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Los Angeles PBS affiliate KCET exits network fold to go independent

Al jerome 
KCET, the Los Angeles PBS member station, has decided to break away from the public broadcasting network and become an independent station.

Starting in January, station officials intend to replace such iconic PBS fare as "Charlie Rose," "NewsHour," "Sesame Street" and "Masterpiece" with news and documentaries from Japan, Canada and elsewhere, along with old feature films. (KCET will continue to carry PBS programming through the end of December.)

The drastic move comes after a months-long battle over the dues KCET must pay the national organization. Last year, the dues totaled nearly $7 million, or almost one-fifth of the station's $37-million net operating revenue. Station officials say that amount is far too high. PBS, fearing that a reduction in the sum could lead to demands for similar discounts from other member stations, refused to budge.

"After four decades as the West Coast flagship PBS station, this is not a decision we made lightly," said Al Jerome, KCET's president and chief executive, in a news release. "We have been in discussions with PBS for over three years about the need to address challenges that are unique to our market as well as our station."

"As an independent public television station, KCET will be committed to investing in Southern California by developing, acquiring, producing and distributing content across all media platforms," he added. "We will continue to offer the KCET audience programming from leading national and international sources. Some of these series are currently on our air."

Yet a divorce could prove painful for both parties. Independent broadcasting outlets found themselves in perilous times even before the recent recession hit. Without recognizable series to promote, KCET will likely find it difficult to gain traction with viewers. Moreover, the station will find it tough to produce or buy shows that generate strong ratings as program costs keep escalating.

A pullout isn't good news for PBS, either, as it signals "to other PBS members that affiliation isn't that important anymore," according to Jeffrey McCall, a media expert at DePauw University.

It also increases doubts about the long-term future of public broadcasting. "PBS certainly does not play the essential role it once did in the nation's media landscape," McCall said. "For years, PBS provided things that couldn't be had from the traditional networks," including public affairs and educational programs.

"Now, with cable outlets, not to mention the Internet, the public doesn't rely on PBS for such fare."

-- Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: Al Jerome, president and chief executive of KCET

Photo credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times 





Comments () | Archives (124)

Are you sure you're doing the right thing for the Southern California viewing public, Mr. Jerome? Seriously? Well, best of luck.

Sad, but maybe an opportunity for a unique station to bloom, hopefully centered around... Huell Howser! That guy is AMAZING!

What about World?

"NewsHour" is still the best source for news hands down.

Wow! This sucks. What are they going to replace science and history shows with? History Channel or Discovery shows? They can't just buy brand names in this market, so they have to pay a lot of $$$ to produce them. This is a sad day for LA. The good news is that KOCE will still be on.

Oh boy - I bet Huell Howser will get elevated to Prime Time! I can hardly wait to see what these bozos come up with for local programmming...

Pathetic decision; I have been a KCET member since 1988 - no more; I guess what they're saying is the Newshour is no longer relevant when we can watch Fox News or, until recently, Rick Sanchez on CNN.

It does show what KCET's leadership thinks the station is really about - them.

24-7 of low budge "So Cal Connected" type programming?
Good luck with that.

Terrible news. Mystery! and Masterpiece Theater are the only reasons I've been contributing to KCET for all these years. Are they abandoning their base?

Goodbye KCET.

They've lost this viewer. I'll find another affiliate to watch, thank you.

As the economy continues to sour to the point of being non sustainable, companies continue to amaze me at the sheer stupidity of their decisions. Who are these idiots that are running these highly respected (until now that is) companies? Honestly, they all need to be kicked out and replaced with people that genuinely appreciate their jobs. Do NOT ask me for money, you will get none and a slam on the phone. I think FOOLS best describes BOTH of these idiots..

This is a huge mistake for KCET...if anything at all I rely more on PBS and NPR more than the mainstream media or cable.

If they go through with this, they are jumpin' the shark.

Without PBS programs, KCET will no longer be on my list of favorite TV channels.

NO !!!! What a terrible mistake this is. Liberal media wins again ...

While I empathize with everyone who's grown up with KCET's PBS content, most of PBS's best content can be viewed on the internet (Charlie Rose reruns can also be seen on Bloomberg).

I know this doesn't help people who don't have a high speed internet connection (or bloomberg on cable), but for me the relevance of broadcasters is fading quickly. If you want to see content, go find it on the web!

I'll give it six months before KCET comes crawling back to PBS

Documentaries from Japan? Is this to help KCET commit hari kari?

I like the move. PBS is a corporation, with similar interests as the rest of corporate media - make money. Look at how they play hardball with their affiliates. They are regarded as non-profit, although all employed by them make a substantive living financially. To me that's a profit. I would do the same thing if my provider of content pushed me to the wall - break through the wall and survive independently. PBS isn't the only provider of quality content. I love Frontline, Nova, Nature and American Experience also, but the want for these shows shouldn't alter their fiscal responsibility. Cable TV knew I loved The Food Network and TCM and kept raising my rates thinking I couldn't do without. Well I did do without and haven't had Cable TV for 7 years. It's a tough move, but I like the courage.

Very very sad. I love PBS and KCET.

I hope this is just a negotiating ploy to get concessions out of PBS because if it isn’t the KCET studios will be in mothballs within a year. We live in a time when we have 600 channels of crap and the PBS stations are the only oasis in today’s TV wasteland.

I'm not sure if this is a case of KCET cutting off its nose to spite its face, or visa versa. What is certain is this is a omen that portends a grim future for both parties.

For now, I can cover the slack with the Orange County PBS stations carried by my provider. But unless there are changes to the contractual obligations and fee schedules, I fear KCET may be the first of many important PBS outlets to venture into independence.

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