May 16, 2011

Surprise! Another GOP governor wants to eliminate state pubcasting funds

A proposal by Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) to zero-out nearly $2 million in annual funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network prompted hearings in the statehouse today. Citizens who testified before the Senate appropriations committee overwhelmingly opposed the measure. According to local news accounts, LePage's proposal surprised even top Republican lawmakers when it landed last week.

The governor is offering to restore public funding of gubernatorial campaigns, which he targeted in an earlier version of the two-year budget, by completely eliminating MPBN's annual subsidy. The Times Record of Brunswick, which published an op-ed today slamming the governor's trade-off, describes it as a "double-dare: Squawk too much about my MPBN cut and I’ll simply go back to Plan A and reinstate my proposed Clean Elections funding cut."

LePage has had a contentious relationship with MPBN, but he says he's trying to balance the budget, not settle old scores, according to Maine's Capitol News Service, which provides news to MPBN.

MPBN officials were also shocked by the proposal, and say they don't yet know what services or programs would be canceled if the governor's proposal is enacted. "My focus right now, my total energy, is on making sure we don't lose that money," Jim Dowe, MPBN president, told the Portland Press Herald. "If it did happen, there is no magic place to go to replace that money.

Pubcasting advocates have been fighting uphill battles to preserve state funding in many state capitals this year.

PBS previews new primetime architecture for PTPA in Orlando

Programmers got a look at PBS's new fall primetime architecture at the Public Television Programmers Association meeting taking place today (May 16) in Orlando, Fla., just before the PBS National Meeting.

PBS's John Wilson, s.v.p and chief programmer, and Shawn Halford, senior director of program scheduling, said the changes are taking place to better serve viewers looking for similar shows, build a larger potential membership base, create a stronger selling proposition for audience-focused underwriters and better leverage marketing and promotion.

Schedule changes include transitioning Nature from Sundays to Wednesdays, moving Frontline later on Tuesdays after December pledge and shifting Independent Lens and P.O.V. from Tuesdays to Thursdays. Beginning this winter, Sunday evenings will bring specials in first hour of prime, an Antiques Roadshow spinoff (still to be announced) in the second hour, and the Roadshow in hour three.

One item of discussion: PBS is shifting underwriting and station breaks from on-the-hour to several minutes into the program to pull audience along between shows. But won't that undermine one of the core values of PBS, the uninterrupted programs? Beth Walsh, senior director of PBS research, is crunching data from dial tests and focus groups held just last week, programmers were told, so more will be known once those numbers are out. A subcommittee of the PBS Board is working on how all the changes will affect common carriage.