec. 21, 2009:  KCET Board Chair Gordon Bava and Jerome fly to Washington in a blizzard to formally ask PBS for PDP status. Negotiations begin.

January 2010: At the NETA Conference near Las Vegas, Kerger floats an idea to KOCE President Mel Rogers: If negotiations don’t succeed with KCET, could KOCE be the primary? “I said, ‘If necessary, we could do it,’” Rogers later told Current. “It all seemed so unlikely at time. And it certainly wasn’t an official discussion.”

Also January 2010: PBS initiates the first joint meeting of all of the L.A. area’s four PBS members, by videoconference, to discuss the SoCal Consortium.

March 31, 2010: The network’s Station Services Committee denies PDP status for KCET, saying that the station failed to submit a differentiation plan and that the primary goal of KCET’s request was economic relief — not an acceptable reason.

Early May 2010: CPB gives supportive data to the SoCal Consortium — a Booz & Co. economic study of public TV in the L.A. market that predicts the collaboration would provide hefty financial savings and higher revenues for all four stations.

May 17, 2010: Kerger tells the KCET Board in executive session that the station’s pullout could bring down the entire public television network, according to two sources present. Bava, the board chair, characterizes the station board members’ reaction as, “Well, do something about it!” (A PBS spokesperson later denied Kerger made the prediction.) At the same meeting, KCET’s Board votes unanimously to empower Jerome to quit PBS if necessary.

Between May 27 and July 29, 2010: PBS sends KCET nine letters proposing solutions, including a unique “half-year” dues plan for the remainder of FY11 that would allow KCET to remain in PBS while the SoCal Consortium solidified.

July 29, 2010: KCET rejects PBS’s proposals, and asks the Station Services committee to reconsider its PDP request.

Aug. 4, 2010: Jerome flies to Washington to explain the situation to Current editors, who report the stalemate Aug. 5 on and Aug. 9 in their print edition. He says KCET will drop PBS membership if ongoing negotiations are not successful. Jerome objects to a 40 percent increase in PBS dues over four years based on the station’s temporary increased revenues flowing from a big production project. He discusses KCET’s failed requests to become a PDP station and the proposal for the SoCal Consortium.

Aug. 5, 2010: PBS says in a statement to Current that KCET’s dues “align closely with the overall station average for the system during the same period.” PBS explains there must be a primary station in a market in order for the PDP policy to apply. As for the consortium, PBS says: “We are not aware of any business, operations or governance plans that have been developed, or that a timeline agreed upon by all the stations has been crafted.”

Aug. 30, 2010: PBS sends KCET another letter proposing solutions.

Aug. 31, 2010: KCET rejects PBS’s proposals of Aug. 30.

Sept. 17, 2010: PBS’s Station Services panel denies KCET’s second request for PDP status.

Sept. 20, 2010: PBS’s No. 2 official, Michael Jones, sends Bava a letter with several requirements KCET must meet to remain in the network. (PBS did not disclose those specifics, but provided the following excerpts to Current.) Jones says in part, “PBS already has provided extraordinary relief well above and beyond any obligations to KCET with respect to the timing and payment of the station’s dues obligations in recent years,” including deferment plans and help identifying new revenue sources. It continues: “While there is no requirement in the PBS By-Laws or under law for a membership organization to take up requests for special treatment that deviate from established policies, PBS has heard, studied, evaluated, and deliberated upon KCET’s requests in good faith since you first approached us with concerns in 2007.”

Sept. 29, 2010: The four SoCal Consortium execs gather at KOCE in Huntington Beach to discuss governance, joint fundraising and other issues. They agree to meet again in November.

Oct. 6, 2010: In a late afternoon conference call, PBS Board Chair Geoffrey Sands, Jones, Kerger, Bava and Jerome discuss the stalled talks. The PBS reps say Jones’s Sept. 20 letter contains the network’s “best and final offer.” At that point, Jerome recalled later, “we decided, it’s over.”

Oct. 7, 2010: In an e-mail to Bava, Jones tries to pull KCET away from the brink, offering two ways for the station to continue as a PBS member for the rest of the fiscal year, until June 30, 2011: First, KCET would commit to pay its FY10 dues and accept terms detailed in the Sept. 20 letter. Second, Jones offers delay: “At this point, it is our understanding that KCET has rejected our best and final offer. We are willing, however, to give KCET additional time to reconsider its decision. In the event that KCET does not commit to either of the options above by Wednesday, October 13, 2010, we will deem KCET’s action an election on its part to terminate its membership in PBS effective December 31, 2010.”

Also Oct. 7: When KOCE’s Rogers hears of the impasse, “that was the first time we overtly said, ‘Yes, KOCE will take on the primary role,’” he later told Current. “Even then we thought an 11th-hour resolution would come about.” Rogers calls the SoCal Consortium station g.m.’s, and they agree that KOCE should be primary. Rogers tells them that KOCE will not enforce any PDP limits on the stations.

Oct. 8, 2010: Just before noon, Jerome calls Kerger and Bava calls Jones to relay KCET’s decision to exit PBS on Dec. 31. KCET embargoes a press release for 12:30 p.m. Pacific, when Jerome calls a station meeting and informs employees. Mel Rogers, KOCE’s chief exec, learns of KCET’s decision soon after. Gordon sends a letter to Kerger and CPB President Pat Harrison, citing the station’s “unsustainable dues obligation.”

Oct. 12, 2010: Kerger e-mails leaders of other member stations systemwide: “Given KCET’s declaration of its intention to separate from PBS, we are grateful that KOCE has expressed a willingness to step up as the primary station in the market.” She adds that CPB and PBS “are also working closely with KOCE, KVCR, and KLCS to pursue the future . . .  of a SoCal Consortium.”


Los Angeles stations tried collaboration in 2000. Despite CPB’s financial support of just over $1 million, nothing came of the effort.

KCET’s twin programs for daycare providers, A Place of Our Own and Los Niños en Su Casa, brought in the station’s biggest production grants — BP gave $25 million — and raised its PBS dues thereafter. Story published in 2004.

The PBS Board didn’t raise dues income again for FY11. Kerger warns public TV may lose capabilities and impact, April 2010.


KCET’s split from PBS leaves uncertainty for both.

KOCE goes primary after KCET goes nuclear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *