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Monday, May 23, 2022

KOCE-TV in Middle of KCET, PBS Standoff

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Los Angeles public television station KCET-TV is in a financial fight with Public Broadcasting Service, and Huntington Beach’s KOCE-TV is caught in the crossfire.

KCET, the main source of PBS programming in Southern California, is threatening to scale back or break away from Washington, D.C.-based PBS over programming dues.

The station’s $6.8 million in yearly PBS dues are unchanged, despite a drop in fundraising and operating revenue in recent years at KCET.

That’s brought the station to the brink of walking away from its 46-year PBS partnership. So far, PBS hasn’t budged, fearing a KCET cut could set off a rush of demands from other stations, according to market watchers.

If KCET does leave, PBS wants to push one of Southern California’s three other public stations into being its main affiliate for the region.

That’s where KOCE comes in.

It’s one of the other public stations along with San Bernardino’s KVCR-TV and the Los Angeles Unified School District’s KLCS. KOCE and the others run some PBS programming, but not as much as KCET.

KOCE gets about a quarter of its programming from PBS, according to station President Mel Rogers.

It also runs shows from British Broadcasting Corp. and National Geographic Society, as well as producing its own shows, including “Real Orange” and “Inside OC” with the Business Journal’s Rick Reiff.

“PBS has been in contact with us,” Rogers said. “They have talked about KOCE having to leap into the breach should KCET cease to be a PBS member or decide to become a partial member.”

There’s also talk of combining the four public stations into a single Southern California group that shares programming, fundraising and administrative costs.

Either move could mean more annual PBS dues for KOCE and a potential move of operations to Los Angeles.

KOCE runs on a yearly budget of $10 million from donations, corporate sponsors and government grants, compared to KCET’s $35 million to $50 million annual budget.

If KOCE became the region’s full PBS affiliate, its dues would go up, though they would be less than KCET’s.

PBS charges dues based on a formula that counts local fundraising for regular operations and special productions.

The station also would have to expand to serve the region.

“Obviously we would have to grow to accommodate the new demands,” Rogers said.

It’s likely the station would have to set up shop in Los Angeles, though it would remain based in OC, he said.

“We wouldn’t leave OC,” Rogers said.

KOCE is considering options should KCET leave, he said. It’s likely the two will come to a resolution, according to Rogers.

“I think it’s better for us and better for the market if KCET and PBS can work something out,” he said.

Rogers has floated another option, which has the support of KCET boss Al Jerome.

They have proposed combining public stations in OC, the Inland Empire and Los Angeles to form a consortium that would divvy up programs, fundraising and production.

“In an ideal scenario, we would take things that each of us is particularly good at,” Rogers said. “KCET is really good at corporate sponsorships, and we’re pretty good at pledge concert business.”

A study by New York-based consulting firm Booz & Co. estimates that collaboration among the regional stations would produce savings and new earnings totaling $13 million a year.

PBS has expressed support for such an alliance.

KCET has looked to other alternatives to raise revenue including selling the station’s historic Sunset Boulevard studios.

Much of the revenue drop KCET has seen is from pledge drive fatigue among viewers.

Public television station have been talking for a least a decade about how to get out of the pledge box, but none have found viable alternatives.

KCET spent 528 hours running programs asking for money last year, up 9% from a year earlier but short of KOCE’s hours, which were about double that.

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