To: KCTS 9 Board Of Directors and KCTS 9 Community Advisory Board

Might KCTS Production Cuts and the FCC Spectrum Reallocation Mean the End of Local PBS Televisi...

We are a group of citizens and workers who are deeply concerned about the direction of our Public Television station, KCTS in Seattle.

We are troubled by sudden changes in the station, for which the justifications given by the station seem more the product of public relations spin than reasoned thinking.

We find the makeup of the KCTS board especially worrisome, since representation seems to be almost totally reserved to corporate leadership.

Sadly, we fear that KCTS could be gearing up for the eventual reduction or elimination of Public Broadcast Television in Seattle.

We cannot allow the Board of Directors to strip away all that makes KCTS a valuable community resource.

We cannot allow KCTS to liquidate the Vme, Create and KCTS 9 channels.

We cannot allow corporate voices to be the majority decision makers of our community- supported Public Television affiliate.

If we are to save our station, we must take action to Take Back KCTS and maintain the standards of excellence set over many decades by KCTS leadership, employees, and members.

We, the undersigned, request that immediate democratic changes be made to the KCTS Board of Directors and respectfully suggest that:

-At least 33% of the governing board be elected by the members of KCTS with the criteria that those individuals represent a variety of voices from our community with backgrounds including, but not limited to, Non-Profits, Labor, Journalism, Business, Academia and Civil Service.

-At least 33% of the governing board be elected by the employees of KCTS and that those individuals represent a variety of diverse voices.

-We believe that younger voices and people of color must also be represented on the board if we are to actually engage those audiences in the future.

Why is this important?

In September of 2013, the Chair of the KCTS Board of Directors, Paula Rosput Reynolds (Former Safeco CEO, Chief restructuring officer of AIG, and an executive and board member of many major oil and gas companies) announced her excitement that KCTS was being presented a golden moment: the acquisition of Fisher Broadcasting Corporation by the media conglomerate, Sinclair, created a vacancy of top management talent that KCTS could seize upon. The board suddenly replaced Moss Bresnahan, a seasoned PBS Executive, with Rob Dunlop, a former KOMO Radio and Fisher executive. Almost immediately, Dunlop began making a series of far-reaching changes in the station.

Loss of Community and Worker Appreciation

Prior to 2013, KCTS’ stated the mission was to “improve the quality of life in the communities we serve by providing meaningful programming on air, online and in the community that informs, involves and inspires.” Since that time the mission has changed and, along with it, much of the direction of the station. The mission is now “To Inspire A Smarter World.”

Ironically, the change included enormous reductions in the areas of the station which might have seemed to most live up to the new mission. For example, KCTS’ education unit was closed down, its outreach unit drastically cut back and eventually shuttered, its popular Science Café (run in cooperation with the Pacific Science Center) and History Café (a partnership with the Museum of History and Industry), were ended, and its national distribution unit, which prepared KCTS program for wider broadcast to other PBS stations, was also shut down. Also in 2013, the station announced drastic cuts in employee health care benefits and the elimination and restructuring of many jobs.

These policies led to a serious reduction of the KCTS work force and community pledge drives. While pledge drives are not popular with everyone, they do allow an opportunity for the community to thank the station for its service and for the workers and volunteers of KCTS to thank subscribers and members for their generous gifts that make it possible for the station to provide excellent PBS and community-driven programming.

The most recent, and perhaps most questionable of these decisions was the elimination of a dozen producing, photography, editing, and audio positions, with the result that only a couple of members of the station’s production unit remain.

While the station has seen other layoffs during earlier management regimes, they have been made necessary, at least in part, by serious financial straits—in one case the station was millions of dollars in debt. But as even Dunlop admitted, there was no financial need to lay off these workers:

In an interview, Dunlop stressed that the cutbacks were not financially driven. The station’s latest audited financial report shows that it had a surplus of $460,940 in fiscal 2014, compared with a $47,843 loss in FY13. Underwriting was also up $178,000 and total revenue grew by $293,000 during that period.

There was no crisis of viewership either; he told KUOW radio that the station audience is currently “stable.”

Recently the station has announced a Digital First Initiative that will eliminate studio productions, studio pledge drives, and, according to Dunlop, will dramatically change the way local programming is produced and made available to viewers. If these changes prevail, the KCTS community will receive much of its local programming solely in short-form videos delivered mostly through phones, computers and tablets rather than broadcasting. The rationale for this is that younger viewers are not watching the television broadcasts.

Dunlop claims that KCTS’ audience is mainly children and viewers over the age of 50. While this is true, it is not new. KCTS has always been more attractive to older viewers, who are also more likely to contribute. So the elimination of so much that KCTS does must be driven by other motives beyond the PBS mission. One of the most troubling is the possibility that KCTS management may plan to sell off their digital channels to other media conglomerates.

The Spectrum Auction

In 2016, The FCC will hold an auction that will allow broadcasters to sell all or part of their federally- licensed frequency to the highest bidder. Why? Because the lower frequency of TV travels farther and penetrates walls better. This makes the TV band more valuable to broadband companies.

“A Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) study claimed that $62 billion worth of spectrum could become $1 trillion for wireless, and one proposal would require all TV stations, including LPTV, to give up all spectrum, with subsidized multichannel services replacing over-the-air TV, even after viewers spent a great deal of money on the DTV transition.”

This means that the frequency allocated to broadcast television is 16 times more valuable to broadband providers than it is to TV station owners –according to the study. That is a powerful reality that is not widely understood.

So, we have no choice but to ponder how the shift from TV to other media will be made, and what, if anything, will replace local public television as a community service. The valuable model of community-funded television allows KCTS to meet a public need. If the station is shifting focus away from viewer funded television and shifting toward a larger funding source or sale of its license, the average viewer’s voice could be drowned out.

Will our KCTS Vme and Create channels be sold to the highest bidder?

Some anonymous unconfirmed reports tell us that KCTS may be undergoing plans to get out of the community license contracts for its Vme and Create channels that especially serve the Hispanic community and children. Is this a way to seize upon the lucrative sale of the TV frequency public asset? If the TV frequency is going to go to something else, what will take the place of Local TV?

Traditional broadcasters oppose the idea of ...