CPB analysis finds uneven revenue growth in individual giving, underwriting

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Dru Sefton/Current

Revenues of public television and radio stations grew by $337 million, or an 11% increase, for the fiscal year ending in 2021, according to CPB’s latest “State of the System” report.

Moustapha Abdul, senior director of station and system analysis for CPB, presented the report during the Public Media Business Association annual conference Wednesday. The revenue growth in 2021 marks a potential recovery from the downturn during fiscal year 2020, when station revenues declined by $147 million, mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic. Station revenues grew by $291 million in fiscal 2019 and $264 million in fiscal 2018, gains that put CPB’s adjusted FY21 figures more in line with pre-pandemic numbers.

The revenue totals for fiscal 2021 exclude numbers from passive and investment income, which would have boosted revenue growth to $844 million, according to Abdul’s presentation. Because economic markets may be volatile going forward, CPB subtracted investment income from the analysis. The report also excludes CPB’s funding to stations and the $175 million in emergency stabilization grants that Congress approved in March 2021.

In FY21, stations’ individual giving revenues increased by $90 million. Most of the growth was attributed to public TV’s gains of $74 million. Public radio bolstered its foundation funding by $7 million, which grew by $10 million across all TV and radio stations. Revenues from membership and major gifts have grown steadily for radio and television stations since 2017, according to a slide showing revenues from these individual gift categories over five years.

But CPB’s analysis found revenue declines totaling $75 million in university funding, underwriting and other categories. University spending declined $9 million, underwriting fell back $23 million and the remaining drop of $43 million was attributed to other categories, including special fundraising campaigns, events and auctions, according to Abdul.

Underwriting losses hit public radio stations; their revenues declined $36 million in FY21. Public TV underwriting income grew by $12 million, offsetting the red lines in CPB’s systemwide analysis.

Radio stations reduced spending on programming and production by $52 million. Additional savings were recorded for fundraising and broadcast and engineering. Expenses for management and general, which includes administration services, increased $9 million.

In television, expenses increased $62 million across stations, even though spending on programming and production declined $30 million. Abdul said broadcast and engineering costs for television increased $76 million, but the bulk of that spending was attributed to one station that Abdul didn’t name.

CPB’s report included details on workforce changes. Stations had 433 more job openings in FY21 than in FY20. Hiring, however, has declined from 1,820 hires in FY19 to 1,648 hires in FY21. According to CPB, 53% of public media employees are women, and nonwhite employees make up 26% of the system’s workforce. There were 551 grantees and 1,553 stations in the system during FY21, according to the report.

During the presentation, Katherine Arno, VP of community service grants and station initiatives, said some stations have not yet recorded the emergency support funds they received during the pandemic. Congress authorized a total of $250 million in relief for public broadcasters in legislation enacted in 2020 and 2021. Some stations are likely saving the funds in case of future downturns, she said.

In responding to questions from PMBA attendees, CPB officials who participated in the session, including Abdul, Arno, CFO William Tayman and VP Beth Walsh, declined to speculate on how a potential recession could affect public broadcasting. But they emphasized that inflationary pressures are adding to financial uncertainties for the system.

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