Leaders of Tampa public TV stations WUSF and WEDU break ground for their shared tower.
Collaborations between public TV stations develop with CPB aid in 12 markets
Compiled by Steve Behrens and published in Current, June 19, 2000. See related article.
Joint master control. Rocky Mountain PBS (KRMA) and KBDI were unable to agree on all aspects of a broad merger of operations in 1996, but they did get funding in 1998 to build a combined master control facility at KRMA [1998 article], which finally began going operational in May this year. The stations consolidated tape libraries and satellite operations as well as control rooms. Making the computerized system work properly has delayed operations, says KBDI General Manager Wick Rowland. The project could only have happened with grants from CPB and Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, according to Rowland. Total CPB spending: $415,000.
Most operations combined. Independent WFYI and Butler University's WTBU have consolidated their program decision-making, fundraising and master control functions at WFYI under a five-year contract [August 1999 article]. The university will still have to spend $200,000 a year to help support its station, but will save money in the long run by not having to build digital production facilities, according to General Manager Ken Creech. The project estimated that the stations will save $660,000 in the first five years, says John Hershberger, a consultant who facilitated negotiations. Though the stations are sharing a program director, the university controls its channel up to 12 hours a week and will have its name on it. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis duo are engaged in revived talks about further collaboration with nearby stations in Bloomington and Muncie, according to Hershberger.
"Ideally, for a partnership to work over time, you need both parties on more or less equal footing," says Hershberger. "In Indianapolis, it came about on a contractual footing basically, hiring WFYI to run WBTU." Total CPB spending: $648,000.
Possible shared fundraising. The market's three smaller public TV stations the city school system's KLCS, Coast Community College District's KOCE and San Bernardino Community College District's KVCR are planning to create a new nonprofit for their joint projects, the Southern California Public Television Alliance. They may share staff and infrastructure for fundraising and membership, says Lew Warren, g.m. of KVCR.. And because all three stations are licensed to educational institutions, they may share educational programming when they go digital, he says.
The big station in town, KCET, talked at length with KOCE, but nothing has come out of it, says consultant John Hershberger. Total CPB spending: $1,094,000.
Proposed joint production and master control facilities. The two public TV stations are pursuing a plan to share a "teleplex" with a consortium of local universities at a lakefront research park owned by the state's University of New Orleans, says WYES President Randy Feldman. The project could include independent WYES and WLAE, historically linked with the Roman Catholic Church but now half-owned by the state-owned network, Louisiana Public Broadcasting. Also sharing the facilities would be media units of the University of New Orleans (including WWNO-FM), Tulane, Xavier and other local colleges. Feldman calls it "a merger that's not a merger," which would still provide economies of scale.
The project could cost $11 million or more, and funding is not certain, according to Feldman. Advocates want the state legislature to approve bonds for to finance the project, but the state is in a serious budget crisis, Feldman says. Key state officials support the idea and some want to give the facility a role in economic development.
There are also great opportunities to help improve K-12 school quality and equity, says James R. Kelly, g.m. of WLAE. "We have a school system that leaves much to be desired," he says, and many parts of the state are expected to suffer high failure rates in new standardized tests. Total CPB spending: $691,000.
New York City
Joint master control. Three public TV stations are expected to announce soon their plan to share a master control room at WNET's new headquarters in Manhattan. The others are WLIW on Long Island and the city school system's WNYE in Brooklyn. Labor agreements involving WNET and WLIW may be eased because both employ technicians in the same local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, according to observers.
"We need to do this from a cost standpoint," says Terrell Cass, president of WLIW. "It makes a lot more sense than building separate facilities." There are no plans to expand cooperation to production and transmission facilities, but Cass says that's possible. WLIW, for example, is expecting to put its DTV antenna on a tower on Long Island, but it might seek to co-locate on a Manhattan tower if that means better reception for viewers. Total CPB spending: $2,030,000.
Joint master control. WHYY and WYBE will share a master control in WHYY's new digital facility. WHYY, the larger station, will benefit from having more backup equipment in case of emergency, while WYBE won't have to buy some digital equipment that WHYY already owns, says Kyra McGrath, WHYY's v.p. of strategic projects and general counsel. The control room will handle the analog signals of both stations as well as the digital signals.
The stations had considered a joint project on DTV transmission facilities, but WHYY had proceed alone so that it could obtain access to a tower and meet its faster conversion schedule, according to McGrath. (WHYY turned on its digital signal May 16.) Total CPB spending: $1,415,000.
Salt Lake City
Joint transmission facilities. CPB funding helped the three public TV stations join an eight-station consortium with almost all the region's commercial stations to share a giant tower on Mt. Vision, east of the city, according to Larry Smith, interim g.m. of KUED. With the stations transmitting from the same tower, it will be easier for viewers to aim their antennas for good reception, Smith says. The public stations also saved $500,000 to $750,000 on capital costs, he estimates, and they'll be able to manage their transmitters with a single maintenance engineer. Total CPB spending: $830,000.
San Juan, P.R.
Teacher training. The two public TV stations, WIPR and WMTJ, created an Educational Resources Center (Centro des Recursos Educativos) to train K-12 teachers in the use of computers, the Internet and how to integrate educational technology into their teaching. The governor, Pedro Rossello, has begun a major push to put 100,000 computers in classrooms at the same time that the government is transferring control of the K-12 schools to local authorities. CRE is seeking to help in the enormous teacher-training task that faces the schools, says center Director Roberto Rodriguez, a former WGBH producer/writer (Destinos, Connect with English) who served until recently as WIPR's director of development.
Like many other overlap projects, the collaboration bridges differences between a university licensee and a licensee of another type. The larger station, WIPR, is government-supported and extraordinarily active in program production, including nightly newscasts and telenovelas. WMTJ is licensed to the island's largest private university, Sistema Universitario Ana G. Mendez, and already active in distance learning.
As part of the initial collaboration, according to Rodriguez, WIPR will produce a four-part broadcast series on computers in the classroom, aimed at parents and the general community. Video components of the series will also be used as conversation-starters among teachers attending seminars through WMTJ's closed-circuit Star-Link distance learning microwave system. CPB is funding the center's pilot year. Microsoft is also contributing, and foundation aid will be sought. Total CPB spending: $743,000.
Joint underwriting sales, traffic control system and possibly more. KCTS in Seattle and Bates Technical College's KBTC in nearby Tacoma hired a shared underwriting sales person some two years ago and also share a computerized traffic system that facilitates the placement of underwriting spots on both stations, says Walter Parsons, chief operating officer at KCTS. Last fall, a further brainstorming session with media and computer industry people led to a proposal for a joint master control. A consultant is now doing a feasibility study, says Parsons. Total CPB spending: $419,000.
Joint transmission facilities. In April, WEDU and the University of South Florida's WUSF completed construction of a joint tower for their DTV signals, says WEDU President Stephen Rogers. Both stations took out loans to carry the cost of the $4.5 million project. He hopes the joint antenna will be installed in time for WEDU to go digital by the end of this year. WUSF would start its DTV signal the following winter, says General Manager James B. Heck. Total CPB spending: $415,000.
Licensees already operating together
Combined master control rooms are old hat to stations in a couple of the cities that met CPB's definition of "overlap" markets. In both Madison, Wis., and Lincoln, Neb., the state universities still hold the licenses for public TV stations that predated the statewide networks. Though the licenses are held separately, the university stations were long ago integrated into the state networks.
Joint accounting system and other capital spending. The University of Nebraska's KUON and the state government's Nebraska Educational Telecommunications Commission have been run by the same managers for years, but it lived under two separate accounting systems until the project helped them improve efficiency by acquiring a joint system, says Sue Gildersleeve, assistant g.m. for administration and finance. Reports on monthly expenses will be available within a few days instead of almost a month later, she says. The project also helped purchase audio and video editing systems, a traffic system and a personnel and facilities scheduling system. Total CPB spending: $415,000.
Think tank on DTV. As in Nebraska, the state university's station (WHA, in this case) has been jointly managed with the state's public broadcasting network for many years, but there was still room for improvements. The licensees will create new DTV educational services by assigning specific-purpose teams of producers and representatives from both licensees, says state network exec Malcolm Brett. Overlap grants also consolidated fundraising software and supported a study of programming for the state's diverse markets, according to CPB. Total CPB spending: $415,000.
. To Current's home page . Related article: CPB policy encourages collabortions with both carrot and stick.
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