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KCET Severing PBS Ties Over Fees, Flexibility

Having previously floated the prospect of becoming independent, KCET is making good on that threat and has announced that it will sever ties to PBS at the end of the year.

The decision stems from a dispute over the fees the station had to pay to the national system as well as a desire for greater scheduling flexibility.

It’s unclear what this will ultiimately mean for KCET, which has long been a frustrating element for the local production community, having failed to fully tap into the resources of Los Angeles’ creative wealth — especially those with ample TV experience who are unemployed or under-employed thanks to shifts in the commercial space.

Here’s the station’s rather unusually detailed announcement regarding the circumstances that led to the break:

KCET TO GO INDEPENDENT EFFECTIVE JANUARY 1, 2011

Los Angeles — October 8, 2010 — KCET announced today that it will become the largest independent public television station in the United States effective January 1, 2011. This decision is the result of KCET and PBS’ inability to reach an agreement on a reduction in PBS fees and greater programming flexibility. KCET will continue to carry the full PBS line-up through December 31, 2010.

Al Jerome, KCET President and Chief Executive Officer, issued the following statement:

“After four decades as the west coast flagship PBS station, this is not a decision we made lightly. We have been in discussions with PBS for over three years about the need to address challenges that are unique to our market as well as our station.

“As an independent public television station, KCET will be committed to investing in Southern California by developing, acquiring, producing and distributing content across all media platforms. We will continue to offer the KCET audience programming from leading national and international sources. Some of these series are currently on our air.

“Our plan is to become the media partner for the many diverse, creative voices in our community with stories to tell, art to exhibit, music or dance to perform and news to report. We will partner with other public service organizations so that our viewers can learn about the good work being done, but not often reported in the commercial media. We will use our broadcast spectrum and broadband capabilities to expand public service at a time in our history when people of all ages want to actively participate in the recovery and growth of our region.”

By going independent, KCET is addressing issues unique within the PBS system. The stationís PBS dues were increased by 40% because of its extraordinarily successful fundraising effort on behalf of A Place of Our Own/Los Niños en Su Casa. The dues were then frozen at the highest rate in the stationís history just as the economy tumbled, leading to decreases in contributions from viewers, corporate underwriting, and foundation grants. Further, KCET is in the only market with four overlapping stations, which is why the station had been pursuing a consortium with the other stations in the Southern California region.

Gordon Bava, KCET Chairman of the Board, stated:

“Our Board of Directors decided unanimously that KCET could best serve Southern California by allocating our supportersí funds to locally focused news and cultural programming and other national and international quality content While separating from the PBS mother ship is daunting, the potential of providing a media platform for the creative, scientific, and cultural communities of Southern California to create informative and entertaining noncommercial programming with a fresh perspective is very exciting.”

KCET will remain a non-profit, viewer-supported public media organization, operating under a non-commercial, educational television broadcast license awarded to Community Television of Southern California as an independent public television station.

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