Meet Your Mission
“Our biggest problem is we don’t have the dollars to promote our programs,” she says. “We’re still the best-kept secret on the dial, but somehow we’ll make do as we always have.”
Therein lies PTV’s dilemma and opportunity. While the commercial competition has evolved into relatively few media conglomerates, PTV remains fiercely decentralized. While the national networks are busy cross-promoting their own broadcast, cable and Web channels, independent PBS stations survive on a market-to-market basis. All this has caused local public TV stations to be very aware of their viewers and donors.
Individual stations, which are responsible for their own funding, are coming up with new ways to make a splash among viewers. Kelly McCullough, director of marketing and development at Arizona State University’s KAET, for example, sees the future of public television tied to bonds with other local nonprofit organizations.
“No other television outlet celebrates arts and culture the way PBS does,” according to McCullough, who has engineered win-win deals with groups such as the Phoenix Symphony. “Our local symphony performs before an annual audience of 300,000 listeners. We can attract that many viewers in a few hours. But together we co-produce events that will bring our audiences together.”
Local promotion and fundraising have evolved into PTV’s primary source of revenue. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the federally chartered group designed to distribute government funds, local fundraising makes up 49 percent of the average station’s budget.
Nationally, the future of public television will be driven by political and technological events that the industry is only partly able to control. For local stations, the future remains in the hands of generous viewers and businesses who tune in for programming that’s just a bit different from anything else they can see on television.
Tom Hurley is president of the not-for-profit division of DMW, a full-service direct-response advertising agency with offices in Wayne, Pa., St. Louis and Plymouth, Mass. Contact: 774.773.1200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.