It’s no secret that San Diego State’s KPBS public broadcasting department has been cutting back on producers and local coverage, the most prominent examples being the controversial cancellation of its Full Focus TV talk show this past summer and the departure in November of news director Michael Marcotte. Now a recently released financial document has raised fresh questions about the operation’s future financial viability.
Covering the fiscal year ending in June of last year, the KPBS annual financial report reveals that total contributions dropped almost $1 million, from $16,746,419 in 2006 to $15,796,196 in 2007. At the same time, grants from the federally subsidized Corporation for Public Broadcasting also fell significantly, from $3,461,039 to $2,759,017. All together, total operating revenue fell from $21,397,103 to $19,910,894. According to the report, the $950,000, or 6 percent, drop in contributions was “primarily due to lower major gifts revenues.”
The 20 percent falloff in Corporation for Public Broadcasting payments was because those grants were linked to the amount of KPBS’s “nonfederal financial support,” which tumbled over the previous two years, the report said. State taxpayers increased their contribution to KPBS, in the form of “transfers from San Diego State University,” from $2,291,558 to $2,445,629. Still, KPBS “net assets” fell more than $1 million, from $16,226,879 to $15,154,665.
KPBS reduced its “programming and production” spending from $11,308,904 in 2006 to $10,501,879 in 2007. And “payments to employees” were slashed from $9,500,097 to $7,901,004. “Broadcasting” expenses were reduced from $6,807,380 to $5,639,030. On the other hand, “fundraising and membership development” expenses jumped from $5,880,484 to $7,170,804.
“Underwriting” costs also rose, from $1,860,764 to $2,320,932. Additionally the department bought more hardware, signing a six-year lease worth $1,508,879 with De Lage Landen Public Finance LLC to make the purchase. Also posting a hefty increase were “payments to suppliers,” from $12,485,346 to $14,513,276.
Despite last year’s revenue fall-off, KPBS general manager Doug Myrland says the stations are in pretty good shape. “It’s still a very healthy organization, with $15 million in net assets,” he notes. “I don’t know why the payments to employees were down. I don’t believe payroll costs were down, so I think that’s a cash flow thing.” He added that recent staff cutbacks, such as those made in the wake of the Full Focus cancellation, will be reflected in the 2008 financial report. Myrland said he couldn’t specifically account for the reported reduction in programming costs. “It might have been a special program we did in ’06 that we didn’t do in ’07.” Increases in payments to suppliers represented higher costs for programming purchased from outside sources such as PBS, he said, adding that fundraising and underwriting costs were up due largely to inflation and increased commissions paid to staffers who recruit sponsors (“underwriters,” in public broadcasting parlance) for the stations.