PBS won’t raise dues income again next year;
Kerger warns it may lose capabilities and impact
Paula Kerger wants public TV stations to know that the combination of flat station dues, dwindling resources and balanced budgets may be slowly strangling PBS’s ability to fund new-media innovation. “We can’t continue to go down this path,” the network president told her board March 26 .
PBS’s member stations are strangling, too, and the network probably can’t count on them to contribute more in dues for fiscal year 2011, which starts in July.
The board endorsed a balanced budget — to be sent to stations for comment — that relies on no increases in assessments for member services, program services or fundraising programming.The board also capped at 5 percent any dues increase or decrease levied on an individual station.
Fiscal 2011 will be PBS's second year in a row without an increase in station support.
Kerger described a dire situation for public TV. “These are pivotal issues we’re wrestling with,” Kerger told the board during its meeting at PBS headquarters in Arlington, Va. “We’re really reaching a point where our ability to continue to move forward could be compromised if we’re not able to bring in new resources and revenue.” If PBS can’t do that, “we may have to whittle down the organization to the point that it doesn’t have the national impact, relevance and importance it should.”
It is “imperative” that PBS actively invest in new technology said board member Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. “I wonder what the implications are for us as we look to the future,” she said, when funding restraints are “inevitably drawing down our reserves and tightening the operating budget.”
Kerger said she is convening a panel of stakeholders to brainstorm potential revenue sources for digital media, as PBS did with its Funding the Vision initiative in 1991. There are great opportunities for PBS in the digital realm, “but we need to have resources,” Kerger said. “We would not want anyone to assume that somehow we can continue with business as usual, that’s not going to take us anywhere.”
Meanwhile, a board task force has resumed work updating the member dues formula in time for the fiscal 2012 budget. The board had planned to adopt a new dues model for 2011 but postponed the change because of the recession. John King of Vermont Public Television, head of the task force, said it continues to examine various formulas for dividing the assessments among member stations, including issues such as discounts and deductions for Program Differentiation Plan stations that buy rights for limited packages of PBS programs.
Kerger hinted at one piece of good news coming up: a “very large grant” within the next year from a trust that was controlled by the late Margaret A. Cargill (separate story).
Some truly major giving would draw attention to the PBS Foundation, a high priority for PBS's new senior v.p. of development, Brian J. Reddington, whose hiring was announced in March.
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This article has been corrected. The print edition stated incorrectly that next year would be the third year without a dues increase.
Web page posted April 6, 2010
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