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Local PBS affiliates meet to discuss consortium plan

Amid ongoing speculation that KCET may break away from PBS, representatives from the four Los Angeles area PBS affiliates met Wednesday to discuss a restructuring plan that would prevent the nation's second-largest media market from losing its flagship public television station.

The plan explored calls for the KCET to form a consortium with Orange County's KOCE, the Inland Empire's KVCR and the Los Angeles school district's KLCS. The stations then would save money by reducing programming overlap, cross promoting, and better coordinating fundraisers.

For months, KCET executives have warned that they may sever ties with the national network and become an independent station if the station's annual payment to PBS cannot be lowered. PBS officials have stated KCET pays about the same rate as other stations and has given no indication it intends to adjust the station's dues.

Despite KCET's threats to leave the network, KOCE-TV's President and Chief Executive Mel Rogers said Wednesday after the meeting that a complete break is unlikely.

"Both sides have too much to lose" if KCET and PBS part ways, he said. "If I were betting, I wouldn't bet that KCET would leave PBS," he continued. "I believe it would be best for public TV, the viewers in this area and the market for KCET to continue at some level."

However, if KCET does leave PBS, KOCE would "step into the breach," Rogers said, and would provide more PBS programming than it does currently. (Its schedule is made up of about 25% PBS-provided programming; the rest is acquired and locally produced).

KCET's chief executive, Al Jerome, could not be reached for comment about Wednesday's discussions. The meeting, held at KOCE's Huntington Beach headquarters, had apparently been scheduled more than a month ago.

"It's historically been every man for himself, but that doesn't work in this environment," Larry Ciecalone, general manager and president of KVCR in San Bernardino, said Wednesday. "We want to program these stations jointly so we can really super-serve the viewers."

If a consortium plan were adopted, it would put all four public TV stations on equal footing, rather than the traditional PBS model of having a primary, then one or more secondary stations. Such a configuration, though, represents a sticking point for PBS, which would probably have less money flowing into its coffers as a result.

While the stations in the group have always been competitors, the recession and drastic reductions in vital corporate underwriting and donations have drawn them together.

KCET is the biggest PBS station, with nearly 9 million viewers, in the country's second-biggest media market. Of its $40-million budget, KCET pays out about $7 million in programming fees to PBS, a 40% increase over the last several years. The station has laid off employees, shrinking its staff from 170 to 132, cutting salaries and pension contributions. The station is expecting a $10-million hit to its budget this year.

The group will try to meet again in November, with a spot at the table reserved for KCET.

"We're not spending a lot of time thinking about what this consortium would be like without them because we hope they're still part of it," Ciecalone said.

-- T. L. Stanley

Comments () | Archives (3)

I can only hope that KCET goes the way of the dinosaurs. Badly run, full of repetitive programming, the station has been run by dilettantes for years; anything of value on the station comes from PBS and is not generated locally.

One merely has to see a night's worth of programming from stations like Pittsburgh's WQED or, particularlyNew York's WNET and WLIW to understand what a REAL PBS station is supposed to be like, and how badly Los Angeles has been served by KCET.

I can only hope that the station loses its braodcast license and is replaced with a quality PBS outlet.

This article appeared on a list read around the WORLD; I live near Boston where we get by with two PBS outlets: WGBH-TV and their subsidiary, WGBX-TV. The former is the FAMOUS one whose call letters pop up ahead of many PBS shows. Its over-the-air operation runs two or three signals at a time, so that its primary signal can send out a true 1080p picture for such programming as the Metropolitan Opera in HD. WGBX-TV sends out FOUR 24-hour-a-day streams so that between them, these two channels seem to offer nearly everything anyone would expect of a PBS station. Comcast Cable at least sets aside the six channels that emanante from them. Broadcast TV is in decline; the ABC-Television Network affiliate in Providence, RI just declared bankruptcy. From afar, I note that there are three PBS stations atop Mount Wilson, probably more than even a market like Los Angeles needs. Perhaps just two are really needed, and if KCET wants to give up the ghost, it can turn in its license and sell the copper in its transmission line for what it can get for it.

Each year, I donate to six Southern California public broadcasting stations (three radio and three TV). KCET sends me more mail in three months, asking for money, than the other five stations send all year--combined.

The web-site www.charitynavigator.org rates charities based upon their salaries, fundraising expenses, program expenses, etc. KCET consistently performs near the bottom of the pack. While I enjoy some of their programming, I don't think they run a very efficient organization.


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