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Broad, free digital access proposed

New-media goals on agenda of pubTV’s fall round robins

Originally published in Current, Oct. 23, 2006
By Karen Everhart

A proposal for the broadest possible free access to public TV content is among the agenda items for regional round-robin meetings beginning this week.

The objective is endorsed by the Digital Rights Working Group, a panel of 24 system and “thought leaders” that CPB convened early this year. Its recent white paper is accessible online on this website and on, the website of pubTV’s Affinity Group Coalition.

 “The general principle is that public broadcasting should make an initial free release available on as many platforms as possible,” said Andy Russell, CPB senior v.p. of media, who will discuss the paper with station execs during the round robins.

Starting this week in Chicago, the five round robin meetings for public TV execs will also take up divisive pocketbook policies on CPB grants and PBS dues, as well as CPB’s new Local Service Initiative, designed to help stations plan their future services.

In its white paper, the Digital Rights Working Group lays out two sets of principles for translating public TV’s mission to new media platforms:

After a period of free access, some programs would move to pay-per-view, subscription or download-to-own platforms for a year or longer. The working group said it wants to explore creating a free archive of public broadcasting content for educators and students, modeled on the BBC’s online video library, Creative Archive.

Aid for stations’ planning

CPB will announce a $10 million competitive grant program designed to help stations follow through with local service initiatives shaped or inspired by the Affinity Group Coalition’s recently concluded planning project. Each round robin will include sessions designed to spur thinking about eligible local projects.

Strategic planning tools and other resources created by the project will soon be distributed to stations in a final report.
CPB and PBS execs will also brief managers on the separate but intertwined formulas that distribute federal monies to stations as CPB community service grants (CSGs) and collect dues for PBS program and member services.

CPB recently began a periodic review of its CSG policy, and PBS is evaluating whether to revise its dues policy, so managers will be invited to weigh in on both. Since PBS’s dues formula factors in a three-year average of a station’s CSG, any major change to CPB’s formula will trigger changes to PBS dues.

“We’re going into this open-ended, looking at the policies in place and asking, is there any tweaking we could do?” said Brian Sickora, CPB v.p. of system development and station grants administration. CPB will be gauging whether managers want the review panel to undertake a major overhaul of the policy, given that congressional appropriations are flat and likely to remain so. “We’ll see what appetite is out there for significant change,” said Sickora.

Depending on the scope of the review, the new policy would take effect next fall or in 2008.

Since PBS uses CSG data in calculating its station dues, the network is evaluating when and whether to revise its policy. PBS’s most recent review of dues policy, two years ago, led to stalemate when stations rejected proposed policy changes.

“We need to get feedback from stations at the round robins,” said Jason Daisey, PBS v.p. of finance and planning. “It’s a pretty resource-intensive process, and if it’s not a big priority, we’d rather focus on something that is.” 

After the Oct. 25-26 meeting in Chicago, four round robins convene over the next four weeks: Oct. 30-31 and Nov. 6-7 in Arlington, Va.; Nov. 2-3 in Atlanta; and Nov. 15-16 in San Francisco.  

Web page posted Oct. 24, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Current Publishing Committee


Public TV holds a closed meeting on open content issues, September 2006.


Public TV's Digital Rights Working Group final white paper, September 2006.

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