2014 PBS Annual Meeting
Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS
San Francisco, California
Thank you, John Boland and Nancy Dobbs for welcoming us to San Francisco. We have a great deal in store for you over the next few days, so allow me to make a few comments to help get us started.
It is always inspiring when our public television family comes together to both celebrate the year that has just passed and to look together at the exciting opportunities that lie ahead. I know you share my pride in each program profiled in the Year in Review video that just rolled, as well as the countless other experiences we collectively brought to the American public. Indeed we are most fortunate to serve as the stewards of this great institution that each day touches the lives of our viewers across the country.
While we have had real challenges, this has been a year of great accomplishment. Year to date, among all networks and cable channels, we have the 7th largest audience, with only the networks, ESPN and Univision reporting more viewers. What makes this all the more significant is that we have attracted these viewers with content that inspires and educates as well as entertains. Put this in contrast to the fact there is now a rush to produce naked dating shows to build off of the recent success of Naked and Afraid. As I always say, it just creates more opportunity for us.
We all share pride in being the home of MASTERPIECE’s Downton Abbey, the highest rated drama in PBS history.
Downton Abbey has been incredibly important to our system for many reasons. It has attracted new viewers and members and it has helped put PBS back into the center of conversation. But, as I told Rebecca Eaton in a note after this season’s premiere, I believe the most important outcome of Downton Abbey is that it has helped us to believe in the possible again. That our best days are not behind us, and there is a bright future for public media if we choose to seize it.
And Downton is not our only success. We’ve seen a 30% increase for our “Think Wednesday” night of nature and natural history programming. Each night of the week our schedule is filled with programs that are important, impactful and inspiring. We have a string of awards to prove it, including the 12 Peabody Awards our producers will receive next week.
Our PBS KIDS content continues to have tremendous reach. Last year, four out of five kids in the U.S. ages 2-8 watched PBS.
And our reach is growing across platforms. In 2013, Americans viewed more than three billion videos across all PBS digital platforms.
This is the way of the future: harnessing every single resource, both local and national, and every single platform, to serve the American people with quality content.
But we cannot rest now.
In fact, the challenge is more acute than ever.
We are in the midst of a radical change in media- look no further than the recent Emmy wins by Netflix, or the proposed merger between Time Warner and Comcast.
The boundaries between digital and television, content providers and service providers continues to blur every single day.
In fact, the only constant seems to be change.
We can count on technology to continue to evolve.
And we know that the media landscape will only become more cluttered.
Looking at the path ahead, we have two choices.
We can try to adapt around the edges, and preserve our territory in the television space.
Or we can be bold, and set out with renewed vigor to fulfill our public service mission, using the best of tomorrow’s technology and platforms.
I think the choice is clear.
We must be bold. And we must seize on what makes our system so unique and so powerful, in order to imagine the public broadcasting system of tomorrow.
No one else has stronger community roots across the United States and can uniquely leverage the strength of a larger national system.
And no one else has decades of experience creating distinctive educational content.
We must seize this moment, together.
At last year’s annual meeting I issued a call for our system to come together.
I said it was the most important moment of my tenure.
And I think I surprised some people when I said that I think that some of our biggest challenges come from within our own system and our inability to find common cause.
I said that no one part of our system could meet the challenges of the future alone, and we had to be unified around our common mission. To allow ourselves to splinter is to do so at our own peril.
It is only by uniting as one that we will be able to make the most of our opportunity.
And we cannot think small.
We must dare ourselves to think beyond survival, and envision a new kind of public media where we will thrive in meeting the needs of tomorrow’s generations.
We can’t just think about our television content separate from our digital content, or our local content as distinct from national initiatives.
Instead, we must transform the public broadcasting experience, and imagine new ways for us to serve the American people.
It shouldn’t matter how people connect with our stations: whether it’s on Roku or Netflix, an iPad or television, in the classroom or at a station event.
Across all of these platforms it should be a seamless experience.
There should be one thread that connects it all together- an experience that inspires people of all ages to learn more, do more, be more.
We are no longer in just the content or services business. Instead we are in the business of providing educational experiences, using the power of our platform to inform and inspire the American people.
This is a transformational change in how we conceive of our work.
And it will require new thinking, and new inspiration, from everyone in our system.
As we create the public media system of the future, we must re-imagine how we fulfill our mission.
And across our work, and on every single platform, we must put education at the heart of what we do.
We must use media to help empower parents to be an active part of their children’s education.
We must give teachers the resources they need to draw real connections between their work in the classroom and the jobs of tomorrow.
And we must use the power of technology to help encourage lifelong learning, so people who might have missed out on opportunities in their childhood can gain skills and knowledge that will position them for success.
This isn’t just a moral imperative.
It’s also how we will continue to distinguish ourselves from everyone else in the media landscape today, but especially in the children’s media space.
Most of the other media for children isn’t focused on education.
Sure, it’s entertaining. Disney’s latest princess series may be safe, fun entertainment.
But it doesn’t teach children what they need to know in order to succeed in the classroom.
Our content does.
And we must work together to ensure that parents know the difference, and understand the true value kids get from interacting with PBS content.
As the gap between rich and poor widens, our work to help all children get ready for school becomes even more important.
We also know that even with the most advanced digital tools, parents can’t do it alone.
Neither can teachers, or community leaders.
But working together, I believe we can leverage the potential of public service media to measurably improve education in this country.
As we consider how to serve the America of the future, we’ll need to look specifically at how we can support diverse communities, and meet the needs of those who might be overlooked by others focused only on the bottom line.
We must look anew at how we can leverage our local-national partnership, to shine a light on issues that others might overlook, and use the power of our collective voice to speak out for those who have no voice.
We can start with our new veterans initiative, Stories of Service.
This cross-platform, local national partnership with CPB will bring compelling programs to our airwaves, and help initiate important conversations in your communities about the challenges and opportunities our veterans face.
This project exemplifies the best of our system.
We have top quality content, produced by visionary men and women.
In a three part series, airing tonight on PBS, Wes Moore explores how veterans are reintegrating into society, establishing new identities and – for many – finding a new mission.
Also this month, we have a special military and veteran-focused lineup, timed to Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of D-DAY.
And our focus continues with Rory Kennedy’s film you saw profiled this morning and into 2016 with Ken Burns’s and Lynn Novick’s VIETNAM, a documentary film series about the history and meaning of the Vietnam War.
In conjunction with these programs, we’ll be working with your stations to help you support veterans in your community, and engage in important conversations about how we can honor those who have given so much to our country. For many of you, this is only building on great work that you already have underway.
CPB is providing station grants in 13 regions of the country to work with community-based partners to facilitate veterans’ transition to civilian life.
This is public media at its best.
As we work together to build public media system of the future, we need to better identify and share some of the great work underway each and every day within your station. Specifically, how you look imaginatively at your services, and experiment with new ways of serving your audiences.
At PBS, we want to help facilitate the kinds of conversation that will help you share best practices, and learn from each other how to best meet the individual needs of your community.
This conversation began last year with Ted Krichels’ research into sustainable models.
Moving ahead, we’ll be focused on how we can help facilitate new community engagement models, build organizational capacity and support station leaders, and help you share best practices and ideas that are working for you.
On a technical level, we also want to make sure that we help you work together with other stations, and embrace new technology to break down barriers in our system.
And that’s why I’m so excited about our new interconnection system.
The new v6 interconnection system will give us the capacity to collaborate in new ways.
With two-way IP-based connectivity, stations can make new decisions about how to deliver content and services.
With more flexibility, we hope that it will free up stations to devote resources where it really matters.
And we hope that it will enable you to collaborate on regional projects, or with other stations doing important work.
When I said last year that I expected our system to come together, and work as one, I said that extended back to the team in Crystal City as well.
And I think you’ll notice that we’ve made some changes.
After my remarks today, you’ll have a chance to hear from each of the new members of our senior team, and what we’ll be focused on in the weeks and months ahead.
They each have a range of experience and areas of expertise that will serve our system well.
But as you get to know each one, the common traits you will see are an intellectual curiosity, a passionate commitment to our mission and a relentless focus on collaboration. I specifically sought people who would join in with the existing team to work collaboratively and think holistically about what lies ahead in order to break down silos and work together at PBS to maximize the service we provide to stations.
That means our digital department will be working closely with our development services department, to make sure that we are making the most of digital platforms to drive membership for you.
And the PBS LearningMedia team will be working closely with our content producers, so we explore opportunities to produce quality content for the classroom from the very beginning of each project.
In every corner of the building we’re focused on initiatives that will help you remain essential members of your community.
We’re already doing some things differently.
When you looked at this week’s program, you might have noticed our schedule at the Annual Meeting is a little different this year.
Our most important objective is to be sure that we are exploring the issues that are important to stations.
We want to take the conversations that used to happen in the hallways, and move them into the meeting rooms.
And so we are using some new approaches that we believe will allow us to tap the full set of experiences, wisdom, and talent of everyone in the system.
The topics covered in the Open Space Breakout Sessions were suggested by the station community or developed around the “Think Local” theme.
The final day of the Annual Meeting will feature a kiva conversation. A kiva allows for an inclusive group conversation where participants learn from each other, and get the chance to speak and have their ideas considered.
All of this is designed because we want to hear from you, and we want to facilitate the kind of dialogue that will move our system forward.
If we are going to thrive, it will be because each and every one of you has participated in shaping our system, and is actively engaged in how to grow beyond a provider of television content, into a truly multi-media, multi-platform, multi-dimensional public media organization.
And it will be because we have all embraced the tremendous collective identity that comes as being part of PBS.
As I said last year, we all share this treasured name of PBS, as we share the same powerful legacy. We know the special place our name is held in the hearts and minds of the public.
Our name is our most precious asset and we should invoke it proudly in all that we do.
We must build on our legacy, together.
So often, we talk about our work in terms of inspiring others to Be more.
To look at the world from a new perspective.
Imagine new horizons, and new possibilities.
I spoke to a man last week who told me about recently meeting his daughter’s father-in-law at the wedding rehearsal dinner. He described his new relative as a tough, burly, factory worker who had recently retired. As they sat at dinner, he pointed to his son and his soon to be daughter-in-law and said, “I didn’t have the opportunities of these kids. In fact,” he said, “do you know where I got my education? PBS.”
As another viewer wrote to us, growing up in a traditional home where education for girls was discouraged. She wrote “PBS taught me to dream big, work hard and imagine that anything is possible.” She has just entered college and is helping her sister prepare for the same.
There are many stories like these, that I’m sure you hear each and every day.
It’s time we take the lesson of dreaming big to heart.
We must dream big, work hard, and imagine that anything is possible for our public media system.
We need your creativity, your imagination, your experience, and your passion as we work together to build tomorrow’s public media.
We need your input as we create new models of service, and evolve our system to meet the changing needs of the American public.
And we need your dedication, and your vision, as we define what it means to be a member of the public broadcasting family in this country.
This is not an easy task.
But what gives me strength is my utter conviction in the power of public media to transform our country, and change lives.
And I trust that by leveraging the experience, commitment, and passion of each one of you in this room, we can fulfill the promise of public media in this country, and work together to build a vital and thriving public broadcasting system.
And remember that anything is possible.