Skip to main content

Pubcasters Push for Funds

Public television and radio groups Wednesday kicked off an initiative to raise perhaps billions of dollars in new revenue from both public and private sources, including tapping into spectrum auctions. 

Supporters say the money and new ideas are necessary to keep noncommercial broadcasting competitive in the digital age.

 The money would be used to fund new programming, distance learning, and deliver mobile and computer devices. The project also will solicit public input on what public broadcasting’s mission should be in the digital age.

The effort is led by co-chairs Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of  Netscape, and Reed Hundt, former FCC Chairman. “We need to know the size and scope of the task,” Hundt said during a forum at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Barksdale and Hundt will head a panel of public broadcasting executives and scholars and plan to hold more meetings in January and February. The group aims to complete the bulk of its task “in a number of weeks, not years,” Hundt said.

The panel’s work was endorsed by Pat Mitchell, Kathleen Cox, and John Lawson , respectively  the presidents of PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcastings and the Association for Public Television Stations.

Now that public stations have largely completed their digital build outs, they are ready to deliver digital services in a big way, Cox said. That is, if they find enough money to develop to develop content.

“What we don’t have is a reliable source of public funding,” she said.

Lawson said the solution should be a mix of current and new funding sources. In addition to federal appropriations that already flow to stations through CPB and to current private fundraising efforts, he said stations must lobby for creation of a trust fund that could be built from some proceeds the government will gain from the auction of public stations’ reclaimed analog channels.

Mitchell has also called for public to TV to find its Joan Kroc, the McDonald’s heiress who donated $236 million to NPR.

The participants said it’s too early in the process to say how much money public stations will need to fully capitalize on the possibilities of digital.