Future of Public TV Is Tied to Education, PBS President Says
The Public Broadcasting Service is taking the lead in bringing new information technologies to schools, leaving behind for-profit competitors such as cable television that are primarily interested in their own bottom lines, PBS President Ervin S. Duggan said here last week at the network's annual meeting.
Mr. Duggan, who took the helm of PBS on Feb. 1, said the network's future is tied to establishing itself as an educational leader.
"We're not really part of the television industry,'' Mr. Duggan said in an interview. "We are a national educational institution. We are more akin to a university or a library.''
Later, speaking to local-station executives, the onetime aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson and a former member of the Federal Communications Commission compared PBS to the National Geographic Society.
The society, he noted, "is a nonprofit educational institution with healthy streams of revenue'' from its magazines, television specials, and other projects.
Maintaining healthy revenue streams is a goal constantly on the minds of public-television executives, and it is especially challenging as corporate underwriting for PBS shows is drying up somewhat. Even the National Geographic Society has moved its specials from PBS to the NBC television network, primarily because underwriters want to be able to promote a standard national airtime for shows. Many PBS stations do not follow the suggested national schedule.
Fighting Off Competitors
It is not new for PBS to mull its future or to stress its role as a provider of children's educational programming. But Mr. Duggan, who championed the development of new information technologies while with the F.C.C., is intent on leading the network's charge into a new communications era.
He predicted that the cable-television and telephone industries will not succeed in their efforts to move to the forefront of providing new information technologies to schools.
"They will fail,'' he said. "When they approach the child, it is with a 'snag and nag' philosophy. Let's snag the little consumers and get them to nag adults. They are in it for the money.''
In a document co-written with Gerald L. Baliles, the president of the PBS board and a former governor of Virginia, Mr. Duggan urges more partnerships for PBS with such "media allies'' as the Walt Disney Company, which recently agreed to an unusual arrangement in which the science show "Bill Nye, the Science Guy'' will appear on PBS stations and continue to be syndicated to commercial-television stations by Disney.
"In the months to come, PBS will continue to seek creative and profitable business alliances with similar companies,'' Mr. Duggan said in the document, titled "Taking Stock.''
New Education Projects
Mr. Duggan has taken the helm of PBS just as it is embarking on two
of its most comprehensive education projects in years:
On July 11, PBS's Ready to Learn service goes on the air at 11 stations across the country. The service will provide a unified daytime children's programming block with extensive partnerships between PBS stations and local schools, child-care centers, and community groups. (See Education Week, Dec. 15, 1993.)
An additional 37 PBS markets will add the service in January 1995,
and most stations should have it by 1996.
This fall, PBS will launch its Mathline service at 20 local stations or state public-television systems. Mathline is public television's first curriculum-based information service, offering television programming and on-line data to educators based on the national mathematics standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
The first initiative of Mathline is the Middle School Math Project, a professional-development opportunity for middle school mathematics teachers. The project features videos of teachers modeling new methods based on the council's standards, as well as national interactive video conferences and on-line communications groups for teachers. (See Education Week, May 19, 1993.)
"We are approaching the launch pad,'' Sandra Welch, the executive vice president for education at PBS, said during a session for stations participating in Mathline.
At the same session, Mr. Duggan said Mathline has the potential to help demonstrate the educational value of PBS and help attract more corporate support. He added that PBS recently had secured a $3.2 million grant for Mathline from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, which adds to a $1.2 million grant for the Middle School Math Project from the A.T.&T. Foundation.
The association's grant will help fund new cellular-phone-equipped computers that will help schools solve the issue of the "last mile'' link between new information technologies and school classrooms.
The participating state public-broadcasting systems in the first phase of Mathline are: the Arkansas Educational Television Network, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, New Hampshire Public Television, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Rhode Island Public Television, South Carolina Educational Television, West Virginia Public Television, and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.
Participating stations include those in Tempe, Ariz.; Tucson, Ariz.; Los Angeles; Pensacola, Fla.; Carbondale, Ill.; Springfield, Mass.; Minneapolis-St. Paul; New York City; Plattsburgh, N.Y.; Bowling Green, Ohio; and Cleveland.