A Christian television network based in Dallas has signed a contract to buy KERA’s second TV station, KDTN.
If the FCC approves the sale, KERA will put the $20 million in proceeds into a new program endowment.
The buyer, Daystar Television Network, plans to move its evangelical programming to the former public TV channel and sell its present Dallas outlet, KMPX, to Lieberman Broadcasting of Los Angeles, which will use it for secular Hispanic programming.
Daystar not only gets a stronger signal by using the former public TV channel, which is reserved by the FCC for noncommercial use, but makes a profit by charging Lieberman $37 million for its old channel, which carries the higher price of a commercial channel.
KDTN’s stronger signal reaches about a half million more people than
KMPX, said Daystar President Marcus Lamb via e-mail. “Also, we will
have $17 million left over to get more stations to reach more people for the
Lord,” he said.
Lamb and his wife, Joni, launched KMPX as a Christian station in 1993 and built their broadcast ministry into a network that now operates stations in 36 cities around the country. Satellites, including EchoStar’s Dish Network, beam its signals into Europe and Asia and across the United States.
The public TV station is the fifth that has decided in recent years to sell a secondary channel to raise money, following stations in Buffalo, Oklahoma City, Schenectady/ Albany and Pittsburgh. (In Pittsburgh, WQED’s sale has fallen through for a third time. The buyer could not raise capital in the present economy, according to Vice President B.J. Leber. WQED still intends to sell its second channel.) A sixth station was sold by the New York City government.
Feeling a fiscal pinch
As in the other cities, the second channel in Dallas was used for less-watched programming and regarded as a fiscal drag. Since 1988, KERA operated KDTN as its second TV outlet, primarily broadcasting K-12 instructional programming and college telecourses. During primetime, KDTN now offers public affairs and business programs such as Nightly Business Report, BBC World News and Charlie Rose. When KERA announced the pending sale Aug. 12, officials pledged to find slots for KDTN’s most popular fare on KERA.
The cost of operating KDTN has doubled since the station began digital broadcasting, said Gary Ferrell, KERA president. KDTN’s educational services generated some income, but its pledge and underwriting revenues never covered its expenses. He anticipated that KERA would have to fill a $250,000 revenue gap this year for KDTN.
KDTN’s audience is a third of the size of KERA’s, according to Bill Young, broadcast director. “A lot of that has to do with the shows that are on,” he said, referring to its ITV schedule.
The North Texas Public Broadcasting Board, which runs KERA-TV/FM and KDTN, will set investment policies and funding criteria for a new program endowment, said Ferrell. Station execs plan to create new local, regional and national content for TV and radio. Expanded arts coverage, public affairs offerings and educational services are among the possibilities that station leaders will consider.
Ferrell is adamant that only earnings from the endowment will be spent on programming and the principal will remain untouched. “You only get a chance to do this once,” he said. “Twenty million dollars is a large, large endowment for a public broadcaster, and we’re very mindful of not blowing that.”
KERA opened the door to sell KDTN more than four years ago when past President Cheryl Craigie hired brokers from Media Ventures Partners to evaluate its market value. The brokers brought together KERA and Daystar Television Network to discuss the sale about eight months ago, Ferrell said.
Station officials had examined other options for KDTN — such as operating it as a Spanish-language public TV station or as a niche service of local, national and international news. “In most of those cases it was cost-prohibitive,” said Young. “The expenses outweighed the revenue potential.”
One clause in the sale agreement leases a portion of KDTN’s unused digital spectrum back to KERA. The three-year lease was negotiated into the sale price, said Sharon Philippart, spokeswoman. KERA will use the spectrum to datacast educational and other content, a service now in beta-testing.
If the sale goes through in October as expected, fans of KDTN’s popular series NBR and Charlie Rose will find the shows on KERA. A locally produced independent film series also will migrate to KERA, said Young.
Web page posted Jan. 4, 2003
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