WYBE in Philadelphia will transition in coming years from a public TV station to a foundation, drawing on its $131 million in proceeds from the FCC’s broadcast spectrum auction to award grants.
Licensee Independence Public Media of Philadelphia Inc. made the announcement Thursday. It operates WYBE as MiND TV, featuring short-form videos created by members of the community and international programming.
The nonprofit will make grants “initially in the Philadelphia region” to other nonprofits “using media and new technologies to connect communities, promote diversity and encourage understanding,” according to the announcement. It plans to start awarding grants by early 2019.
CEO Howard Blumenthal’s last day at WYBE is Friday. A skeleton staff will remain at the station until the end of the year, when the signal will go dark.
WYBE’s board has yet to finalize details of foundation operations, according to Chair Rene DeGeorge Smith. “I don’t see us going far off track from our mission of educating and connecting the community,” she said.
Blumenthal will remain on the governing panel. “Everyone on the board is very focused on the community” as the foundation takes form, he said. “We want to discover the needs and the gaps both within and outside of public media.”
Smith added that the board will look at “what’s failed and what’s succeeded, and why” when identifying potential projects.
Independence Public Media, which is not a PBS affiliate, has never been a typical public broadcaster, Smith said. “We’ve always been trying different things,” she said. “We’re not tethered to a state or university licensee. We’ve been wondering about our future over and over again.”
Before the FCC spectrum auction, directors considered channel-sharing or merging with another public broadcaster, but neither option was feasible in the market, Smith said. The station’s coverage overlaps with that of public broadcasters WHYY in Philadelphia, WLVT in Allentown and NJTV.
The board had been pondering the possibility of becoming a foundation, “but it didn’t firm up until the auction proceeds were becoming a more real possibility,” Smith said.
Moving forward, the board hopes to preserve some of the local content generated since the station launched in 1990. “Anything of value will be kept in the public space,” Smith said.