After release of results, stations announce plans for FCC auction largesse

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As soon as the FCC announced results of its broadcast spectrum auction Thursday, public TV stations began to speak out about plans for their proceeds.

The WGBH Foundation in Boston will receive $162 million for the spectrum of WGBH, which will move to a low-VHF channel, and $57 million for WGBY in Springfield, Mass., which will move to high-VHF. It will use the proceeds to expand educational services, bolster journalism coverage and strengthen its endowment. WGBH President Jon Abbott said the stations remain “committed to serving audiences and educators across the Commonwealth and New England.”

KQED in San Francisco will receives $95.4 million and stop broadcasting on one of its three signals. The funds will be invested in KQED’s long-term sustainability, the station said.

Some over-the-air viewers will need to redirect their antennas, according to KQED. “Of the more than 1 million TV households in the region, KQED estimates that less than 1,000 might have reception issues after the change, and the station will work directly with those viewers to mitigate any problems,” the station’s release said.

“This is one of those unusual win-win-win situations,” said President John Boland. “The people of the Bay Area will have a 21st century KQED that adapts to the way they use media today. KQED will be more financially sustainable and stable well into the future, and the FCC will have the spectrum it needs to provide wireless services.”

WSBE in Providence, R.I., will receive $94.4 million for a move to a low-VHF channel. The funds will go into an endowment to cover costs including the move to the new channel, upgrades to production and programming equipment and repairs to its physical plant.

“We took these steps in an effort to preserve the future of local public television,” said President David Piccerelli. “The results represent a new era in technological innovation and investment for Rhode Island PBS.”

Milwaukee PBS will receive $85 million to vacate the spectrum held for one of its channels, which it will combine with the transmission of its second station on its remaining spectrum. The proceeds will be used to address local workforce needs, ensure financial stability and continue its education programming mission.

“These proceeds will ensure we have the necessary technological infrastructure to meet our viewers’ needs,” said GM Bohdan Zachary.

WLVT in Bethlehem, Pa., said the station will use $82 million, its portion from a channel-sharing agreement, to upgrade the station’s on-air and digital capabilities, enhance local educational outreach initiatives and increase the production of original content. “This is an exciting moment in the history of PBS39 as we celebrate our 50th year,” said Tim Fallon, CEO.

■ KOCE, PBS’s primary station in greater Los Angeles, will earn $49 million in a channel-sharing deal with KSCI, a full-power independent station that multicasts a variety of Asian language services.

■ WOUB in Athens, Ohio, will move its WOUC-TV to a low-VHF frequency, earning it $18.4 million. Any funds remaining after the broadcaster moves and repacks its stations will be put into a quasi-endowment “to support WOUB’s public broadcasting community and strengthen its educational mission,” according to the university.

“We will use the endowment to stay abreast of new broadcast technologies and remain cutting edge for our students and our audiences,” said Mark Brewer, general manager of the WOUB Center for Public Media.

South Florida PBS said its $4.7 million will pay part of the debt incurred from the broadcaster’s 2015 creation, a merger of WPBT and WXEL. It will also bolster ongoing education work. “The proceeds from the spectrum auction will help ensure the preservation and long-term financial health of South Florida PBS,” said CEO Dolores Sukhdeo. The broadcaster said its service area may “slightly change” as a result of the sale.

Other organizations also reacted to the auction’s end. CPB, PBS and America’s Public Television Stations are working together to review and analyze the results, the three said in a joint statement. They added:

Our primary concern is that hundreds of public media stations who chose not to participate in the spectrum incentive auction nonetheless will be impacted as a result of the mandatory “repack”. Mandatory repacking requires stations to move to different broadcast channels. In addition, “bystander” television and radio stations, which share towers with stations that are being repacked, face the potential of operating at reduced power for months to ensure the safety of the workers implementing channel changes for other stations. These stations and their audiences are threatened with potentially debilitating service disruptions.

Areas served by low-power transmitting facilities (“TV translators”) may also be affected, with stations facing financial hardship as translators are not covered by FCC reimbursement funds. As a result, there could be loss of universal service for significant number of Americans, especially those who live in rural areas.

We look forward to working with the FCC on this unprecedented operational challenge. A smooth repacking transition, with sufficient time and reimbursement funds, is essential to protecting Americans’ access to public media’s local television and radio content and services.

And Free Press, which works for media reform, said it’s still working on its idea to persuade the State of New Jersey, licensee of NJTV, to invest part of its $332 million derived from consolidation of its spectrum in proceeds in a New Jersey Civic Information Consortium. “Funds could support projects that strengthen public-interest journalism, advance research and innovation in the media field, develop and deploy civic technology, and promote civic engagement,” President Craig Aaron said. Free Press hopes to expand the campaign to other markets that participated in the auction.

Corrections: An earlier version of this article contained a number of errors.

  • It mistakenly said that the state of New Jersey was entering into channel-sharing agreements for the spectrum it sold. The state is merging the two stations’ spectrum into that of two other stations it operates. 
  • It gave the incorrect location for WOUB. It is Athens, Ohio, not Columbus.
  • It incorrectly said that WGBHs signal will move to high-VHF, and WGBY will move to low-VHF. WGBH will move to high-VHF, and WGBH will move to low-VHF.
  • It incorrectly said that Milwaukee PBS will use proceeds will be used to address local workforce needs. Milwaukee PBS’ licensee, Milwaukee Area Technical College, said it would use part of the proceeds for that purpose.

7 thoughts on “After release of results, stations announce plans for FCC auction largesse

  1. You listed at least two of the stations’ DMA’s above as opposed to their cities of license. WOUC-TV is licensed to Cambridge, Ohio which is about 60 miles east of Columbus (you cannot even get a signal in Columbus).

    Likewise for WPBO-TV, which is in Portsmouth, Ohio, not Charleston-Huntington. It is about 50 miles away from Huntington and even further to Charleston.

    • In the case of WOUC, we were identifying the location of WOUB, which is in Columbus. I don’t see that WPBO is mentioned above so I’m not sure where you’re seeing that.

      • I saw the FCC list, so I understand the confusion. I believe they were breaking things out by DMA. But even WOUB is in Athens (70 miles away from Columbus).

        Was the article edited, perhaps? I think WPBO being in Charleston-Huntington was in the article initially.

          • Too many universities with the word “Ohio” in their names which also happen to own public TV stations! Can get confusing.

  2. Pingback: Pennsylvania’s PBS39 will add 10 journalists to support new nightly newscast | Current

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