PBS Annual Meeting 2011
Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS
Good morning. It is a great pleasure to be here with you – the men and women who give America’s public media its spark. Welcome to Orlando, a place of great adventures, bold explorations, and soaring aspirations.
And for those of you who have been here before, welcome back. Let me count myself among you. Five years ago, I gave my first annual meeting address as president of PBS here in Orlando.
I think it’s especially appropriate that we gather here today in Orlando to talk about the future of public broadcasting.
Here on the space coast, there’s a long history of setting our sights skyward, dreaming big dreams, and conquering the unknowable.
Exactly 50 years ago – on May 5, 1961 – Alan Shepard blasted into space from Cape Canaveral for the first US manned space mission. Just weeks later John F. Kennedy laid out his audacious plan to put a man on the moon.
His call galvanized a generation of scientists, engineers and thinkers to go beyond what they thought possible, to come together to make great progress, and to break the boundaries of this earth.
And 8 years later, in one of our nation’s finest symbols of progress, Neil Armstrong took one small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind.
Fifty years ago we also took a small step forward in broadcasting history.
It was in May 1961 that a young attorney gave his first address as Chairman of the FCC. During that speech, Newton Minow described the television landscape as a vast wasteland, a phrase that would seal his place in the history of broadcasting.
And he went on to describe this desert that lay before him, stretching into living rooms from Bangor to San Diego.
“You will see a procession of game shows,” he said, “formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endless commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom.”
I think that much of his comments still hold true today.
But Minow was speaking in the days before there was dedicated space for educational television across the country and before there was PBS.
And as he commented at the National Press Club last week, on the anniversary of his great speech, he looks out on the broadcasting landscape today and sees our work in public broadcasting as an oasis.
Over the last fifty years, we have proven that television can entertain, educate, and inspire.
From Sesame Street to NOVA, we have given refuge to the curious among us, who strive to learn more, and be more.
And we have defined the standards for journalism, best represented by the NewsHour.
I’d just like to pause for a minute to say thank you to Jim Lehrer, who in his thirty six years at the NewsHour achieved what Murrow, Cronkite, Huntley Brinkley, and other giants of commercial broadcast journalism only dreamed of by creating the only 60-minute national newscast on broadcast television.
As Jim begins the next chapter of his career, we are grateful for his ongoing leadership and his continued presence on our airwaves.
While national programs like the NewsHour might be the obvious examples of the ways in which public broadcasting serves the people, there are so many examples across this country of member stations who are serving their communities in innovative ways.
WETA is working to educate people about the leading cause of death for people ages 15-35: traumatic brain injury. Using their extensive web and video savvy, WETA has partnered with other national organizations to offer extensive online resources.
In these tough economic times, stations are pulling together different stakeholders and deploying their talents to combat the ills of the economic downturn.
In Cleveland, WVIZ/PBS, 90.3 WCPN teamed up to form ideastream, to bring together resources the community needed in one central place.
The project has helped connect people looking for work with each other and with financial, emotional and job-related support.
I am grateful to Pat Harrison for her leadership of the American Graduate Project and the impact that will have in local communities.
Our work in communities across the country has not gone unrecognized, or unrewarded.
When public broadcasting faced the most serious defunding threat in my memory, the American people stood up for us.
When some leaders on Capitol Hill called public broadcasting a luxury that America could not afford- the American people said no.
More than 350,000 supporters sent nearly a half million emails and rang the phones off the hook on Capitol Hill. They told lawmakers that public broadcasting was not a luxury and it was not expendable.
Can you imagine 350,000 people calling their members of Congress to save “Ice Road Truckers”? “Bridezillas?” Okay, how about “The Jersey Shore”?
To put this number in context, some offices told me that they received more phone calls in support of public broadcasting than they did during the health care debate.
And those supporters were joined by opinion-makers, and celebrities, and champions in Congress, who stood with us to declare that the media experiences we provide – that all of you provide every day – is an essential part of our democracy.
I am proud to work alongside Pat Butler, Pat Harrison, Joyce Slocum, and our other national organizations on your behalf.
Having come through this fight together, we are stronger and more visible than we were before.
For proof, we need look no further than what happened on the website Reddit.com.
In late April, a user on the ultra-popular website posted about a positive experience with the PBS Interactive tech team, which triggered an outpouring of support for PBS.
In response, we created a customized “donate” URL that sent users to the pages of their local stations’ “support” area.
Within 16 hours, more than 32,000 people clicked on that donate link.
If that doesn’t illustrate the passion that’s out there for public broadcasting, I don’t know what could.
We’re soon going to see more challenges to federal funding – have no doubt. But for the time being, we should applaud the results of our hard work mobilizing our supporters.
The strong support we’ve received from the American people is not the only good news to celebrate since we came together in Austin.
Last year I told you that on average our monthly cume was 118 million viewers a month – the first increase in five years. This year we averaged 124 million.
Last year I told you that we were the number three source of children’s video online. This year we’re number one.
Last year we took pride in winning six prestigious Peabody Awards. This year we took home nine – more than anyone else.
Of course some of our triumphs over the past year have been born of daunting challenges.
Last October, KCET announced they were leaving PBS. But, at that critical moment, the system came together to give KOCE the tools they needed to become PBS SoCal. KLRU worked on website development, so that PBS SoCal could update their online presence. The stations in Southern California came together to establish a collaborative, strategic schedule, and put resources into cross-promotion.
And the results have been fantastic.
To date, PBS SoCal’s primetime rating is 100% higher than the same time period last year and matched the rating achieved by KCET during the 2009?2010 season.
This April, the sunny Orlando skies darkened a bit when we learned that WMFE would be selling their television station.
But, once again, this challenge has brought out the best in our system.
Stations in Florida are now discussing a number of potential approaches to meet the shared goal of ensuring that viewers in Orlando continue to be served. This flexibility and willingness to work together to achieve our common purpose is a solid foundation on which we can build future success.
When you can turn adversity into triumph, then you have the right stuff. And that’s what we have.
And where does that stuff come from? It comes from our commitment to a shared mission and a higher purpose. That’s what sets our brand of media apart from all others.
The same spirit of collaboration in Los Angeles and in Florida is alive in New York, where stations are pooling resources to create a joint master control.
And it’s not just happening on the coasts of our country.
When I was at PBS Technology Conference last month, I presented an award called “Steal This Idea.”
The award went to Mike Hansen from Montana, who came up with an ingenious way to save money by using open source software to monitor over a hundred devices spread out over a vast plant. This saved significant money compared to commercial solutions.
Of course, I’m proud of Montana for their innovation and ingenuity. But what’s even more inspiring is that their idea was shared within the system, and that other stations will benefit from it.
It’s probably not appropriate for me to advocate theft. But I’m going to do it anyway. Over the next couple of days, steal an idea or two from your colleagues. It really is a sincere form of flattery.
As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
If we flourish in the years to come, it will be precisely because we work together so well. So let’s keep that cooperation going, because we still have a long haul ahead of us, and a lot of work to do.
Our challenge now is threefold: to reach more Americans with our content, to stay on the cutting edge of technology and innovation, and to sustain our system for the long haul.
If this sounds like the core of our strategic plan, that’s because it is. But it’s also a pledge that we must all make together
Over the last five years, we’ve put a foundation in place to revitalize our content, innovate, and strengthen station’s financial health. Now we must commit ourselves to building a house on that foundation – a place where we can live, prosper and grow.
We owe it to the millions of people we touch every day.
We must build this house by revitalizing our content, reinvesting in innovation, and reinforcing our funding sources.
First, let’s talk about content.
Over the last five years we focused our attention on revitalizing our children’s content. We tied our shows to curriculum standards, and worked with educators and experts to create shows that could measurably improve literacy in children. And we’ve begun to see the payoff.
In partnership with PBS and the Department of Education, last month CPB released a research report showing that children from disadvantaged families who interact with public media make significant gains in literacy.
Another study showed that children who played with the Martha Speaks App for 2 weeks had a 31% gain in the vocabulary tested.
We focused on growing our presence across multiple platforms in the kid’s space – and it worked. One hundred and fifteen million-streams-per-month later, we are now the number one source for children’s video online.
I was just in New Mexico – where I had a chance to see first-hand how this investment in our children’s content has made a difference.
KNME was one of the first to jump on board with our new focus on educational content for children.
They are the largest provider of preschool education in the entire state of New Mexico.
The entire state!
They serve 7,000 children annually with their literacy programs.
This is true in communities across the country- not just New Mexico.
And this year, we’ll be able to expand our reach through a new partnership with WGBH.
I’m proud to announce that this summer we’ll be bringing together the digital content from WGBH’s Teachers’ Domain and PBS Digital Learning Library on a free full-service platform, PBS Learning Media.
For almost fifteen years, our system has tried to implement a system like this.
And I’m so excited to see it finally becoming a reality.
Every PBS station will be able to offer a unique, competitive, local education service with classroom-ready, curriculum-targeted, multi-platform content.
I think it’s clear our kids’ content is on solid ground. Now it’s on to prime time.
We must grow our primetime audience, and increase the time that viewers spend with our programs. We have two ways to do this: focus on our schedule and our content.
And we’ve already begun to do both.
I know that some were nervous when we created our Wednesday science night. NOVA versus American Idol? Are you crazy?
Well, apologies to Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, but you know what, NOVA has what it takes. The recent NOVA episode – Japan’s Killer Quake – was watched by an estimated seven million viewers – the series’ largest audience for an original broadcast in the last five years.
This is an example of timely content and a new schedule.
We will reorganize our schedule so that audiences can more easily find their favorite programs by organizing our shows by common themes.
And we’ll look for ways to re-think the architecture of our shows, so that we build our audience throughout an evening, rather than losing them in the breaks.
So how about the content itself?
Well, for one thing, we’ve seen how new content can revitalize a classic series. Case in point: ratings for Masterpiece this year are up 54%, due in large part to the success of the new Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.
This fall, we’ll debut the PBS Arts Festival, a nine-week nationwide celebration of the arts. Building on one of the hallmarks of PBS – the arts – this innovative project will give stations the opportunity to develop on-air and online arts content in their communities and will help empower teachers to integrate PBS arts programming into their classrooms. It will be another way to carry on our legacy of giving all people access to the arts – regardless of their income or location.
The second part of our pledge is innovation.
Last fiscal year we began an investment in mobile products that culminated in the launch of the iPad and iPhone app to rave reviews and heavy usage.
Since their debut, PBS apps have been downloaded more than two million times.
We’ve won a Webby award- the internet’s version of the Oscar’s- for our iPad app.
This year we will extend our presence on platforms like Android.
We’ve already introduced the SUPER WHY App for Android, which will help kids build critical literacy skills.
In the coming year, we'll integrate station video and websites into the mobile apps, to make them even more localized and help push viewers to their local stations.
Even as we extend our reach on mobile platforms, there are some who might charge that our focus on smartphones is elitist.
After all- smart phones are just a luxury item- right?
Smart phones are actually one of the best ways to close the digital divide.
Minority communities are significantly more likely to use smart phones to access the internet than the general population, according to a study by the Pew Foundation.
Fifty-one percent of Hispanics and 46% of African Americans use their phones to access the Internet, according to a July 2010 Pew poll.
And minorities are much more likely to use their phones for a wide variety of purposes- from email to entertainment to information.
So as we work to give all Americans access to our content, it makes sense that we extend our work in this area.
We want to help stations update their presence on the web. So this year we will invest in web site templates that will reduce costs and increase audience engagement.
The turbocharged advance of technology can have two outcomes for us. It can leave us struggling to catch up. Or it can catapult us into the future. I don’t have to tell you which of those two options we’re aiming for.
In many cases, stations are leading the way.
In Las Vegas, Vegas PBS developed Vegas Virtual Online Education, an online education and workforce development partnership forged to respond to the economic crisis in Southern Nevada.
This critical online education program provides courses on demand, from GED preparation to certification for newly evolving jobs such as solar panel installation.
Vegas PBS has taken advantage of the strengths of the internet to provide real tools for their community.
The final part of our pledge is financial health.
Earlier this year the PBS Board’s Strategic Planning Advisory Group convened to discuss overall system health.
They are working with the Affinity Group Coalition on recommendations to build system sustainability.
It’s no secret that revenue streams are stretched. We saw all too clearly just how tenuous our federal funding can be. And, as I’ve said, while we won this battle, we know more challenges are just around the corner. State funding is under fire as well.
We’ll be working with all of you, CPB, NPR and APTS to make our case and keep government funding intact. But there are no longer any guarantees. And we cannot just cross our fingers and hope for the best.
That’s why I convened the Funding the Vision II panel, which will present its findings tomorrow. The panel has appropriately challenged us to take a hard look both at how we raise revenues and at how we – as a system – embrace change.
As you’ll hear tomorrow, their recommendations have coalesced around a few key themes:
We must work together, and aggregate common activities in order to better leverage local resources.
We must engage with the public on their terms. This means strengthening primetime content to grow audiences and donors, and creating engaging online content.
We must sell the vision by maximizing the value of the kids’ service and creating opportunities for companies to support public television around topics that matter to them and that are core to our mission.
And we must embrace change. We cannot allow complacency, or fear of doing things differently, to hold us back. Especially now, when the future is barreling down like a freight train.
Content, Innovation, Sustainability. That’s our recipe for success in three words. We must keep our focus on these three areas to ensure that we live up to our promise for the future.
That future promise comes to us with a roadmap from the past. It builds on a legacy that is now half a century old. We stand on the shoulders of giants, who still lift us up today and give us a view of the tomorrow we can create:
We stand on the shoulders of giants like Bill McCarter, who built WTTW-Channel 11 into one of the nation’s premier public television stations during his 27 years as president and general manager.
And giants like Beth Deare of WGBH; Lillie Herndon, a former PBS Board Member; Robert Smith of WETA; Robert F. Shinkin of KLRU; Al Rose, from the New Jersey Network; and Mel Waggoner, from OPB; all who left us this year and who dedicated so much of their lives to public broadcasting.
And we stand on the shoulders of giants like Newton Minow.
Almost fifty years ago, Minow visited the space coast with President Kennedy.
On that visit, the President asked Minow about the launch of the first communications satellite.
Without blinking an eye, Minow told President Kennedy that the launch of this satellite would be more important than sending a man into space.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because,” Minow said, “this satellite will send ideas into space, and ideas last longer than men.”
When I think about Minow’s most famous speech, ultimately, it’s not his vast wasteland comment that makes the biggest impression on me.
What stays with me is his call to serve the “public interest.”
A lifetime ago, he challenged broadcasters to “put the people’s airwaves to the service of the people and the cause of freedom.”
Half a century later, we work together in that service and that cause. Every hour of every day, we make that vision a reality for millions of people.
Our work cannot be replaced or replicated by commercial outlets, because we exist to serve the people, not sell to them. Our bottom line is the number of lives we touch, not the number of shareholders we enrich.
This year, I challenge us to implement our pledge to better serve the people of this country.
I challenge us to keep this institution vibrant, innovative, and sound so it can serve the public and touch as many lives as possible.
Touch their hearts and lift up their minds.
Nurture their souls and spark their curiosity.
Educate and inspire them.
Of all the purveyors of media out there, we are the only ones charged with this honorable mission.
We are the only ones who can truly put the people’s airwaves to the service of the people.
This is our time.
This has been an amazing five years, during which we have brought the past to the doorstep of the future.
And it has been an amazing fifty years since Newton Minow urged us “to help a great nation fulfill its future.”
That is still our task, and we are better prepared than ever before to carry it out.
Let’s step forward together into the future. And let the journey begin today. There’s no time like the present.