How-to program producer sanctioned for soliciting funds from viewers
Is direct-mail fundraising off-limits for national program producers? The question arose in October  after NETA canceled its distribution deal for The Inspiration of Painting because the producer went to the mail for support.
Hickory Ridge Productions, based near Tulsa, Okla., had lost its underwriting from the Grumbacher art supplies firm last year and tried soliciting about 7,000 viewers who had ordered products from the production company.
The Sept. 1 mailing may have attracted a new underwriter, producer Kirk Chubb hopes, but it also seriously bothered Chuck McConnell, program chief for the program's satellite distributor, National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA, known until recently as SECA).
Soliciting support from viewers — the same people who stations ask for pledges — was "way outside the box," says McConnell. "It is so far outside the box that nobody had a written rule on it." Moreover, McConnell says, Chubb didn't check with or notify NETA about the mailing.
McConnell acknowledges that a number of stations complained about his decision to cancel the feeds, but he recalls clearly how public radio stations reacted years ago when a major producer — NPR — proposed to ask for direct audience support. They too were outraged.
American Program Service probably would react the way NETA did, says APS Executive Vice President Joe Zesbaugh, but it also has no written rule against what Chubb did.
Chubb's father, Paul Chubb, originated The Inspiration of Painting with painter Jerry Yarnell about 10 years ago. Lately it has been carried on some 120 stations, Chubb said.
Viewers like the painting show so much that KOCE in Huntington Beach, Calif., plays it twice a day, and plans to continue airing it despite the fundraising gaffe, says Roberta Smith, programming director. But she agrees with McConnell that producers shouldn't be permitted to solicit viewers directly. "It almost equates to somebody getting hold of our membership list."
Chubb says he was surprised by NETA's reaction and ceased the mailings as soon as he heard objections from stations. He figures what really bothered the stations was a line in the letter revealing that stations provide no support for production.
Traditionally, national producers have to get their funding from underwriters and sales of related products.
Now Chubb is seeking a new satellite distributor. Meantime, he plans to ship videotapes to stations around the country.
Web page posted Nov. 19, 1997, revised Aug. 19, 2005
Copyright 1997 by Current Publishing Committee