There’s a growing disparity between the haves and have-nots among public stations. Their abilities to expand services and revenues are diverging. And if they were to collaborate on fundraising, they’d want different results from it. That was the scene as described by 20 execs and consultants in the Public Media Futures forum held Feb. 16 in Washington, D.C., by the communication schools of the University of Southern California and American University in cooperation with Current.
A consultant’s study of public TV’s crowded Los Angeles market, commissioned by CPB, predicts a highly integrated collaboration among the area’s four stations would provide hefty financial savings and grow revenues for all four. The eight-week study by Booz & Co. — a major consulting firm spun off by Booz Allen Hamilton — said the present structure of the market has stunted the four stations. They’ve suffered a 10 percent revenue decline since 2005 and a 26 percent drop in net assets since 2007. All have average audiences below the PBS national average rating of 1.1 percent.
From here on out, it will be a lot harder to volunteer a public broadcasting station into existence. For a quarter-century, you mainly needed an FCC license that nobody else had snapped up yet, plus a minimal bankroll to show you had local support, and you could lay claim on a small share of CPB’s federal appropriation. The ordeal of starting a station was itself a test of mettle, but the field had no self-imposed or government-imposed criteria to select licensees, or national plans for rational siting of stations for universal coverage of the population. It may soon have such rules. Battered by claims that they are fat and wasteful, and facing the loss of some or all of their federal aid, pubcasters are pursuing cost-saving pacts with colleagues in Louisville, Denver and elsewhere.