CPB: System revenue may drop $418 million in fiscal 2009

Public radio and TV station revenues may decline $418 million or 14.6 percent this fiscal year, CPB executives estimated in a presentation to the corporation’s board of directors.

In a separate estimate, the Association of Public Television Stations is telling member stations and Congress that pubTV stations’ revenues already have declined $189 million since early 2008. APTS and member stations are seeking a $211 million supplemental appropriation through CPB to help pubTV stations.

As feared in the Bay Area, KQED/KTEH laid off 30 employees and cut its budget 13 percent (separate story). Big cuts in state funding are under consideration in several states, while stations without state aid are suffering shortfalls in donations and business underwriting.

The outlook for public radio in the recession year of fiscal 2009, declining 13 percent from ’08, is nearly as downcast as public TV’s, which is falling 16 percent, according to CPB’s estimate, presented at the CPB Board meeting in San Francisco Jan. 26.

For public TV, the CPB analysis sees these big category losses this year: member giving, $89 million; corporate underwriting, $75 million; state and local government aid, $59 million.

For radio: member giving, $32 million; underwriting, $31 million; universities, $20 million.

Underwriting is especially hard hit because 65 percent of PBS underwriters are in struggling industries such as autos, finance and retailing, according to the presentation. Likewise, 43 percent of NPR sponsors are in finance and 10 percent in autos, CPB said.

Table of projected declines in national  revenues

One-fifth of pubTV stations “fragile”

In its first detailed assessment of public TV stations’ financial health, CPB said 18 percent are in “fragile” condition, based on survey respondents including about half of the system’s stations. The checkup considers  stations’ liquidity, debt and net assets.

Fifty-one percent were said to be in good health and 30 percent in moderate health.

Community-licensed stations, or freestanding nonprofits, were overrepresented among those in fragile condition, CPB said. Seventy percent of “fragile” stations were run by community licensees (chart at top of story).

The APTS analysis forecast a smaller decline for TV stations’ member donations. Based on its survey of 83 licensees, about half of the total, APTS estimated declines totaling $189 million, including these major categories:

  • state and university support, $54 million;
  • member donations, $47 million;
  • national and local corporate underwriting, $39 million; and
  • grants, endowment payouts, fundraising auctions and other sources, $49 million.

In addition, APTS said stations face unplanned additional expenditures from Congress’s postponement of the analog TV shutoff until June. Many have since chosen to unplug analog this week. But if all stations delayed shutoff until June, APTS had estimated, it would cost a total of $22 million.

Stations trim expenses

Both pubTV and radio stations continue to suffer greatly from the ongoing downturn, with many flaccid pledge drives and dire state funding situations— in Pennsylvania and Indiana, possibly eliminations.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has proposed cutting all state funding for its eight pubTV stations, with the most significant effects on smaller operations. The state budget, released Feb. 4, would also fold the Pennsylvania Public Television Network into the state’s Office of Administration.

Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels’ new budget has proposed spending cuts in several areas, including $3.5 million from pubcasting statewide. WFYI in Indianapolis could lose $517,000 directly as a result of losing state aid and even more indirectly, in the effect on other funding. Reductions in private donations already led WFYI last month to lay off five staffers — for the first time in 20 years — and end production of several programs.

Pubcasters are working to maintain aid. PPTN and stations are lobbying lawmakers who could restore funding. PPTN — based in Hershey, not far from the state capital, Harrisburg — held a previously scheduled open house last week with members of the state’s General Assembly. Station reps will also meet with legislators next month.

Other arts organizations in the state saw cuts of only 10 percent under Rendell’s budget, and the station may ask supporters to write legislators and ask for reductions closer to that level, said Dwight Miller, president of WQLN in Erie. Miller is “cautiously optimistic” that lawmakers will restore at least some funding for pubTV.

State cuts would be a “double whammy” for smaller stations, says PPTN President Sylvia Strobel, because the reductions would be echoed by smaller Community Service Grants from CPB.

Small stations with limited nongovernment funding are especially hard hit. The most dependent on state aid, WYBE in Philadelphia, gets 40 percent of its budget from the state. Others get as little as 4 percent.

WQLN not only stands to lose the $800,000 that it received from the state last year—about a quarter of its budget—but also a cut in nonfederal aid would result in a 9.4 percent decline in the station’s CSG, an additional $72,000. WQLN would probably cut jobs and local programming if it lost state support, Miller says.

Strobel says PPTN would likewise suffer a “painful cut” if state support were slashed. The agency would have to scale back its around-the-clock services as a central operating network for stations. It would also be forced to downgrade its high-speed fiber-optic connections for providing content to stations, resulting in slower downloads and requiring advance scheduling.

Cutback backlash

Maine Public Broadcasting Network last week dropped part of its cost-saving plan, the temporary shutdown of three transmitters in the state’s least-populated northern reaches, which accompanied payroll reductions. Talks with the governor’s office led the nonprofit state network to delay the planned Jan. 15 shutdowns, and a state legislator sponsored a bill that would require the network to continue statewide broadcasts to keep even its reduced state aid. The transmitters will remain on, though MPBN President Jim Dowe said he does not yet know how the network will offset the expense.

More typically, spending cuts come out of the stations’ program production and their employees’ pockets. In Orlando, WMFE, with member gifts and corporate support down most sharply, said this month it will cut 15 jobs, or 28 percent of its staff, and cancel its Arts Connection program. The remaining staff also will have two weeks of unpaid leave and lose employer contributions to their retirement accounts. The job losses include a radio reporter, two receptionists, a program scheduler and one person each from engineering, membership and finance.

It’s the second time in recent months the Orlando station has laid off staff. In October 2008, 10 positions were hit.

But there are a few bright spots poking through the ominous financial cloud. While most pubTV stations are suffering, some of their radio brethren are eking out successes:

  • In December Boston’s WBUR collected $815,000 in pledges, a 12 percent increase over its take in December 2007.
  • WNYC also exceeded its annual December one-day pledge goal by 7 percent; that topped its one-day pledge drive in December 2007 by 4 percent.
  • A recent one-day winter pledge drive at KUNC in Greeley, Colo., brought $124,000 in pledges from 1,330 members, up $25,000 and 379 members over the results from last winter’s three-day drive. [These are corrected numbers.]  KUNC said its fall drive this year also was more successful than its fall 2008 drive.
  • Best of Public Radio 2008, a year-end fundraising special that aired on 70-plus stations, brought in more than $130,000 through a special website, GivetoPublic Radio.org. About half the stations later returned surveys, with about 74 percent of those saying they made more money at end of this year than end of last year. Consultant John Sutton, one of the organizers, said, “We’re very optimistic with the numbers we’re seeing” in recent radio drives.
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