Thinking Inside the Box

Public Media Today and Going Forward

by Ellis Bromberg, General Manager of MPTV

Hi, Ellis Bromberg with another video "Thinking Inside the Box."

You know, there's been a lot written recently about how television has been changing. The scheduling and business models for commercial networks are being challenged (that's been central to that controversy over the prime-time Jay Leno and Tonight Shows on NBC). Audiences who once received just a handful of TV stations can now sample hundreds of cable channels, and TV content on the Internet, so ratings are down for virtually all the stations. And now there's the growing ability to watch video over smart phones like this.

We in public television have had our own challenges, as well. Although our audiences remain loyal, they have not been growing. Underwriting revenue and membership at many public TV stations have plateaued or declined.

And yet we know the programming on public TV is still of top quality, has impact in our local communities, and is unlike the content you'll find on commercial stations or the cable networks. You know, almost every day I'm stopped by folks who tell me that MPTV is the only TV they watch, and how unappealing television would be without the option of public TV.

Now, as part of the federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- you know it as "the stimulus bill" -- Congress issued a mandate to ensure that all citizens will have access to affordable broadband service: that's the Internet and mobile video, as well as broadcasting.

Last fall, in response to that mandate, the Federal Communications Commission, that's the agency that regulates broadcasting, asked for comments on how media is currently using the broadcast spectrum, and whether any of it could be reclaimed for other broadband services. If such an idea is pursued, it might mean there would be fewer TV stations -- possibly fewer public TV stations.

We and others responded to the FCC with reports on how we are using the broadcast spectrum we've been assigned. In our case, MPTV offers nine different, distinctive program channels ranging from traditional public TV fare to multicasts with music and weather and traffic 24-hours a day, plus a robust website, plus social networking through Facebook and Twitter.

We've been concerned about this inquiry, and the possible reassignment of the bandwidth we now use for other purposes, and with our public television and radio colleagues we felt it was important to describe our vision of public media now and in the future. Let me share this with you:

"Public media informs, educates and inspires by providing content that sustains the civic and cultural life of society. Public media is universally accessible, free from commercial or political pressure and used by millions of Americans on all platforms including television, radio and online.

"Going forward, public media -- from our local stations to our national organizations -- is building on the hard-earned trust and goodwill of our audience by becoming even more diverse, networked, nimble, innovative and focused on serving the needs of our changing society. With the support of the American people, we will continue to evolve as creators, curators and connectors on the local and national level in order to fulfill our mission of informing communities, enriching our culture, inspiring dialogue and educating our nation's children. "

That's it, and I think it describes well the unique role MPTV plays in this community and our society, and how we intend to use our voice and facilities in the future.

I'd love to hear what you think of this vision for public television. Please send me a comment when you have a chance. You can do it through the "contact us" link at the top of the homepage, or respond on Facebook if that's where you're watching this.

Thanks for your feedback, and I'll talk with you again next month.