APTS' Butler: Consolidating Some Operations May Better Serve Public

Consolidating back office, master control could improve service while holding down costs

Association of Public Television Stations president and CEO
Patrick Butler took his public broadcasting "defending your life"
pitch to a Media Institute crowd Thursday, including making the point that
noncom stations were combining facilities and operations to try and better
serve their publics.

Republican legislators have renewed their calls for zeroing
out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which dispenses
federal funds to noncommercial TV and radio, prompting Butler to counter with
an extensive case for noncoms and their aspiration to be "the civilizing
force in American society, the preserver of the national memory, the greatest
classroom, the grandest stage, the community center and the champion of good
citizenship," as he told the crowd of commercial media execs and others.

Commercial and noncommercial outlets share the same pressure
from Washington to give up some of their spectrum for wireless broadband, so
Butler's defense, according to an advance copy of his speech, serves the dual
purpose of publicly parrying the thrusts of budget axe-wielding legislators,
and making the case for why over-the-air noncommercial broadcasting is worth
preserving and how it is taking steps to be more efficient and effective with
its service and spectrum.

On the point of how efficiently noncoms make use of their
federal dollars, Butler talked about the kind of efficiencies from
consolidation that often get commercial operators pilloried by the very
Democratic legislators who go to the mat for PBS whenever Republicans cry
liberal bias or try to phase out funding, or both.

"We're trying to do this work [entertain and educate]
more efficiently," he said,  "and we are pursuing such
initiatives as joint master control rooms, consolidated back-office operations,
channel sharing, spectrum leasing, fee-for-service data and content management,
and other innovations that may help us improve our service without increasing
our costs."

"Public television spectrum provides the backbone for
emergency alert, public safety and homeland security services in States across
the country," he said, a point commercial broadcasters have frequently made,
as well in defending their lives. "We're the 'C-SPAN' of many state
governments." The speech echoed many of the themes in a letter Butler sent
last week
to the chiefs of staffs of every Senator
following an effort led by Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to generate support for
phasing out public broadcasting funding,
citing CPB's request for $445 million for FY2015 (CPB is advance funded to try
to insulate it from politics).

And while the majority of noncom budgets comes from fundraising
from listeners, grants and sponsors, Butler points out that even before the
economic meltdown that took a big bite out of fundraising dollars, the GAO
concluded that federal funds were essential to "station operations,
infrastructure needs, universal service requirements, educational missions and
other special circumstances of non-commercial, non-profit public
broadcasting."

As with the DeMint letter, Butler's pitch appeared tailored
to resonate with Republicans. He talked about the support of former Governor
Jeb Bush, President Ronald Reagan, and even President Eisenhower for
noncommercial broadcasting; cited an accolade from Dave Heineman of Nebraska,
chairman of the National Governors Association and "a proudly conservative
Republican," who likened the importance of Nebraska Educational Television
to Cornhusker football." (Which, in Nebraska, may or may not be a
half-step below God, country and apple pie).

He also talked of being in the "planning stages"
of "an initiative to help America's military service members and their
families cope with all the challenges of education, job training, health care
and other essentials of their lives, even as we honor their valiant volunteer
service to our country."

The interests of commercial and noncommercial media have not
always jived, but they are certainly united in the effort to preserve and grow
the broadcasting business in a broadband-centric age. Butler took a gentle poke
at his commercial brethren by way of pointing out their different missions.
"Oscar Wilde once said that ‘America is the only country that went from
barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.' This is manifestly untrue,
but it is important that we never sacrifice civilization for
commercialization."

But he also struck a note of camaraderie. "I thank you
all for the support you've given us in our times of trial and triumph
alike."

The Media Institute is a nonprofit First Amendment think
tank supported by major media companies, foundations, associations and
individuals.