Los Angeles PBS affiliate KCET exits network fold to go independent


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KCET, the Los Angeles PBS member station, has decided to break away from the public broadcasting network and become an independent station.

Starting in January, station officials intend to replace such iconic PBS fare as ‘Charlie Rose,’ ‘NewsHour,’ ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Masterpiece’ with news and documentaries from Japan, Canada and elsewhere, along with old feature films. (KCET will continue to carry PBS programming through the end of December.)


The drastic move comes after a months-long battle over the dues KCET must pay the national organization. Last year, the dues totaled nearly $7 million, or almost one-fifth of the station’s $37-million net operating revenue. Station officials say that amount is far too high. PBS, fearing that a reduction in the sum could lead to demands for similar discounts from other member stations, refused to budge.

‘After four decades as the West Coast flagship PBS station, this is not a decision we made lightly,’ said Al Jerome, KCET’s president and chief executive, in a news release. ‘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,’ he added. ‘We will continue to offer the KCET audience programming from leading national and international sources. Some of these series are currently on our air.’

Yet a divorce could prove painful for both parties. Independent broadcasting outlets found themselves in perilous times even before the recent recession hit. Without recognizable series to promote, KCET will likely find it difficult to gain traction with viewers. Moreover, the station will find it tough to produce or buy shows that generate strong ratings as program costs keep escalating.

A pullout isn’t good news for PBS, either, as it signals ‘to other PBS members that affiliation isn’t that important anymore,’ according to Jeffrey McCall, a media expert at DePauw University.

It also increases doubts about the long-term future of public broadcasting. ‘PBS certainly does not play the essential role it once did in the nation’s media landscape,’ McCall said. ‘For years, PBS provided things that couldn’t be had from the traditional networks,’ including public affairs and educational programs.


‘Now, with cable outlets, not to mention the Internet, the public doesn’t rely on PBS for such fare.’

-- Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)