PBS is once again enjoying a budget surplus, thanks in part to the continuing success of Masterpiece’s hit British costume drama Downton Abbey. PBS Chief Financial Officer Barbara Landes told the board’s finance committee Monday that net income for fiscal 2014 totaled $30.7 million. This year, $10.4 million of that total is a one-time windfall due to the sale of PBS’s 15 percent equity share in the kids’ cable network Sprout. NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group acquired full ownership of Sprout, formerly called PBS Kids Sprout, in November 2013. PBS operations generated $20.3 million, thanks to better than expected returns on short-term investments, revenue-generating activities such as online sponsorship and mobile apps, and lower operating expenses, according to Landes.
With many local pubcasters reporting sharp declines in daytime viewership, PBS programmers are reevaluating scheduling strategies for children’s programs, trying to get a handle on a problem that’s also affecting commercial competitors for kids TV audiences.
With the all-digital future arriving, if haltingly, and a bigger share of viewers likely to come through DTV multicast channels, public TV stations are reconsidering how to use their bitstream, making over their channels, and in some cases adding new services to woo audiences. The wee audience, for one. Little kids and their parents are a vital audience and constituency for public TV, and mockups of the stations’ future DTV menu often featured a dedicated channel for them. To supply it, stations had access to a 24-hour PBS Kids feed, packaged by PBS. That changed in 2005 when the network acceded to the desires of its two biggest producers for children and joined a partnership to package Sprout, a cable channel for preschoolers.