PBS FY22 budget increases station dues, spending on content and marketing

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PBS' headquarters in Crystal City, Va.

PBS’ board approved a fiscal year 2022 budget Wednesday that increases station dues and includes higher expenses for content and marketing.

The FY22 budget allots $243.4 million for content and marketing, a $9.3 million increase over the previous year. It also projects station dues revenue at $203.7 million, a $2 million increase. Dues remained level last year.

PBS CFO and Treasurer Tom Tardivo said Tuesday during a Finance Committee meeting that the “modest increase” in dues recognizes “that some stations still face challenges due to the pandemic.”

“This additional funding will enable us to increase our investment in distinctive content and help us manage the increased costs of doing business in this extremely competitive digital environment,” Tardivo said.

PBS conducted two conference calls in May with more than 60 station managers to discuss dues and receive feedback, Finance Committee Chair Maxine Clark said during the meeting. “Feedback from the GMs was limited but positive,” she said.

The total budget is estimated to break even at $339.1 million, an increase of $3.9 million from FY21. Tardivo said 40% of revenue in FY22 is projected to come from sources other than dues, such as philanthropic grants and partnerships.

Income from subsidiaries for PBS Distribution, which includes direct-to-consumer SVOD channels and other programming, is projected to increase $5.3 million to $27.6 million. The revenue stream jumped $11.5 million during the first half of FY21, due in part to the August 2020 launch and unexpectedly strong performance of the PBS Documentaries channel on Amazon Prime.

‘Twists and turns’ in media landscape

During Wednesday’s board meeting, PBS President Paula Kerger said recent media mergers, such as Amazon’s acquisition of MGM and the creation of Warner Bros. Discovery, are making the larger landscape of broadcast and streaming more competitive for public television.

“There is, I think, a lot of opportunity that sits ahead of us,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re in the places where viewers are and I would just challenge us to not make assumptions, either about use of legacy media or about where all of this may be going, because I do believe this is going to continue to have many different twists and turns.”

“What has to stay at the center of all of the decisions we make,” she added, is “that thing that we are uniquely positioned to do and how we as a media enterprise [have] such power at the local level and the ability to scale nationally.”  

She said more details about PBS’ content strategy would be discussed in executive session.

Kerger also showed previews for several content initiatives, including the multiplatform project Un(re)solved, which examines the federal effort to investigate more than 150 cold cases that date to the civil rights era. The collaboration among Frontline and other partners includes a podcast and interactive features.

Kerger said PBS is in the final stages of recruiting a head of diversity, equity and inclusion who will report to her and work with the DEI counsel who also reports to Kerger.

“You have to be very mindful and intentional with how this role is positioned within the organization and making sure that they have the resources and the support for them to be successful, as well as the right portfolio,” Kerger said.

Kerger and Chief Programming Executive Sylvia Bugg conducted a listening tour over the last few months with the National Multicultural Alliance, filmmakers and producing partners, “all to look at ways of how we can build on our strong foundation of work to ensure that we are in fact bringing many voices forward.” Beyond Inclusion, a group of filmmakers, executives and programmers, criticized PBS’ commitment to diversity earlier this year.

She said PBS is working on an initiative to team up member stations with independent filmmakers to produce more diverse programming. At the PBS Annual Meeting last month, PBS also announced a multiyear, multimillion-dollar commitment to fund programs by nonfiction filmmakers of color, Kerger said.

PBS and CPB are partnering with a working group of station leaders to discuss systemwide best practices related to DEI and are also discussing professional development initiatives with Greater Public, the National Educational Telecommunications Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, Public Media Women in Leadership and the Public Media Diversity Leaders Initiative, led by South Carolina ETV and the Riley Institute at Furman University.

Board makeup to change

Paul Hunton, GM for Texas Tech Public Media in Lubbock, was unanimously elected by the PBS board as a professional director.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting Executive Director Ronnie Agnew, who is also chair of the board’s Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, said five seats held by professional directors will become open this year. Leaving the board are Agnew; Kliff Kuehl, CEO of Kansas City PBS; and Tom Rieland, GM of WOSU Public Media in Columbus, Ohio.

Incumbents Kevin Martin, CEO of Ideastream Public Media in Cleveland, and Deb Acklin, CEO of WQED in Pittsburgh, are eligible for second terms. 

The 2021 nominees for professional directors, which includes Martin and Acklin, are Mark Contreras, CEO of Connecticut Public; Greg Petrowich, CEO of WFYI in Indianapolis; Amy Shaw, CEO of Nine PBS in St. Louis; Jayme Swain, CEO of VPM in Richmond, Va.; and Ed Ulman, CEO of Alaska Public Media.

Member stations may petition to add candidates to the ballot. Stations will vote July 27 through Aug. 17. The committee will meet in coming weeks to continue discussing the 2021 election of general directors, who are elected by the board.

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