PBS SoCal, KCETLink Media Group Set Plans to Merge

KCETLink Media Group and PBS SoCal said Wednesday they have agreed to merge, pledging to produce more original programs for multiple channels and platforms addressing the diverse community. They reach more than 18 million people via PBS affiliate KOCE and KCET, and the merger returns KCET to the Public Broadcasting System fold. KCET gave up its PBS affiliation in 2011, saving millions in annual dues but losing access to PBS programming.

PBS CEO Paula Kerger praised the move: “We know this new entity will be a great partner to PBS and will help strengthen the broader public television system," she said in the merger news release. Pat Harrison, CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said in the release that CPB "is pleased that our longstanding goal and efforts to encourage the merger of public television stations KCET and KOCE will be realized."

KCET board chairman Dick Cook will be board chair of the combined entity and PBS SoCal CEO Andrew Russell will be CEO. The new entity, to be named later, will be governed by a 32-person board of trustees with 14 members from each of the existing boards of plus four new appointees.

No immediate changes are planned for broadcast operations or program schedules on any of the stations' channels during the merger transition, the companies said. They expect the merger to close in the first half of 2018, subject to regulatory approvals and the usual closing conditions.

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday the stations were able to pay off debt and strengthen their finances via funds from the $19.8-billion voluntary spectrum auction and that the auction held up merger talks that began about three years ago. Burbank-based KCET received about $65 million from the auction haul and KOCE got about $49 million, the Times said.

PBS SoCal operates four broadcast channels and streams its programming. KCETLink Media Group, in addition to operating KCET, distributes KCETLink programming on DirecTV and Dish Network and via streaming.