Toledo PBS & the Government Auction

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Mr. Jones
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Toledo PBS & the Government Auction

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Will region’s PBS stations go off air? ... o-off-air/
Will region’s PBS stations go off air?
Posted On Sat. Jun 6th, 2015
By : The Courier

Many television viewers could lose their Public Broadcasting Service programs if one or both of the region’s PBS stations sell out and go off the air to make way for more frequencies for cellphones and other mobile devices.
WBGU-TV, owned by Bowling Green State University, is strongly considering selling its license, granted by the government 51 years ago, during a nationwide Federal Communications Commission buy-back auction next year.
WGTE-TV, an educational station based in Toledo for 63 years, may consider the auction, but is less likely to sell, according to executives.
WBGU-TV’s license may be worth $40 million, and WGTE-TV’s may be worth $55 million, according to their owners.
“The FCC is calling this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to monetize the value of our broadcast spectrum,” said Dave Kielmeyer, a spokesman for BGSU.
“Basically, it can be a potential huge revenue source for the university in a time when higher education funding is tight, and we’re always looking for a higher source of revenue,” he said.
Stations do not have to participate in the auction. But experts say public television stations may be more likely to do so because they are nonprofit and constantly depend on viewer donations.
Traditional PBS station licenses are expected to be valued at less than, say, the license for a commercial UHF (ultra-high frequency) station like WNWO-TV, Toledo’s NBC-affiliated station on channel 24, the experts said.
The stations whose licenses are bought back by the government could switch to another channel, share a channel with another station, or go off the air.
They also could skip the auction and continue operations.
If WBGU-TV goes off the air, viewers who depend on antennas would have no way to receive PBS programs in Findlay, Lima, and areas farther from Bowling Green, Kielmeyer said.
WGTE’s over-the-air signal does not reach that far, he said.
“Under that case, at least initially, the main areas that would be affected would be the Findlay and Lima areas,” Kielmeyer said.
“They could lose PBS coverage because right now, we’re the only ones providing a PBS and local broadcast in the Findlay/Lima area (over the air),” he said.
About 10 percent to 15 percent of viewers receive the stations via rooftop antennas.
WBGU-TV’s demise could mean the end of self-produced regional programs such as “Northwest Ohio Journal,” “The Brain Game,” and “Scenic Stops.”
One major contributor to WBGU-TV said it would be a mistake to allow the station to “go dark.”
“I think it’s important not only from an educational standpoint and opportunity that it gives students from the university,” said Charles Younger of Findlay, a retired cable television executive.
“Culturally, it would be a loss to northwestern Ohio because I think the type of programming that PBS does and the programming they do for schools with math and different programs they put out would be missed greatly.
“I think that the station is a major asset for Bowling Green, and I would certainly hate to see them lose that because, once you’ve lost it, you don’t get it back again,” Younger said.
Seventeen full-time employees work at WBGU-TV on campus. Kielmeyer said it is too early to say how many would lose their jobs if the station went off the air.
It has an annual budget of about $2.5 million, he said.
“We don’t have a firm calculation on the annual savings to the university if the decision was made to stop broadcasting,” Kielmeyer said.
“Some services that the station currently provides the university would need to be replaced, reducing the savings for the BGSU.”
WGTE-TV probably would have no layoffs, said General Manager Marlon Kiser, because “I think among the possibilities, the absolute most remote possibility is us going dark.”
“I don’t think that would ever occur,” Kiser said.
Still, Kiser said, the opportunity is worth studying.
If WBGU-TV went off the air, Kiser said WGTE-TV would try to provide his station’s programs to WBGU-TV viewers, although WGTE-TV does not cover many of the same regions.
“Our (over the air) signals only overlap a little bit,” Kiser said. “I wouldn’t be able to serve probably 90 percent of the audience they serve. With my signal, it’s just not possible.”
He said WGTE-TV would be willing to work with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund public broadcasting, and with WBGU-TV to find a way to provide traditional PBS programs to WBGU-TV viewers if they lose access.
But, he said, he does not know how that would work.
Another option for the stations, individually or together, includes switching to very-high frequency (VHF) signals if they are available. But VHF signals have less strength over the air.
VHF stations are channels 2 through 13 and UHF stations are channels 14 and higher.
“In that case, it really has very little effect on the communities we serve,” Kielmeyer said. “There might be some technical challenges to overcome that the VHF signal might not be as strong as the UHF signal, but that’s pretty modest.”
Another option could be to partner with another station.
“There could be some challenges in reaching the same area that we currently reach, but the impact on viewing area would be minimal,” Kielmeyer said.
The auction is in two steps. The FCC would buy back the station’s license, then sell it and its electronic spectrum to mobile providers, like Verizon.
“It’s very likely that we will participate in some fashion, but we haven’t determined how,” Kielmeyer said. “From the university’s standpoint, it would be irresponsible of us not to look at this opportunity.”
Kielmeyer said administrators are waiting for specific rules and schedules from the FCC.
If the university takes the money, it has yet to decide how to spend it, Kielmeyer said. A decision is expected late this year.
WGTE-TV’s Kiser said another factor that station owners might consider is the increasing use of the Internet, which may make over-the-air transmission of television signals obsolete.
Kiser said it “is the means by which everyone ultimately is going to be getting content.
“They would miss local content, but then again, we stream everything we produce online from our website. Not everybody is streaming content or has broadband available, but the market is changing.”
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