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L.A. pubcaster KCET to merge with LinkTV

Station to offer mix of local and national programming from cabler

Continuing to carve out its post-PBS path, independent L.A. pubcaster KCET has merged with national network Link TV to form KCETLink, a programming service that will be a local-national hybrid.

KCETLink will have an initial reach of 33 million households on satcasters DirecTV and Dish, along with KCET’s Southern California home base of 5.6 million households. The deal came together after approximately six months of discussions and negotiations.

“We started to see that there was a lot of overlap, a lot of things we did that they were interested in and their audience would be interested in,” as well as the reverse, LinkTV CEO/prexy Paul S. Mason told Variety. “We thought there was a real synergy there.”

KCET topper Al Jerome will serve as KCETLink CEO, with Mason becoming chief strategy officer of the merged company, which will operate from KCET’s new Burbank production facility.

Launched in 1999, Link TV is a donor-supported network focused on global news, documentaries and international programming, with an audience that is 60% in the 18-35 demo. Among its offerings, LinkTV airs “Al Jazeera English World News” and “Borgen,” from the same Denmark producer that also presented “Forbrydelsen,” the predecessor of AMC’s “The Killing.”

KCET has been in reinvention mode ever since parting ways with PBS at the start of 2011, after failing to renegotiate dues payments to the national pubcaster. In August 2011, KCET received a five-year, $50 million commitment from a company headed by former Disney exec Dominique Bigle to create and acquire series directly related to Southern California. KCET’s separation from PBS came just as the national network got a big boost from the success of “Downton Abbey” and other shows.

Nonetheless, Jerome is undaunted about KCET’s course of action, citing a Corporation of Public Broadcasting report that says two-thirds of PBS member stations are in the red. According to Jerome, KCET’s primetime audience in the second quarter of 2012 matched the primetime audience in the second quarter of 2010, the station’s last year with PBS.

“We knew from the very beginning we were going to be charting a new course, and we wanted to be the architects of our own future,” Jerome told Variety.

Viewers will begin to see the effects of the KCETLink combo Jan. 1, when LinkTV programming becomes available on one of KCET’s three digital multi-cast channels. KCET’s primary channel will retain its acquired and locally produced programs, while also adding LinkTV’s halfhour Asian news and commentary program “LinkAsia.”

LinkTV, meanwhile, will incorporate KCET content on a program-by-program basis. One such possibility is a national edition of the locally produced “SoCal Connected,” which KCET is turning into a daily program beginning Oct. 29.

Mason indicated that LinkTV might look to expand its reach down the road.

“If there are other stations, be they public or independent, that are interested in taking some of the programming that KCETLink is going to have, we’re more than happy to have that conversation,” Mason said.

The partners will also seek to produce new alternative programming and technology, such as an upcoming app that curates world news videos for the iPad and Google TV.

“Link has been very strong in software development for transmedia platforms, and we’ve been good in digital media content development,” Jerome said. “So that was complementary.”

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