KOCE set for PBS spotlight

Net will see its dues rise as it fills the void left by b'caster

PBS is racing to turn Orange County’s KOCE into its primary Los Angeles affiliate by the end of the year.

According to PBS president/CEO Paula Kerger, KOCE will see its dues rise as it fills the void left by KCET, which will become an independent public TV station Jan. 1. But both sides are still ironing out what KOCE will now pay.

It’s doubtful, however, that KOCE will be asked to match KCET’s annual $7 million dues; ironically, KOCE will likely pay an amount that KCET willingly would have paid to keep the affiliation.

Up until now, KOCE, as a secondary affiliate, has been able to run only 25% of PBS’ lineup. But the station soon will be the L.A. home to staples like the “PBS News Hour,” “Sesame Street” and “Charlie Rose.”

“We’re mostly focused at the moment on making sure that viewers make the transition,” Kerger said. “There are a whole series of activities that need to happen fairly quickly.”

Kerger has dispatched a PBS team to KOCE to help the station adjust to its primary affiliation. At the same time, PBS is working with KOCE and the L.A. market’s other two PBS stations — Riverside’s KVCR and the L.A. Unified School District’s KLCS — in forging a new programming consortium.

KCET actually launched the idea of the consortium, but opted to drop PBS when it became clear PBS wouldn’t let KCET become a secondary affiliate.

Ultimately, Kerger said KOCE, KLCS and KVCR may split PBS’ fare, leaving the market without one specific primary PBS station.

“Our structure has been to have a primary affiliate in a market,” she said. “But a consortium could lead to a different model.”

Kerger said she had “really hoped that we could come to some sort of understanding” with KCET, “but that did not happen. We spent many months working closely with their board, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t possible.”

Kerger took issue with KCET’s suggestion that its dues to PBS repped 25% of its budget; Kerger said she believed the station’s dues were closer to 11% or 12%, in line with other PBS stations around the country.

“It was hard to reconcile a separate deal with KCET different from every other station in the country.”

As for KOCE, its emergence as L.A.’s primary PBS station reps a reversal of fortune for the station, which nearly went off the air a few years ago.

KOCE nearly went all-religious in the mid-2000s, after original owner Coast Community College District put the station up for sale. Religious broadcaster Daystar bid $25 million for the station, but in an attempt to keep KOCE a PBS outlet, the district instead sold the station to the KOCE Foundation, which offered less cash upfront.

When Daystar sued the district, an appeals court found that the deal with KOCE Foundation was illegal. Eventually, KOCE Foundation struck a deal with Daystar, ending their legal battle. As part of the deal, Daystar’s religious programming airs on a KOCE digital subchannel.

“KOCE will assume the PBS common carriage obligations and work with our partner stations to ensure all PBS shows are not only available, but are easy to find for our viewers,” said KOCE chief exec Mel Rogers.

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