Downton Abbey merchandise line coming this year, executive producer says

Gareth Neame, Downton Abbey e.p., told CNBC that the hit Edwardian drama on Masterpiece Classic will offer a new line of merchandise this year. “We’ll be working across an entire range of products coming out this year,” he said. “From fashion, apparel and homeware and furniture to wallpapers, beauty products and stationary.”

Neame said the show has been “extremely cautious” about developing and selling such items. “In retail terms, the first series launched the program and the brand, the second year ratified it and the show didn’t even hit its high point in the U.S. until this year when series three ended in the U.S.,” Nearne said. “It’s very rare for a British drama to have this much retail potential and merchandizing value.”

CNBC noted that the show’s popularity “has translated into a boom for U.K. retailers who have reported massive sales of arm-length gloves, fur capes, cravats and waistcoats that the Edwardian characters wear in the series. Even the old-fashioned liquor sherry has enjoyed a 15 percent rise in sales according to retail chain Marks and Spencer.”

CPB Board selects Mitchelson as inspector general to replace Konz

Mary Mitchelson, deputy inspector general at the Department of Education Office of Inspector General, will take over as CPB inspector general June 3. She replaces retiring CPB IG Kenneth Konz. The CPB Board selected Mitchelson for the position, which is responsible for promoting economy, efficiency, and effectiveness; preventing fraud, waste and mismanagement in CPB programs and operations; and independently auditing CPB’s internal operations and external grantees. CPB Board Chair Patty Cahill said in Monday’s announcement that Mitchelson “brings a high level of integrity and extensive managerial skills” to the post. Mitchelson has been with the Department of Education’s IG office since 2000.

PubTV urges commission to drop ‘OET-69’ proposal

CPB, PBS and the Association of Public Television Stations are jointly opposing a proposal by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) to use a new software program to analyze television coverage and interference data. The proposal was floated by the commission in February and intended to update the analytical tools the commission will use in preparing for the 2014 broadcast spectrum auctions. In a letter filed with the FCC early this month, the three pubcasting organizations said the proposal would adversely affect many public TV stations by reducing the size of their service areas. Pubcasters were responding to a request for comments on “OET-69,” an FCC bulletin that described the methodology used by TVStudy, the software that the commission proposes to use to analyze coverage and interference among full-service digital and Class A television stations. The current software was implemented in the 1990s for use as stations transitioned from analog to digital broadcasting.

Live from Boston: A marathon of coverage

Edgar B. Herwick III, a features reporter for WGBH, was enjoying his field assignment on that cool, sunny Monday, interviewing runners as they triumphantly crossed the finish line of the April 15 Boston Marathon.

Moyers celebrates 200K on Facebook with thank-you video

Veteran pubcasting journalist Bill Moyers today hit 200,000 likes on his Facebook page, home to his public affairs show Moyers & Co. Program spokesman Joel Schwartzberg told Current that figure is more than PBS NewsHour, Nova and American Experience, “and catching up quickly on Frontline,”with its 230,000. Moyers “has been so involved in our digital strategy and is so thrilled” that he created a special video to say thank you to his fans, Schwartzberg said. “With numbers like that,” Moyers says on the video, “we could easily storm several castles, or the Bastille; we could tilt at an army of windmills or sell out the Super Bowl a couple of times over. Better to put all that collective people power to work for social justice, to lift our voices against inequality and the money and corruption that foul democracy.”

NEA announces 2013 media arts grants; OVEE and AIR projects among recipients

The National Endowment of the Arts announced $4.68 million in funding to 76 media-arts projects April 23, including new grantees such as the Online Video Engagement Experience (OVEE) developed with CPB funding, a new initiative from the Association of Independents in Radio called Spectrum America and Sonic Trace, a multimedia production at KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., that was created through AIR’s recently concluded Localore project. For a second year, the NEA will continue to support projects that use digital technologies to go beyond traditional broadcasting platforms. In its announcement, the endowment highlighted a $100,000 grant to OVEE, a digital platform that allows web users to interact while watching PBS and local station content. The Independent Television Service developed the technology with support from CPB. AIR also received $100,000 for Spectrum America, a project that will pair media artists with public stations as they experiment with “new approaches to storytelling.”

Sonic Trace, a co-production at KCRW initiated through AIR’s 2012–2013 Localore initiative, received a direct NEA grant of $75,000 to continue exploring the experience of Latino immigrants. NEA also backed digital media projects at NPR, providing $100,000 for music programming and multimedia content.

President Obama chooses SCETV chair as third nomination to CPB Board

President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated Brent Nelsen, a political science professor at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., to a term on the CPB board expiring in January 2016. Nelsen would replace former Vice Chair Gay Hart Gaines, an interior designer and civic activist whose term expired in 2010. He is chair of the Educational Television Commission, which oversees SCETV in South Carolina. This is the president’s third recent CPB nomination. In February, he selected Los Angeles attorney Bruce Ramer to serve another term, and chose educator Jannette Lake Dates to replace former Board Chair Ernest Wilson, whose term expired in 2010.

CPB accepts policy revamp proposal from radio CSG panel; first changes since 2005

The CPB Board on April 22 unanimously approved changes to its Radio Community Service Grants program for fiscal 2014, including phased-in hikes in nonfederal financial support (NFFS) requirements for most stations, pubradio’s first transparency requirements, qualification changes for minority-status stations and $9 million in financial incentives over five years for mergers and collaborations. Current CSG policies, which govern distribution of some $90.6 million in radio grants for fiscal 2013, were last updated in 2005. Since then, “shifts in technology, audience behavior, demographics, competition, and the economy have dramatically changed the landscape for public media,” said Oregon Public Broadcasting President Steve Bass, a CSG panel member who spoke at the CPB meeting. “That environmental reality was the backdrop for our discussions and influenced our thinking about the CSG program policy that would best serve the interests of stations and better align our system for the future.”

A 20-member CSG panel, more than half of which was made up of general managers from stations, has been crafting the update over the last 14 months. Bruce Theriault, senior v.p. of radio, told the board that more than 200 stations gave feedback on the document.

Tippett to take On Being into independent production

On Being, a weekly pubradio program about religion and faith, is creating a production house for the show that will exist offsite from its distributor, American Public Media. The transition is happening with the assistance of APM, which will continue to distribute the show at its regular times.

KCETLink’s Marcus exits, recalling ‘great run’ with SoCal Connected

Bret Marcus, the KCET exec who led production of the station’s acclaimed local news series SoCal Connected, is among the 22 employees riffed in the layoffs announced last week by KCETLink, the new public media outlet formed in a merger of the Los Angeles pubTV station with noncommercial satellite channel Link TV. Marcus, a former commercial TV news executive, served as KCET’s chief content officer and executive producer of the award-winning SoCal Connected, the local public TV news show that had a storied history producing investigative series and other news reports that made a difference in communities in the region. “I feel like I had a great run there,” Marcus told Current. SoCal Connected and its predecessor, California Connected, “were very unusual programs, produced by some of the best people in the news business. I’m very pleased about that.”

Aereo unveils plan to expand into Boston

Aereo, the upstart TV programming service that is being sued by the major television networks, plans to expand its over-the-air streaming service into  Boston on May 15. Aereo currently sells daily, monthly or annual subscriptions to television viewers in New York, using dime-sized antennas that capture broadcast signals and convert them into streaming video distributed over the Internet. Subscribers “rent” the antennas and have the option to watch television programming live or on demand via a device similar to a digital video recorder. PBS and New York’s WNET are among the broadcast television outlets that filed lawsuits against Aereo in federal court in New York. Last July, Judge Alison J. Nathan refused to grant an injunction against Aereo, an action that likely would have shut down the service.

CPB study to examine public policy implications of spectrum auctions

CPB has initiated a six-month research project on the upcoming broadcast spectrum auctions that will culminate with publication of a white paper. Mark Erstling, s.v.p. system development, told board members at headquarters April 22 that the paper will have “the same scale and importance” as CPB’s 2012 report to Congress on alternative funding for the system, which it delivered last June. The study will examine multiple complex issues surrounding the auctions, such as preservation of universal service of public broadcasting to all Americans; the role of Community Service Grant policy in spectrum discussions; how much noncommercial spectrum may be necessary in large and overlap markets; the financial implications for individual stations as well as the system as a whole; and station responsibilities to their communities. The intended audience for the paper, Erstling said, will be the CPB Board, station boards and management “who are making the tough decisions” regarding the future of their spectrum; policymakers in state and federal government and other key stakeholders; and the public. The Association of Public Television Stations is assembling a board-level task force to conduct market studies on the auctions, and PBS is undertaking engineering studies and operational assessments, Erstling told the CPB Board.

Turmoil at WJFF: eight trustees resign after contentious public meeting

Community criticism of the leadership of  WJFF-FM, a public radio station branded as “Radio Catskill,” prompted all but one member of the station’s board of trustees to resign April 19, one week after the ouster of former General Manager Winston Clark, according to local news accounts of the controversy. During a contentious April 19 public meeting of the trustees, station volunteers criticized the board for “alleged complicity” in Clark’s uncompromising management style and board members responded to questions about station finances and compliance with FCC and CPB open-meetings rules, according to the River Reporter newspaper of Narrowsburg, N.Y., Eight of nine board members later announced their resignation. In a joint statement posted on the website of the River Reporter, the resigning board members responded to criticism of their stewardship of the station:

“In recent months, and in particular in our last two board meetings, we have been subjected to personal attacks and unfounded accusations of financial and ethical violations, none of which are true. We believe our efforts have stabilized the station’s financial position and improved its programming for the benefit of the wide WJFF communities as we have strived to look outward rather than inward. Any further debate as to the future of the station can now continue without us.

CPB Board recognizes retiring IG Konz

The CPB Board today honored retiring CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz with a resolution of appreciation for his service in the post since 1998. Konz told the board he arrived 15 years ago thinking he’d stay for two years. “This has been a collegial, wonderful group of people to work with,” Konz said. “I am sure with the people I leave here and the new inspector general, the office will continue in good hands and continue to have a good relationship with CPB.” The independent office audits CPB grants, investigates complaints from citizens, promotes efficiency and works to deter fraud, waste and mismanagement in CPB programs and operations.

Kansas City pubTV buys Triple A music station

A new kind of public media signal expansion will rock Kansas City, Mo., under a license transfer agreement announced April 19 by KCPT. The Missouri-based community licensee is purchasing KTBG-FM, a split-format NPR News and Triple A music station licensed to the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. KCPT will pay $1.1 million in cash to the university and provide $550,000 worth of in-kind services, according to Kliff Kuehl, KCPT c.e.o.

“I’m a big fan of the station and love what they’ve been doing,” Kuehl said. “We want to make it a place to go for live, local music, the arts and culture of the nonprofit community in the Kansas City area.”

KCPT’s plans for its new station include an $600,000 engineering project to boost the KTBG’s signal and reach. The station’s transmitter will be relocated to a site 20 miles closer to Kansas City.

Mhari Saito, award-winning reporter for Cleveland’s ideastream, dies at 41

Mhari Saito, a reporter for Cleveland’s ideastream, died April 15 from a long battle with gastric cancer. She was 41. Saito began her career as an NPR stringer in Cambodia in the late ’90s before becoming an urban-affairs reporter for WHYY in Philadelphia. She moved to Cleveland with her family in 2003 and began working for ideastream in August 2005. While at ideastream, Saito reported on various topics, including the housing market, and contributed lighthearted local features.

Public radio tattoos make a comeback

The latest package of public radio fundraising premiums allows devout listeners to temporarily brand their passion for their favorite shows on their forearms — or elsewhere. A set of eight rub-on tattoos in colorful vintage designs tout the titles On the Media, Fresh Air, Morning Edition, All Things Considered and This American Life. They’re offered to stations by longtime pubcasting premium distributor VisABILITY in Lyons, Colo. The temporary tattoos are the second to be created for listeners who want to express their support for public radio through body art. Ira Glass, whose cleverness in creating pledge-drive premiums helped to build station carriage for This American Life when it was a new public radio series, first approached  VisABILITY owners Janice Gavan and John Burke about pubradio tattoos in 1998.