A Big PBS Merger Brings Programming Back To KCET


It’s been an interesting decade for noncommercial educational TV station KCET-28 in Los Angeles. In October 2010, the station announced that it could not reach an agreement with PBS to remain its main Los Angeles member station. On Jan. 1, 2011, forty years after becoming one of its founding affiliates, KCET took the bold step of going independent.

Three months later, KCET sold off its assets to the Church of Scientology. In October 2012, the channel merged with San Francisco-based Link Media to become KCETLink.

As of Wednesday (4/25), perhaps fueled by the FCC’s spectrum auction, KCET will once again be tied to PBS — thanks to KCETLink’s merger with PBS SoCal.

In an announcement posted to the KCET website midday Wednesday, the noncomm entities said the merger “creates a center for public media innovation and creativity that serves the more than 18 million people living in the Southern California region.  The name of the new organization will be announced with the closing of the merger, which is expected to be completed in the first half of 2018.”

PBS SoCal VP/Communications and Marketing Jennifer Vides tells RBR+TVBR the PBS SoCal and KCET brands will live on.

A similar PBS consolidation transpired in South Florida, when in June 2015 giant heritage member station WPBT-2 in Miami announced its plans to merge its operations with the fiscally strapped WXEL-42 in West Palm Beach, creating “South Florida PBS.” The merger was completed in March 2016.

For those concerned that the combination of PBS SoCal’s KOCE-TV with KCET will result in fewer choices, KCETLink and PBS SoCal were quick to erase such worries.

“The historic union of these two storied institutions creates the opportunity to produce more original programs for multiple channels and platforms that address the diverse community in Southern California and the nation, and innovate new community engagement experiences that educate, inform, entertain, and empower,” the noncomm entities stated.

KCET Board of Directors Chairman Dick Cook will serve as Board Chair, and PBS SoCal President/CEO Andrew Russell will be President/CEO of the new entity, which will be governed by a 32-person Board of Trustees composed of the 14 members from each of the boards of KCETLink and PBS SoCal, as well as four new Board appointees.

For viewers, KCET-28’s return as a PBS member station means the Los Angeles DMA will have a total of seven local channels offering educational programming. KCET boasts two multicast channels, while KOCE has three of its own:

  • PBS SoCal 1 50.1, PBS SoCal 2 50.2, PBS SoCal World 50.4, PBS SoCal KIDS 50.5
  • KCET 28.1, KCETLink 28.2, NHK World Japan 28.3

The merged entity will continue to deliver Link TV via satellite services DirecTV (375) and Dish Network (9410).

PBS SoCal was a big winner in the FCC’s spectrum auction, collecting $49 million of $138,003,711 netted for saying goodbye to a slice of KOCE-50’s spectrum. KOCE retained most of the spectrum — 4 MHz of UHF spectrum — “enough to continue to broadcast all four of its channels,” PBS SoCal notes.

The rest of the funds went to the station KOCE forged a channel-sharing agreement with — full-powered UHF KSCI-18 in Los Angeles.

Rather than banking the spectrum auction proceeds, KOCE invested all $49 million in “expanding its mission across the region.” Andrew Russell, President and CEO of PBS SoCal, said, “The one-time auction revenues allow us to achieve another important objective: to invest in expanding our mission by providing more services to more people across the region.”

The newly merged organization will also play “a unique role” within PBS, KCETLink and PBS SoCal claim.

“We are pleased that this merger will bring the combined forces of KCETLink and PBS SoCal together to serve the people of Southern California with high-quality PBS content and services,” said PBS President/CEO Paula Kerger. “We know this new entity will be a great partner to PBS and will help strengthen the broader public television system.”

Pat Harrison, President/CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), was particularly pleased. It was CPB’s “longstanding goal” to encourage the merger of KCET and KOCE. “As a result, citizens in Greater Los Angeles, and across Southern California, will benefit from the combined strengths and capacities of these two stations—especially the increased ability to produce content for diverse local audiences as well as national audiences,” she said.

America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) President/CEO Patrick Butler also offered his congratulations, saying the combined entity “create an extraordinarily strong public television station for the people of the greater Los Angeles area, Orange County and the nation.”

The new organization will continue to operate from KCET’s and PBS SoCal’s existing Southern California locations in Burbank, Costa Mesa and Los Angeles.

There will be no immediate changes to broadcast operations or program schedules on any of the stations’ channels during the merger transition period.

The merger process was led by committees within the Boards of each organization with PBS SoCal’s Committee chaired by Marc Stern and KCETLink’s Committee chaired by Gordon Bava.