The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, and the intensive discussions that preceded its enactment, have given high priority to the establishment of a nationwide interconnected television network to serve public TV daily.
To give this system dedicated and professional management in keeping with its significant objectives, formation of an independent organization will be necessary. This new entity would be known as the PUBLIC TELEVISION NETWORK (PTN). As soon as regular network time has been negotiated with AT&T, and in order to act promptly at that time, the basic plan for PTN should be agreed upon now.
Operation of a television network is an intricate process. The experience of commercial TV, which has been in the business of coast-to-coast networking since 1951, demonstrates that this process requires mature and wise management, engineering design and operating capabilities of a high degree, and an in-depth aptitude for working effectively in a crisis atmosphere where over a hundred stations and millions of viewers are the clients.
Public television may not attain these goals overnight but it must plan on this basis.
In certain respects, PTV must plan even more intelligently. PTN management must recognize that its first obligation is to the individual stations. They are the core of the system. They, and the regional systems of which they may be a part, must be able to break away from the national network to transmit their own local programs. PTN must be ready at all times to adapt itself to this transcendent fact of life in public broadcasting.
Beyond recognizing the primary importance of the individual station’s needs, PTN must be prepared to respond to other factors and forces. It is expected that the regional networks will be represented in establishing PTN practices; these networks will hold options on cutting away from the national network or transmitting programs into it. In addition, PTN will have to take into account the roles of the major suppliers of programming for public TV — NET, eventually a second national producer of the same magnitude, and the expanding libraries from which special-purpose programming emanate (ETS Program Service, N.I.T.).
To develop a contemporary approach for reacting to these various organizations while assuring the viewers of responsible and consistent service, it becomes essential to define a network structure that on the one hand is independent and yet on the other provides its clients and users with a major voice.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting cannot operate PTN. The Act states this:
“… the Corporation may not own or operate any television or radio broadcasting station, system, or network, community antenna television system, or interconnection or program production facility.”
CPB will participate in PTN, as it will be, in most likelihood, its largest source of funds. But the decisions and practices PTN adopts will be those of a separate management organization responding principally to the needs of the stations and, most importantly, their respective viewers.
THE PTN STRUCTURE
PTN will be established as a corporation with three levels of authority, a staff of managers and technicians, and operating facilities on both the East and West coasts. Formed as a New York membership corporation, it will be a non-profit organization qualifying for tax-exempt status under Federal and State law.
Levels of Authority
1. A group of five Members is proposed. Their primary function will be to elect the Board of Directors.
It will be appropriate for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to initiate selection of the Members without exercising exclusive control of this process. The five men will be nationally prominent representatives of institutions, foundations, and the professions. In view of the major role that CPB will play in financing the Network, it would be proper for the Chairman of CPB to be one of the five.
In choosing candidates for the Board of Directors, the Members will be motivated primarily by recommendations solicited from the public TV broadcasters.
2. There will be a thirteen-member Board of Directors for PTN. The Board’s chief purpose will be to set general policies. It will select the Network’s President. It will not take part in operational decisions.
The Board will be composed of (1) six Directors representing the stations, (2) four representing production centers, (3) two representing the public, and (4) one representing CPB. The Members, in electing groups (1) and (2), will act upon recommendations presented to them as set forth below.
The Directors drawn from the stations will be elected at-large. This to ensure selection of the best possible candidates, without regard for regional representation. Regional systems will gain representation in the Operations Committee.
Station-associated Board members can be selected in a special election at-large. Or this may be accomplished through a pre-existent organization of station managers, such as the Educational Television Stations Board of NAEB.
Initially, all four Directors from production centers will be from NET. Later on, when a second center has been formed, two Directors would be nominated from it. Eventually, therefore, NET will have two members.
CPB will nominate one Director, either its President or its Vice-President for Programming.
Public members of the Board will be chosen by the Members of PTN, after consultation with key individuals in public broadcasting and consideration of nominations submitted by any interested PTV group.
The President of PTN, once he has been selected by the Board, will attend its meetings in an ex-officio capacity, without voting prerogatives.
While all members of the Board of Directors will be elected by the Members of the Corporation, it is to be understood that the Membership will adhere in most cases to the recommendations presented by the respective groups.
3. The Operations Committee of PTN will consist of ten members, two of them non-voting. Through conference calls, teletype exchanges, and regular meetings, this Committee, in conjunction with the PTN President, will make the day-to-day decisions essential for the operation of the Network.
In the construction of this Committee, once again the primary emphasis is given to the stations themselves — in this instance, through the regional network representatives responsible to them. Five members of the Committee will be the Executive Directors of the respective regional systems EEN, SECA, CEN, RMPB, and WEN.
Vice-Presidents for Programming of CPB, NET, and the eventual second national production center will also serve on the Commiittee. The final two positions on the Committee will be held by the Director of Operations and the Director of Public Information of PTN. Neither will be able to vote.
A clear definition of the respective mandates of the Board of Directors and the Operations Committee will have to be evolved. Broad outlines conceived by the Members can be developed into specific patterns by the Board.
In its majority, the Board will represent the ultimate consumer — the station and its viewers. At the same time, it will represent users of thesystem — the production centers and the libraries. Its broad obligation, then, becomes one of developing a general formula for the use of the national interconnection which (1) protects the best interests of the consumers, and (2) makes the best uses of materials generated by the users.
It is to be expected that the Board will define the general breakdown of time allocations for Network usage. This definition will be developed in response to presentations from the national program producers and libraries, meshed with requests for general blocks of service (or non-service) from the regional networks. Station-associated Board members would have the largest voice in framing this pattern.
In addition to generalized allocations, the Board may choose to respond to long-range projections on critical events presented by the national producers, the regional networks, and others. Major activities such as the President’s State of the Union Address can be forecast many months in advance as a significant, historical moment conceivably worthy of an entire evening’s related programming on PTN.
In no respect will the Board control program production. It will not solicit programming from producers or regions. On the contrary, it will make decisions based on consumer needs and on assessing the overall inventory of materials that are potentially available for PTN use. Characteristically, PTN users will present long-range plans and their requests for PTN time allocations.
Decisions made at the Board of Directors level will take cognizance of the cardinal fact that a long-range schedule of allocations may have to yield to short-range changes. The news shifts dramatically, or significant cultural and informational events are scheduled. It is at this critical point that the Operations Committee performs a key function.
This Committee is charged, in general terms, with executing the pattern of allocations established by the Board. Broad breakdowns of time are translated into specific day-to-day schedules, which, in turn, are transmitted to all stations and regional systems. At the same time, the PTN Public Information staff begins the process of promoting widely and intensively the programs selected for transmission on the Network. PTN information materials will be offered to the individual stations for their local use; at the same time, PTN will develop nationally applicable promotional items that coincide with Board of Directors policies.
It must be expected that the daily schedule will change frequently. The Operations Committee, responding to conference calls, can make ready decisions on removing predetermined programming from that evening’s schedule to provide the stations with a nationally or regionally produced special program on an event of major importance.
THE OPERATIONS CENTERS
Operation of the Network will require two centers. In each case, they can be superimposed on an existing PTV station. One would be located at WNDT, in New York City. The second would be at KCET, Los Angeles.
Each of the centers will transmit regularly into the Network. On special occasions, outlying stations will also be able to transmit into the system by arrangement with the Operations Committee and the PTN staff. The West Coast center will have the added responsibility of serving as the time-delay point for PTN. It will record programs originating from the East for delayed transmission to its regional consumers.
The relationship of the centers to their “host” stations will have to be analyzed and determined by the Board of Directors. It is important to establish with the station that the center is a separate facility, both in manpower and in machines. Presence of the center at the station can be come a significant factor in aiding that broadcaster’s total development, in reflection of the fact that PTN will pay the stations a service fee for housing the operations nucleus.
Copyright 1968 American University