PubTV’s not broke, but income fell $262 million in a single year
New data suggests that public TV stations “have not yet reached the bottom” of the financial pit as all nonfederal sources of funding continue to wane, according to the State of Public Television Update summarized for the CPB Board Sept. 21.
In fiscal year 2009, pubTV lost $262 million in nonfederal revenue, more than twice as much in one year as the $105 million decline during 3 years of the post-9/11 recession, according to the study compiled for CPB by Public Radio Capital.
“Based on historical trends and system input,” the presentation to CPB said, “we estimate nonfederal public television revenue to end decline by 2013.”
The study predicts that system revenues will continue falling until 2013, and will have declined $500 million by then.
Federal aid, pubTV’s only major revenue source to rise in fiscal 2009, showed a $49 million gain. But underwriting was down $51 million, state aid down $20 million, and individual giving down $41 million.
TV’s total revenue appears to have fallen by $213 million, or about 11 percent, during fiscal ’09, which started in October 2008, after Lehman Brothers failed and the recession intensified.
Among the results for pubTV: Stations reduced their hours of local production by 19 percent and cut their staffs by 7 percent.
Two more stations have requested assistance through CPB’s Stations in Financial Distress program, the report said: Tennessee Valley PBS (WTCI) in Chattanooga, Tenn.; and WOUB in Athens, Ohio. WMFE-TV/FM in Orlando has inquired about the aid, President Jose Fajardo told Current, but has not applied.
The report’s most positive news was that the number of pubTV stations with high levels of long-term debt is on the decline, and most pubTV stations “appear to have adequate levels of short-term cash to meet current obligations,” despite deep budget cuts. However, those reserves are down an average of 10 percent.
Delayed: vote to raise grant hurdle
In other business, the CPB Board tabled a recommendation by the Community Service Grant policy review panel to raise the minimum NFFS for CSG grantees from $800,000 to $1 million (Current, Sept. 20). Board members discussed tackling the complex issue at its next meeting in November, or in a telephone meeting, but Chair Ernest Wilson said he didn’t think the board would be able to move that quickly. “If this were a perfect world, this would be done in a month, and stations would know for budget planning purposes,” Wilson said, “but my hunch is this will stay at $800,000 for the next year.”
The board also delayed action on the panel’s suggestion to allot $2 million to “minority-qualified stations.” CPB will look into legal definitions of those grantees and the legality of a race-based benefit. The board passed the remaining CSG panel recommendations, most of which supported current policies.
The board also approved CPB’s request to the Office of Management and Budget for a $495 million advance appropriation for FY2014, up $35 million from the probable FY2013 funding; plus $48 million for digital technology support for FY2012 digital support, up $12 million from the FY2011 level
CPB President Pat Harrison said the corporation continues talking with the FCC for its Future of the Media report due out in January 2011. Its policy recommendations may include “revisions to the Public Broadcasting Act which would have implications for CPB and public media,” Harrison said.
Board member and media attorney Bruce Ramer told the board that law students from several California universities are assisting CPB’s American Archive project with research on copyright clearance for the massive amount of historic content now being inventoried.
Web page posted Oct. 16, 2010
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