KCET has lost the financial contributions from a significant number of longtime members since its split from PBS 10 weeks ago and its ratings are down 51 percent compared with a year ago.
But the station’s Chief Executive Al Jerome prefers to embrace a glass-half-full attitude when he talks about how things are going for the largest independent public television station in the country.
“I think it’s up from here,” Jerome said.
That power of positive thinking could serve as an example for other public television stations that stand to lose millions in federal dollars if Congress succeeds in eliminating funding for public television and radio stations. This would also impact the budgets of Orange County-based PBS SoCal and local NPR member radio stations KPCC and KCRW.
Even though it dropped out of the network, KCET got $5.2 million of its current $40 million budget from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees the government’s public broadcasting investment. But the proposed legislation puts that money in jeopardy.
“We don’t know what amount we would get next year,” Jerome said. “We would still love to have it and we need it.”
KCET had been PBS’s flagship station in Los Angeles for 40 years but opted to go independent and stop airing such shows as “Charlie Rose,” “NewsHour” and “Antiques Roadshow” rather than pay nearly $7 million in licensing fees, up from $4.9 million in 2010.
Since Jan. 1, the station has been without PBS programming and has instead been relying mostly on reruns of British imports in prime time including the Helen Mirren police series “Prime Suspect” and the spy drama “Mi-5.”
This has led to an exodus of individual members – people who give in the $40 to $500 range. Jerome said the numbers have been significant but he did not have exact figures. On its website, KCET notes that nearly 60 percent of its budget comes from its members – not from business or the government.
“We anticipated in second half of fiscal year January through June that we would have significant losses in revenue,” Jerome said. “We cut expenses down to anticipate that. What will really be significant is as people get used to our line-up, how much of that funding will be restored. I don’t expect anybody to take anything on faith. It’s incumbent upon us to make the case for support.”
It will be tough to convince former fans, including award-winning documentary filmmaker Mark Jonathan Harris, whose films have aired on KCET.
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