CPB prods TV stations to consolidate, revamps rural grants

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Dru Sefton/Current

WASHINGTON — The CPB Board unanimously approved revamped criteria for public television’s Community Service Grants at a meeting Monday.

The new rules, recommended by a panel of station executives that worked on them over the past 18 months, include creation of a Healthy Network Initiative to encourage station collaboration and consolidation.

The $5 million initiative would reward stations that become part of joint master-control hubs or consolidate under one executive management, Ted Krichels, s.v.p, system development, told the board.

The approach builds on the recommendations of a CPB-commissioned report on system interconnection “not just to reduce costs but to be better positioned for technology changes,” Krichels said.

“Our hope is to demonstrably move the needle on multistation master-control participation,” he said.

TV CSG changes in 2010 also aimed to encourage collaboration and consolidation, but “unfortunately that largely has not worked,” said Oregon Public Broadcasting President Steve Bass, a TV CSG panel member who addressed the board by phone. Bass said the panel felt consolidation work needed “a different approach … more specific and more concrete.”

Several joint master-control hubs, two funded by CPB, have launched since the last CSG review, Bass said, “and we felt that would be a good direction to point stations.”

A targeted approach also provides “a greater incentive to get together under a single management to boost the public service stations offer and save some money in the process,” Bass said.

Several programs will be eliminated, including Local Service Grants, which go to stations with less than $2 million in nonfederal financial support. CPB will also end the Small Station Bonus, which has supported stations with under $2 million in NFFS that aren’t in multi-provider markets. Instead, rural stations can receive a new Universal Service Grant based in part on the population of the areas they serve.

Krichels said the previous Local Service Grants and Small Station Bonuses were “imprecise tools for targeting support for stations that serve rural populations.”

CPB will also phase out Program Differentiation Incentive grants, used by secondary stations in overlap markets for buying programs not aired by competing primary stations. Krichels said the grant “has become irrelevant” in today’s on-demand, multichannel media environment. The grants will be phased out over the next four years.

Krichels said the CSG panel based its work on priorities of universal service, diversity of service, performance, efficiency, impact and innovation. He added that the panel might reconvene after the FCC’s broadcast spectrum auction to consider updating guidelines to reflect system revenues from the auction.

The amount of NFFS a station must raise to remain eligible for a CSG remains at $800,000. Changes take effect starting in fiscal year 2017.

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