The Public Broadcasting System (PBS), which has been fending off Congressional threats to its public funding, is facing new threats to its future as stations contemplate leaving the PBS system.
Last year longtime affiliate KCET in Los Angeles announced its intention to not renew its contract with PBS, citing the burdensome dues that had risen 40% to $7 million just as the economy soured and donations to the station dropped.
Even though PBS found another station to replace KCET, their move apparently emboldened other stations to consider leaving as well.
According to The New York Times, Chicago’s WTTW almost left the system citing an operating deficit of $4.2 million while they paid $4.5 million in dues to PBS.
WTTW”s president and CEO Dan Schmidt told the Times that other PBS stations in the Chicago area can air the same content for less money and that viewers can see much of that same content on PBS.org.
Schmidt decided to stick with PBS and try to make it work. But if he can’t turn around the station’s finances, either by raising more money or getting PBS to adjust the dues, he may be forced to leave.
Last year the station in Waco, Texas shut down for financial reasons, and WMFE in Orlando is being sold to new owners who have no plans to pay the $1 million in dues to stay in the fold.
The stations in Los Angeles and Orlando, however, may be just the tip of the iceberg as others may follow them if state and federal funding falls through.
Despite the defections PBS remains committed to its liberal programming agenda. Even though its federal funding will remain intact, state funding is less assured and that may prove to be its Achilles heel as it tries to keep the system from falling apart.