Los Angeles TV station KCET leaving PBS in fee and programming dispute, will go independent

Friday, October 8, 2010

Calif. station KCET leaving PBS to go independent

LOS ANGELES — PBS station KCET said Friday it’s dropping out of the public TV system and going independent because of a dispute over fees and programming.

Starting in January, the Los Angeles-based station’s schedule will include some current shows along with new fare that reflect Southern California’s “diverse” voices, KCET President Al Jerome said in a statement.

He did not detail which shows would remain, but a PBS spokeswoman said the system’s programs can only be carried by member stations. KCET’s lineup includes such well-known PBS series as “Sesame Street,” ”PBS Newshour” and “Masterpiece.”

“After four decades as the West Coast flagship PBS station, this is not a decision we made lightly,” Jerome said.

Three other PBS stations serve the Southern California region, although none carry the system’s full slate of shows.

KCET said it was struggling under a dues assessment that was frozen at the highest rate in the station’s history as the economy crashed, leading to a drop in contributions from viewers, companies and foundations.

The move by KCET follows several years of discussions with PBS about the challenges it was facing, Jerome said.

PBS, in a statement issued from its Arlington, Va., headquarters, said it received notice Friday of KCET’s intention to withdraw from the system.

“At issue were KCET’s repeated requests that it be allowed to operate as a PBS member station without abiding by PBS policies and paying the corresponding dues,” PBS said.

Last year, KCET’s dues were $6.8 million. That represented close to one-fifth of the station’s $37-million net operating revenue, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Dues generally average about 13 percent of a station’s operating budget, with PBS in return providing some 70 percent of the member station’s programming.

Speaking to the Television Critics Association in August, PBS President Paula Kerger said the system was reassessing how dues are calculated and was “very aware of the financial challenges that everyone is facing.” She said dues had not been increased for the last two years.

PBS, seeking a “financially stable service” in the Los Angeles TV market, said it supports the idea of a Southern California consortium of stations and is talking to the other PBS stations — KOCE, KVCR and KLCS — in the area.

KCET said it had been attempting to form a consortium with the area’s other PBS stations before it announced its withdrawal from the system.

The station’s exit from PBS will make it the largest independent public TV station in the United States, according to KCET’s statement.

PBS, which has more than 350 member stations, receives about 15 percent of its money from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the rest coming from private and corporate donors.




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