Happy New Year KCET. Welcome to the new year,independence, and a rebirth. You have severed your ties with PBS. You will no longer be serving the second largest media market in the nation as a PBS station. You were married for 40 years to PBS, but now a divorce is in order. The reason: irreconcilable differences.
You’re arguing over money. PBS wants more from you and you want to pay less to PBS.
You’re willing to dump Sesame Street, Nova, Frontline, et al to run programs from Canada, Japan, and the BBC, as well as your own programs, as you become the nation’s largest independent educational station.
BP, yes that BP, and First 5 Children provided about $25 million each in grants to KCET to produce “A Place of Our Own,” and its Spanish equivalent, “Los Ninos en Su Casa.” The award winning program was picked up by several PBS states nationally. The grants stipulated that none of the funds were to be used for administrative expenses.
The problem for KCET is that the grants cost it millions in dues to PBS. The dues schedule for PBS stations to pay PBS is a form of progressive taxation. The more a station reaps, the higher the percent it pays PBS.
KCET’s dues thus jumped 40% from $4.9 million annually to almost $7 million. Three million was due in January.
PBS refused to negotiate a lower fees schedule for KCET, whose revenues were otherwise dropping.
Sit back a moment and think about this – a PBS station is objecting to progressive taxation!
Three other PBS stations exist in the Los Angeles area: KOCE in Orange County, KVCR in San Bernardino, and KLCS, which is licensed to the Los Angeles School District. KOCE will essentially carry the full PBS schedule, up from ¼ today.
Los Angeles has most of the major museums, stage productions, and other cultural activities to the disadvantage of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura Counties. Orange County will now have the PBS station.
KOCE currently pays PBS about $3 million annually, or 10% of KOCE’s budget of $10 million. IT expects to fill KCET’s shoes. It will probably be carried on all the major cable networks. KCET's annual budget is $61 million.
By one measure, both KCET and KOCE are in the top ten watched PBS stations with KCET number two on the list. KOCE's challenge is to expand rapidly to meet KCET's standards.
KCET wishes to succeed as an independent.
Whether this is an anomaly or an omen for the future of PBS remains to be seen.
PBS lost its first station in a major market.
It’s going to be an interesting experiment in capitalism and free enterprise.