Media Scene

WTVI stays in the black despite plunge in corporate giving

WTVI general manager Amy Burkett on the set of “Carolina Impact,” a local news magazine she anchors.
WTVI general manager Amy Burkett on the set of “Carolina Impact,” a local news magazine she anchors. Observer file photo

Charlotte’s public television station remained profitable for a second year in a row, though corporate donations fell by nearly half.

WTVI (Channel 42), which was on the brink of shutting down when it was taken over by Central Piedmont Community College in July 2012, posted $60,000 operating income in the latest fiscal year, according to an audit presented to the school’s board of trustees.

That is 55 percent below last year’s $134,000 operating income, most of it attributable to the loss in corporate underwriting, which fell 48 percent to $178,000.

Still, the station’s recovery is ahead of projections made at the time of the CPCC takeover. In its first year under the college, the station lost $1.1 million and solvency wasn’t expected until 2018.

Jeff Lowrance, spokesman for CPCC and special assistant to the president, said the trustees are pleased the station is financially stable and was recognized with a regional Emmy award this year for business reporting by Jeff Sonier and Doug Stacker.

“We hope the station’s success story and the caliber of programming being produced will attract more corporate support,” he said.

“There’s so much more the station wants to do to serve and enhance the community – increased corporate support will enable the station to reach those aspirations.”

Corporate support at Mecklenburg’s two public radio stations, WFAE-FM (NPR, 90.7) and WDAV-FM (89.9), was relatively flat year-to-year as were listener donations.

At WDAV, gifts of old vehicles from listeners fell off by $18,000, and the station is cycling through its first year of an initiative where listeners donate a set amount each month rather than making one large annual gift, said Rodger Clark, director of development.

Corporate giving

Lowrance said WTVI is looking for a corporate sponsor so the station can broadcast the July Fourth pops concert at Symphony Park at SouthPark Mall.

Celeste Gruner, who has decades of experience in fund-raising, has been hired from Mitchell Community College in Iredell County as WTVI’s new director of development to lead corporate fund-raising.

Amy Burkett, hired as general manager in 2013 with the mission of returning the station to stability, said one new fund-raising initiative is showing particular promise – PBS Charlotte Passport, which with a donation as little as $5 a month provides 1,000 hours of on-demand local and national PBS content like “American Experience,” “Antiques Roadshow,” “Nature,” “NOVA” and “Downton Abbey.”

Burkett said that since July, more than 450 donors have signed up for the program.

Because of the success of shows revolving around cooking, Burkett said the station plans a special in 2017 called “Carolina Cookin’” as the next installment of the its living history series. It will also telecast the Blumie Awards again with underwriting from Wells Fargo.

WTVI produces six local programs weekly, including the news magazine “Carolina Impact,” “Carolina Business Review” with Chris William, the public affairs talk show “Final Edition” with Jeff Rivenbark and “Trail of History” with CPCC history instructor Gary Ritter.

Membership up

WTVI ran a total deficit of about $2 million over four years before returning to profitability in 2015. It was only weeks away from insolvency when CPCC agreed to take it over in 2012 from the independent authority that had been running it.

Since the takeover, membership revenue – donations from viewers – has risen 65 percent to $857,000 in the latest fiscal year. Numbers of viewers making donations have risen by a third to 5,400. Its annual budget is $5.2 million, which includes $1 million spent on programming from PBS.

WTVI is the only independent PBS affiliate in the Carolinas. Viewers in Charlotte also receive PBS shows through South Carolina’s ETV network and UNC-TV.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007, @WashburnChObs

Fundraising for public stations

How public broadcast stations fared locally in fundraising in the fiscal year ending June 30 and the percentage change, year to year.

WFAE-FM (NPR, 90.7)

Listener donations

$2.3 million

+4%

Corporate donations

$1.7 million

+3%

WDAV (Classical, 89.9)

Listener donations

$970,000

-3%

Corporate donations

$323,000

-6%

WTVI (PBS, Channel 42)

Viewer donations

$857,000

-3.5%

Corporate donations

$178,000

-48%

Fundraising numbers for UNC-TV for fiscal year 2016 were not available.

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