PBS narrowly averted losing the membership of Chicago affiliate WTTW, the New York Times is reporting today (May 23). Earlier this year the board of WTTW-TV told management to consider withdrawing from the system, as KCET had done in January. “Our board, they are smart business people,” says Dan Schmidt, WTTW president, “and when they look at our business model they scratch their heads and they say this is upside down from a business standpoint.” He says his station pays $4.5 million a year in PBS dues, and yet “viewers can see that content on other stations and increasingly, whenever they want to on PBS.org.” WTTW had a $4.2 million operating deficit last year, Schmidt says.
The paper says there are “murmurs of half a dozen more stations, at least — no one will name them on the record — that are on the fence and could leave,” depending on state and federal financing situations.
WTTW should reconsider and leave PBS. All overlap (beta) stations should leave PBS.
Stations who have a deficit in large part to PBS should leave also.
The money saved will enable stations to use part of the stations to buy equally good programming from better sources.
Sadly, the people that are in a position to fix the “PBS system” are paid in cash or reputation to NOT fix it. The corner office execs. The board members in every city and hamlet across the country. The Paula Kergers of the world. All of these people have a vested interest in the system as it stands today and will not act to create something new — something that the country needs and deserves in televised public media.
A C-SPAN-style centralized collection of program streams operated by a national organization, delivering program streams to cable and satellite systems nationwide and delivering content to online services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and the like. Local “stations” would be given the programming basically free and could do all kinds of remix work with the content, including local underwriting, unique streams, unique programming models, etc.
The “system” as it stands today is a slasher film’s mess of what it once was. Local stations aren’t local anymore. There’s virtually no local programming created anywhere, except at the richest stations in the largest markets. While PBS was started as a service to give voice to the voiceless, to act as a bulwark against the explosion of commercial media, it has failed to maintain that mission.
PBS is just another cable channel today, usually poorly managed at the local level. It’s completely sustainable as a national service — no question about that. But the inefficiencies inherent in “the system” today are out of sync with the media world that truly exists.
But just watch — PBS and her stations are slouching toward oblivion and will continue to do so. The Orlando and L.A. defections are just the start.
The people with the power to build a better future for televised public media — the PBS execs, the station execs, and the hopelessly-out-of-touch station board members — can only continue to take home their salaries and reputations by ignoring reality.
The Baby Boomer exec refrain: “If I can just make it a few more years, then I can retire…”