KCET President and CEO Al Jerome has posted a message to viewers "to start a conversation with you" about whether the station should stay with PBS or break away to become an independent station. Part of the issue, he says, is there are four PBS stations serving our part of Southern California. The bigger problem, of course, is that KCET's revenue is dropping as the dues paid to the network rise. His message, which hasn't exactl;y unleashed a barrage of comments so far:
You are important members of the KCET family, so I'd like to begin a conversation with you about the station, PBS, and our future.
Southern California is unique in public television in that there are four PBS-affiliated stations here: KCET, KOCE, KLCS, and KVCR. Of the four, only KCET carries 100% of the PBS lineup. The others are "limited service" in that they are permitted by PBS rules to carry only 25% of the PBS primetime hours. KCET, as the primary station, must pay PBS much more in dues. In fact, we pay three times the dues of the other three stations combined.
You've let us know that you're aware of the duplication among the four stations' schedules - especially during pledge drives - and that you don't like it. We don't either, and we're trying to improve the situation.
The four stations have been in discussions about designing a new way of doing business where we would coordinate to reduce the duplication of programs. We would also cooperate to promote each other's schedules on-air and online. This type of partnership has never been established before, and PBS has said it supports the concept, but there are problems that still have to be overcome.
KCET's PBS dues have increased 40% over four years, at a time when our operating revenue has been decreasing because of the downturn in the economy. Like any other business or family, we must live within a balanced budget. In the last few years, we have cut our expenses and our staff, accepted salary reductions and furloughs, and eliminated the company contribution to our retirement plan. We realized we needed to find a better solution, though, if we were going to continue bringing you the PBS programs you enjoy. This is where the consortium of the four stations came in.
We have asked PBS to allow KCET to become a "limited service station" similar to the others. That way we'd pay lower dues that we could afford, but we'd still be paying more than the other three combined. Under this scenario, you would be able to watch the entire PBS lineup through a coordinated, well-promoted schedule on the four stations.
PBS has not yet agreed to this idea, but is considering it. If PBS rejects this new approach - and only if - KCET will have no other option but to move forward and become the nation's largest independent public television station. We have a strong preference to remain with PBS, and we remain optimistic. But we are prepared if we must change.
We take pride in our prudent financial stewardship of your contributions to ensure KCET's long-range success. But we know that this entire situation has caused some justifiable unrest, and we want to provide you with an easy way to express your feelings and ask me questions. We've set up this forum on KCET.org where you can comment, ask questions, and get answers. I meant it when I said I wanted to start a conversation with you. I hope you'll participate.
Update: Those of you who would like to write in, can do so at this address:
4401 Sunset Blvd
LA, CA 90027