CPB’s financial analysis on alternative funding sources for public broadcasting, prepared by consultants at Booz & Co. and delivered to Congress in June, has had little impact on lawmakers’ views about continuation of CPB’s annual federal appropriation to date, CPB staff reported during a Sept. 10 board meeting in Washington, D.C.
In the report, analysts for Booz examined a range of options for replacing CPB’s federal aid — from selling commercial advertising to tapping spectrum auction proceeds or selling pay-channel subscriptions, among others. They concluded that withdrawal of federal aid would have a “cascading debilitating effect,” starting first with stations serving rural areas and ultimately leading to collapse of the public broadcasting system.
The dire predictions haven’t made much difference in swaying lawmakers on Capitol Hill, CPB’s government affairs staff reported to the board. “I think it’s fair to say that in the past two-and-a-half months there’s been a little change in the conversation regarding funding for public broadcasting, and the idea of commercials,” said Michael Levy, CPB executive vice president. CPB staff have been meeting with key Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate appropriations committees to discuss why a purely commercial model for public broadcasting is not a viable option.
The Booz analysis predicted that public TV could earn more revenue from commercial advertising sales than it now does from underwriting, but the switch to ads would prompt a large portion of those who provide private support to the field — individual donors, foundations and underwriters — to withdraw their support, resulting in a net revenue loss.
Lawmakers requested the report in December 2011 when they approved CPB’s fiscal 2014 advance appropriation for $445 million. The 181-page document was prepared by Booz & Co. Levy and Tim Isgitt, CPB senior v.p. of government affairs, noted that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle were impressed with the report’s level of detail and its impartiality regarding the contentious issue.
However, “there’s a continued and pervasive feeling on the Hill that public broadcasting needs to go on its own,” Isgitt said, noting that some Republican staffers have negative opinions embedded so deep that “you’re not going to change their minds.”
CPB President Pat Harrison said that by scrutinizing the alternatives to federal funding in a non-polemical manner, the report has succeeded in changing the tone of the discussion by demonstrating that support of public broadcasting must also come with support for federal funding.
The remaining leaders of public broadcasting’s national organizations — the Association of Public Television Stations, PBS and NPR —also addressed the importance of federal funding at the meeting.
On Capitol Hill, “we’re trying to understand what’s on people’s minds, why they oppose federal funding,” said APTS President Pat Butler. “It’s important that we understand the nature of the opposition, and where we might find common ground. We are beginning to have some converts without making concessions. We have no interest in selling our birthright in the interest of making converts.”
PBS President Paula Kerger said federal dollars are “seed money” for important projects such as the anti-dropout American Graduate. “That isn’t just nice stuff, it’s essential work for laying the foundation for our country’s future,” she said. “If we don’t have an educated citizenry, there’s no hope for future competitiveness in the global marketplace.”
And Gary Knell, NPR president, criticized language in the House Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee bill that would prohibit pubradio stations from using federal money in fiscal 2013 “to pay dues to, acquire programs from, or otherwise support National Public Radio.”
“Congress is saying basically, we’re going to micromanage how local radio stations choose the programs they air,” Knell said. “Marketplace and the BBC are okay for federal funding but not Morning Edition and All Things Considered. That’s patently ridiculous, and we should call it what it is.”
The CPB Board later unanimously approved a resolution to “strongly affirm the important and irreplaceable role that federal funding plays in allowing public radio and television stations to help their communities thrive through the provision of a wide variety of high quality content and essential community services. ”