After four years of financial losses, Charlotte’s public television station finally turned a profit this year.
WTVI (Channel 42), which was only weeks away from insolvency when Central Piedmont Community College took it over in July 2012, had operating income of $134,000 in the past fiscal year, according to an audit presented to the college’s board of trustees.
While the profit is modest, it represents a 124 percent gain over last year’s deficit of $567,000 and beat the college’s financial target of returning the station to profitability by 2018.
“All the indications are the station continues to move in the right direction,” said Jeff Lowrance, a special assistant to CPCC President Tony Zeiss. “Everyone on the board was just delighted.”
Other metrics for the Carolinas’ only independent public TV station appear positive as well: Viewer donations are up 15 percent and corporate support has risen 150 percent year to year.
So far this fiscal year, WTVI is continuing to meet its financial targets, Lowrance said, though growth is not at the dramatic pace of last year. Developing more corporate donations remains a priority, he said.
WTVI ran a deficit of $1.1 million in its first year under CPCC. From its operations this year, WTVI repaid $51,000 of its overall $1.2 million debt to CPCC and will continue to reimburse the college for underwriting its losses.
“It’s our intent the station will in time pay that back,” Lowrance said.
Amy Burkett, hired as general manager in 2013 with the mission of returning WTVI to stability, said the break-even point was reached despite a 19 percent increase in dues charged by PBS, which now costs the station $1 million annually.
Corporate giving rose 150 percent, largely as a result of new underwriting from Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health, Burkett said. Grants to the station increased 35 percent, which included new gifts from the Philip L. Van Every Foundation and the Leon Levine Foundation, she said.
Success brings support
Corporate donors have been more receptive to the station’s appeals because of its overall financial success, she said.
“Year One, I kind of felt like I had the plague,” she said. “They don’t want to give money to failing organizations, and we’re no longer a failing organization,” she said.
Numbers of viewers making donations were up by 9 percent year to year. About half of the donations came through direct-mail appeals and half from televised pledge drives.
Burkett said the station plans to produce a special in June titled “Remember When,” which will look back on the region’s history and be sold for about $60 on DVD during pledge drives. She hopes the series will be an annual production.
She expects WTVI’s local programming – which includes “Carolina Business Review,” “Carolina Impact,” “Off the Record,” “Trail of History,” “Charlotte Cooks,” “Job Ready” and “International Success” – to continue.
WTVI will also continue to sponsor high school STEM awards in the 13-county region in May, she said.
WTVI will launch a promotion campaign in 2016 engineered pro bono by Charlotte marketing agency Luquire George Andrews on the theme “Channel Your Curiosity.”
Helping to balance the budget were staff cuts at the station, including outsourcing the master control functions to a subsidiary of the public TV station in Syracuse, N.Y., she said.
Started in 1965 as an educational channel operated by the school system, WTVI drifted into financial straits during the recession in the late 2000s. Faced with budget problems that included closing libraries and laying off teachers, Mecklenburg County eliminated its $858,000 annual contribution to the station in 2010 and donations dwindled.
When CPCC took over the station and merged it with its cable TV operation, WTVI was running an annual deficit and had exhausted its reserves.
Other public stations in the region are reporting stable post-recession fundraising numbers, including in corporate support, which fell during the downturn. “We’re feeling pretty good about things,” said Rodger Clark, development director for classical radio station WDAV-FM (89.9).
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)
WDAV-FM (Classical, 89.9)
WTVI (PBS, Channel 42)
UNC-TV (PBS, statewide)
*Reflects donations from Mecklenburg and other counties in the region served by Channel 58 in Concord. UNC-TV does not break out corporate county-to-county because most underwriting goes to individual programs broadcast from its Research Triangle Park center. Statewide, it raised $9.2 million (+7%) in viewer donations and $1.9 million (+21%) in corporate and foundation support.
WTVI’s financial results since 2010.