TCA 2019: PBS' Kerger Talks Contract Extension, YouTube Partnership, and Funding

Beverly Hills, Calif. — PBS CEO and president Paula Kerger took the Television Critics Association summer press tour stage Monday, addressing her just announced contract extension, the company's partnership with YouTube, and the Trump Administration's threat to zero out funding.

"I believe this is the most exciting time to be in media," said Kerger of the announcement of her extension, which drew rare applause from critics. "I feel like we're at a time of great experimentation. I feel that in terms of the platforms and formats this is definitely not a time for the faint of heart."

Kerger, who joined PBS in 2006 and is the longest serving president and CEO in PBS history, said that she did wrestle with the question of whether or not she should renew her contract. 

Related: PBS, YouTube TV Deal Gets Pushback

"To be a part of really making sure that that next generation really fully is empowered to do everything that I think is going to be important for public media, and maybe this sounds too lofty, but important for our country, I want to be a part of that," she said.

Part of Kerger and PBS's strategy has been to get PBS programming into as many homes as possible. 

"We spend a lot of time thinking about where are people consuming content," she said, addressing a question from a critic about PBS' recently announced partnership with YouTube TV. "And at the end of the day, for us...we want to make sure that people connect to it wherever they are. And this is one of the challenges in this environment that we are in."

As part of the partnership, PBS will have a PBS and PBS Kids channel on YouTube TV. Member stations—PBS has nearly 350—will also have the opportunity to have their content appear on the video service.

Kerger hinted that deals with other streaming services are on the horizon. 

"Our goal is to have content in multiple places," said Kerger. "So we would like to have additional deals. YouTube is just the first."

Washington reacted quickly to news of the deal with advocates saying they have privacy concerns with YouTube.

Also on the Washington front, Kerger talked about the Trump Administration's threats to eliminate governmental funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes government dollars to PBS.

"It's disappointing when the administration recommends zero funding," she said. "And it is more than disappointing because the energy that goes into then having to make the case to put funding back in the budget is not insignificant. Our stations are heavily involved in ongoing conversations with members of Congress."

PBS is forward funded in an attempt to insulate it from politics. But if funding were taken away from PBS, rural stations would be most affected.

"The funding really doesn't stay in Washington," she said. "It goes out to our stations. The stations that benefit the most from federal funding are the stations that serve small communities."

Jessika Walsten

Jessika is content engagement director of Broadcasting + Cable, Multichannel News and NextTV. She has been with the brands in various roles since 2013. In her current role, she works primarily behind the screen, keeping an eye on the website and fixing any site bugs. A graduate of USC Annenberg, Jessika has edited and reported on a variety of subjects for NextTV, including profiles on industry leaders and breaking news.