I want to first start by sincerely congratulating the entire APTS team, not only on a successful and informative summit last week, but also for their big wins in federal funding in 2015. Without doubt, the staff at APTS (no longer the Association of Public Television Stations but newly renamed America’s Public Television Stations) worked tirelessly to secure two-year advanced funding for CPB of $445M; a continuation of Ready to Learn funding at $25.7M and new Interconnection funding of $50M. Well done!
The summit had a stellar line-up of speakers and presenters, with some highly informative panels sessions.
On Sunday afternoon, (ugh, Sunday! Thanks for moving it to during the week from next year!) the attendees heard from Martin Baron, Executive Editor at The Washington Post. Though he spoke about the Post’s strategy for transformation, everyone really wanted to know more about his story at the Boston Globe, which inspired the Oscar winning movie, Spotlight!
Roberto Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education called public television a “true partner in public education, from cradle through career.”
Annise Parker, former Mayor of Houston, Texas talked passionately about new platforms for public safety and how public media play a key role in providing a communications path for these platforms. As a member of the board of FirstNet, she also spoke in broad terms about FirstNet and how public media may play a part in the new $7 billion network.
Mark O’Brien of SpectraRep also talked in broad terms about FirstNet on the Sunday afternoon panel Turning Point: The Role of Advanced Broadcast Technology in Enhanced Public Safety and New Business Opportunities. This was ahead of the resolution the stations voted on on Monday morning, agreeing in principle to commit 1 megabit of bandwidth to FirstNet as an industry, with only one notable abstention from the Yes vote.
This commitment of bandwidth to FirstNet by the public television industry would appear to open the doors of dialogue between the candidates for the prime contractor position at FirstNet with the broadcast industry. If successful in a partnering agreement with the prime contractor, public media broadcasters could potentially find themselves the recipients of on-going, long-term revenue in this new and uncharted venture.
A great deal does seem to ride on ATSC 3.0 being approved and adopted by the broadcast industry and licensed/approved by the FCC too. ATSC 3.0, the next-generation broadcasting standard was a hot topic at the summit, but so too was the looming spectrum incentive auction, with great concern surrounding the repacking of the channels.
FCC officials Howard Symons and William (Bill) Lake addressed the topic of the repack. They assured and reassured the room that 39 months allotted, will be adequate time for the repack and that the FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, does not want stations to be forced off air if they are unable to repack within their allotted time. They also stated that they fully believe that the allocated $1.75 billion will more than cover the repacking cost. They were less assertive about ATSC 3.0, saying that the Commission is “in favor of innovation” but refusing to comment on how it is specifically viewed at the FCC.
I left that session with the sense that the individual PTV stations are less than ready for the repack, and that they were significantly less than reassured by the comments of Symons and Lake.
Monday’s lunch session – The Power of Public Media – hosted by CPB was in itself powerful. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) was presented with the Strengthening Civil Society Thought Leader Award. She spoke eloquently about becoming the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to Congress, and said how proud she is to support public media “which has done so much to enrich our country and culture.”
For the remainder of the luncheon, I tried very hard not to cry into my salad as we heard remarkable tales of overcoming the struggles of poverty through resilience, kindness and above all, education. The presenters – Roy Clem, Executive Director of Alabama Public Television; Stan Law, President & CEO, YMCA of Greater Birmingham and; Dr. Victor Rios, Professor of Sociology, University of California – each recounted how they had become successful in-spite of their struggles, and how through their current work they each, in their own way, inspire future generations to succeed through access to education. Powerful messages indeed!
Without a doubt though, the highlight of the summit for me was the PBS sponsored dinner on Monday night. As a Mom of two young children (2 and 5) I was delighted to hear that PBS is launching a new 24 hour PBS Kids station. I inherently trust in its programming, and being a parent this trust is not easily earned.
While learning of this new station was exciting, the ultimate highlight was having my picture taken with no fewer than seven PBS Kids characters! Needless to say my children were delighted in my photographs and at the same time extremely jealous that they themselves did not get to meet their favorite television characters. (I do hope this can happen before they reach the dreaded Tween stage!)