Frustrated KCET Joins Fundraising Consortium Beyond Realm of PBS

By CLAUDIA PESCHIUTTA
Staff Reporter

Dissatisfied with the amount of money they have been getting from the Public Broadcasting System's fundraising arm, KCET-TV (Channel 28) and seven other public television stations nationwide have formed their own organization to seek underwriting dollars.

Public Television National Productions will sell corporate sponsorships for national productions from the eight stations, including KQED in San Francisco, WTTW in Chicago and KCTS in Seattle. It recently set up operations just outside of New York, where much of the corporate underwriting activity takes place.

With four full-time employees in the New Jersey office and part-time consultants in L.A., Chicago and New York, the firm will seek funds for a variety of productions from children's programs to cooking shows to "American Family," a KCET drama about a Latino family living in East L.A.

The PBS national underwriting sales force, the PBS Sponsorship Group, seeks corporate support for public television's major program producers, including WETA in Washington, WGBH in Boston and WNET in New York. But public television officials involved in the new organization said that less prolific producers, such as KCET and WTTW, felt they were getting second billing when seeking funds.

"It really served the big three East Coast stations that have the bulk of the national production for the system," said Dan Schmidt, president and chief executive of Network Chicago, which includes WTTW. "The sponsorship group doesn't really function as a national sales force... It's more like a cartel of powerful producing stations."

The pool of potential underwriters was divvied up based on current or past relationships, giving the top producers control over most of the accounts, Schmidt said.

Judy Harris, executive vice president of business and development for PBS, defended the PBS group's performance. Sales for the PBS Sponsorship Group depend on the clients' needs and what stations have to offer, Harris said. While each station has its own employees working on accounts, she said sales-based commissions provide an incentive to sell other members' programs.

She added that as advertising budgets shrank in the last year, so did corporate sponsorships for public television. Underwriting was down more than 10 percent in the fiscal year ended June 30, compared to the prior year, she said.

KCET left the PBS group last year and established a team of consultants in different cities to obtain underwriting for its productions. "KCET pulled out of it because it had not been successful for us," station President Al Jerome said earlier this year.

The move brought Jerome together with Jay Campbell, now PTNP's chief executive, who was then running Cable Ad Ventures, a television sales and development firm. Campbell was able to sign Johnson & Johnson up as an exclusive sponsor for "American Family."

Six other stations eventually signed up, including KERA in Dallas, WQED in Pittsburgh, Connecticut Public Television and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

"This is sort of a strength in numbers type of opportunity," Campbell said

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