Before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations
April 12, 2010
Chairman Harkin, Ranking Member Cochran, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to submit testimony on behalf of our nation’s public media system.
As you know, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. We support the operations of more than 1,100 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide. Throughout the U.S., public broadcasting, or what should more accurately be called “public media,” engages citizens on-air, on-line, and on the ground with information they can use to improve their lives and strengthen their local communities. As commercial media becomes increasingly consolidated, a key strength of public media remains its design: a decentralized set of stations, each with deep local roots and maintaining individual service strategies tailored to the unique needs of its local community.
Public broadcasting was born in an earlier moment of profound change and transition. In the 1950s and 1960s a new media technology was diffusing quickly: the television. Around it grew a movement to use the new medium, as well as existing radio technology, for educational purposes, and public broadcasting was born. Today, nearly a half-century after the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act, we are making a similar transition from public broadcasting to the “Public Media 2.0” the President called for during his campaign. As we leverage our legacy to become a leader in the new and ever-changing media landscape, public media has focused its efforts through a strategic framework comprising the “Three Ds”: Digital, Diversity and Dialogue.
Innovation on DIGITAL Platforms
As an outgrowth of its dedication to universal service, public media is embracing a range of digital delivery methods to reach all Americans, wherever and whenever they seek information. Because of its reach, its availability for free, and its unmatched efficiency in point-to-multipoint communications, over-the-air service remains an essential part of the public media portfolio. At the same time, public broadcasters are evolving into true multi-platform media entities by creating content and services, some related to and some entirely independent from broadcast content, that capitalize on the power of broadband and other digital technologies. For example:
- KQED’s (San Francisco) QUEST is a new multimedia series about the people behind Bay Area science and environmental issues which utilizes all of KQED’s media platforms, educational resources and extraordinary partnerships, and includes a half-hour weekly HD television program, weekly radio segments, an innovative website and education guides.
- Public Broadcasting Atlanta is developing Lens on Atlanta, an on-line portal that invites citizens to create and participate in blogs, wikis, forums, petitions, and surveys, and engages institutions and government entities around Atlanta to listen and participate.
- Many public radio stations have expanded the reach of their cultural programming by investing in and creating substantial internet music services with significant audiences. Examples include WAMU’s Bluegrass Country, WKSU’s Folk Alley, WXPN’s Xponential, and KCRW’s Eclectic24.
In addition to these local station efforts, public broadcasting’s national organizations have been moving for some time to leverage the power of digital media. For example:
- CPB is funding the creation of Local Journalism Centers, combining our and participating stations’ resources for a ground-breaking approach to newsgathering and distribution. The seven centers will form teams of multimedia journalists, who will focus on issues of particular relevance to each region, and their in-depth reports will be presented regionally and nationally via digital platforms, community engagement programs and broadcasts.
- In October 2009, NPR initiated Argo, a new multi-media journalism project, funded by CPB and the Knight Foundation. The two-year project is designed to strengthen public media’s local journalism, build a significant online audience, and develop a common publishing platform that will better support public media’s online needs. NPR is working with a dozen selected public television and radio stations to launch websites for each station that go in-depth on selected topics or “verticals.”
- In September 2008, PBS launched its PBS KIDS GO! video player, featuring hundreds of video clips and dozens of full-length episodes. Since launch, the site is averaging 1.3 million streams per week, and nine million unique visitors a month. In December 2009 alone, children watched more than 87.5 million streams across the PBS KIDS family of Web sites, its highest total ever, putting it on track to be one of the most popular video sites in the world.
- CPB is funding the development of the American Archive, which ultimately will restore, digitize, and preserve public broadcasting’s deteriorating collections of local television and radio content. We expect to have 40,000 hours of local and national television and radio content available to the American public within 18 months.
Content that Reflects the Nation’s DIVERSITY
Equally central to public media’s universal service mission is providing individuals of every ethnicity and economic and social background, particularly those that are underserved by commercial media, relevant and engaging content. The ability to transmit multiple streams of digital programming over the air, combined with the nearly boundless capabilities of broadband, enable local and national public media entities to deliver content that truly reflects America’s diversity. CPB is constantly expanding its relationships with diversity partners to both broaden its reach and to allow greater opportunities, on a variety of platforms, for underrepresented groups. Among these efforts:
- CPB provides ongoing support to, among others: the National Minority Consortia, which provides seed money to producers of multicultural content; the Independent Television Service, which champions independently produced programming targeting underserved audiences; Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, the leader in bringing Native voices to Alaska and the nation through the only urban Native public radio station and its national production and distribution center (Native Voice One) in Albuquerque; and Radio Bilingue, the only national distributor of Spanish-language public radio programming, which is now developing a transmedia service in Los Angeles targeting a young, English-speaking, and highly diverse audience. We also funded the creation of Native Public Media in 2004 to build and advance Native access to, ownership of, and participation in media, especially radio.
- In FY 2010, we are creating within our multi-year PBS National Program Service agreement (which supports primetime and children’s programming) a Diversity and Innovation Fund, which will support major content development projects that examine topics of interest to diverse audiences or that employ new, lower cost production models.
- CPB funds the National Black Programming Consortium’s annual New Media Institute, a unique professional development program designed to introduce producers to the latest in digital media production, marketing and distribution. The program includes a collaboration website where journalists can showcase their work, find and share public domain stock, share best practices, and brainstorm together on innovative future citizen media projects.
- Through projects such as the Public Radio Talent Quest, CPB has identified a new generation of public broadcasting talent – Public Media 2.0 producers – who appeal to new audiences and produce multimedia content for a variety of platforms. For example, Glynn Washington, a winner of the Talent Quest, produces a new multimedia series, Snap Judgment, that combines his unique brand of storytelling with innovative technology to explore the decisions people make in moments of crisis.
Services that Foster DIALOGUE Between Public Media and the American People
Public media’s localism remains more relevant than ever as commercial media are increasingly owned and operated by entities outside of their local communities – but the nature of our service to local communities is shifting in the digital age. Critical to public media’s future will be its ability to collaborate and serve as an active resource and trusted partner to more diverse communities, in new ways. Public media entities are quickly adapting to the new paradigm. For example, as part of a comprehensive local/national response to the nation’s economic woes, CPB is supporting a number of in-depth community engagement projects, including:
- Facing the Mortgage Crisis: 57 stations are participating in this multi-million dollar national project designed to help the country’s hardest-hit regions cope with an avalanche of mortgage foreclosures. Based on an extremely successful model developed by KETC-TV in St. Louis, stations are working with key community partners, such as United Way’s 2-1-1 call centers, to create content on-air and online that helps families to avoid or mitigate home foreclosures.
- Engaging Communities on the Economy: CPB is supporting the work of 37 stations working with partners to address other pressing economic issues, such as joblessness, hunger, loss of health insurance and family stress. These projects serve diverse audiences, from seniors to recent immigrants to teenagers.
CPB’s Requests for Appropriations
Public media stations continue to evolve, both operationally and more importantly in the myriad ways they serve their communities. Stations are committed to reaching viewers and listeners on whatever platform they use – from smart phones to iPads to radios to TV sets. But new opportunities come with a cost. While stations can and will continue to adapt and thrive in the digital age, without sufficient support they cannot live up to the potential of the new technologies. As the Federal Communications Commission’s recently-issued National Broadband Plan noted, “Today, public media is at a crossroads…[it] must continue expanding beyond its original broadcast-based mission to form the core of a broader new public media network that better serves the new multi-platform information needs of America. To achieve these important expansions, public media will require additional funding.”
CPB Base Appropriation (FY 2013)
CPB requests a $604 million advance appropriation for FY 2013. Stations have been faced with flat CPB funding for the better part of the past decade, and the impact of this lack of an even inflationary increase (until FY 2010) has been magnified by the economic conditions of the last few years. As public media seeks to make the transition to a truly digital enterprise, the federal share of station funding has never been more critical. CPB distributes its advance appropriation in accordance with a statutory formula, under which almost 72 percent of funds go directly to local public television and radio stations, as well as discretionary support for the creation of programming for radio, television and new media and on projects that benefit the entire public broadcasting community. Added together, these efforts account for 95 percent of the funds appropriated to CPB; we are limited by law to an administrative budget of five percent. The federal appropriation accounts for under 15 percent of the entire cost of public broadcasting, but it is a vital core that leverages support from state and local governments, universities, businesses, foundations, and especially viewers and listeners of local public television and radio stations.
CPB Digital (FY 2011)
CPB requests $59.5 million in digital funding for FY 2011. With this funding, CPB will continue its mission to fund stations’ efforts to adapt to audience demands for educational, cultural and news and information content, regardless of platform. As the Administration noted in its FY 2011 budget request, while CPB Digital will continue to fund station “equipment” such as digital transmitters and translators, “the majority of this funding will be utilized to fund projects to enhance multi-platform content creation, delivery and storage, such as the American Archive, which by converting content to digital format, will ensure that the vast archives of public broadcasting content will not be lost due to physical media deterioration.” Though needs remain, as local stations’ conversion to digital broadcasting ramps down, CPB Digital funding for broadcast equipment will continue to diminish, and the Department of Commerce’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) can resume its role as the primary federal source for local station equipment funding.
Ready To Learn (FY 2011)
CPB is requesting $32 million in FY 2011 for Ready To Learn (RTL), a U.S. Department of Education program with a nearly 20-year proven record of using the power and reach of public television’s children’s programming to raise the reading levels of children ages 2-8 who live in high-poverty environments. Today, Ready To Learn is a partnership between CPB, PBS, WGBH (Boston), WTTW (Chicago), Sesame Workshop, leading researchers and public television stations nationwide. We strongly disagree with the Administration’s proposed consolidation of RTL into an umbrella literacy program and instead believe that the difference this program has made on children’s lives makes continued dedicated federal support imperative. An appropriation of $32 million in FY 2011 will enable RTL content and accompanying materials to be created and tested on a faster timeline, and will enable more communities to become involved in existing station-based outreach activities.
Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member, thank you again for allowing CPB to submit this testimony. For nearly a half-century, public broadcasting has provided a safe place for millions of children to learn and unparalleled access to news and information; given voice to diverse points of view; and convened community dialogues. As the times have changed, so too have the technologies available to provide service to communities across our country. The challenge before us is how best to incorporate new capabilities into the public interest and service for all of our diverse citizenry, especially during these challenging economic times. With your continued support, we are ready to meet this challenge.