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2015 PBS Annual Meeting
Austin, Texas

Paula Kerger, President and CEO, PBS
Keynote Address

Thank you for joining us at this year’s Annual Meeting.

I’d like to say thank you to KLRU for hosting us and making that great video, as well as a thanks to all of our sponsors for making this meeting possible.

We have nearly 1,200 participants this year, including many newcomers.

One newcomer to this room is Jonathan Barzilay, our new Chief Operating Officer.

Before I deliver my full remarks, I wanted to give Jonathan just a few minutes to introduce himself to you.  I hope you will join me in warmly welcoming him into the public media family.

[Jonathan comes to stage, delivers 5-7min of remarks]

Thank you Jonathan.

Five years ago we met in this same city, where I laid out my vision for the future.

I talked about how we needed to work together on an Innovation Agenda, to re-imagine children’s media, re-invent journalism, and help Americans re-engage with the arts and culture.

I also celebrated our success.

Looking back at my remarks from that meeting, I was struck by how far we’ve come.

Five years ago, we were celebrating our first primetime ratings increase in a decade.

This year, not only have we seen an increase in our primetime audience size, for the 2013-2014 season, PBS had the fifth largest audience among all broadcast and cable networks.

Fifth largest!

Five years ago I was proud to report that we’d had 12 million unique users of PBS.org in April.

Contrast that to now.

Last month, PBS had more than 42 million unique visitors to PBS.org and PBSKIDS.org.
 
For 2014 as a whole, there were more than 4.5 billion videos across all PBS digital platforms!

And five years ago, I was proud to say that PBS was the third most popular source of children’s video online.

This year, in March alone, streaming on PBSKIDS.org accounted for one-third of all time spent watching kids videos online.

That’s not #3. That’s one third of ALL time spent watching video. More minutes were spent viewing video on PBSKIDS.org than on any other site in the kids’ category.

That’s pretty tremendous progress.

Across every platform, we’re providing new resources for children to learn, and giving all Americans access to the dramas, documentaries, history, news and public affairs, and arts’ programming that expands their horizons and opens up new vistas.

These successes are the result of our system coming together, to work towards shared goals to serve the American people with the best public media has to offer nationally and locally.

And so I’d like you to give yourselves a round of applause, because it was only with everyone’s contributions that we were able to do this, in the midst of the Great Recession, no less.

We have had five years of success, but that means the stakes are higher as we face the challenges of the future.
The media landscape continues to advance even more quickly.

Changing viewer behavior means that we must continue to evolve to meet the needs of the people we serve.
We have built tremendous momentum around Downton Abbey, but that show is coming to an end.

The spectrum auction has the potential to significantly alter the broadcast landscape.

And I remain convinced that sometimes our biggest challenges come from within our system, when we miss the opportunity to focus on our collective mission and work.

This is not the first time, or the last, our industry faces profound changes.

In fact, I think we are at a similar moment as when public broadcasting began, with a rapidly changing media landscape that offers many obstacles, but also many opportunities.

But there’s a big difference. Back then, our colleagues didn’t have many decades of experience with educational media.

We do.

Back then, they didn’t have decades of relationships built in our communities.

We do.

And they didn’t have a name, a brand that was universally recognized as a destination for quality educational programming.

We do.

Moving forward we must focus on our common legacy, and what unites us together as a system.

We are all part of one family, and share the same tremendous history.

It’s that legacy I think that we need to remember, and revive as we look to face the challenges of the future.
We are reaching the end of an era, as many of our earliest champions pass from this earth.

This year, we lost many of the pioneers in our industry.

Chief among the departed is Austin’s very own Bill Arhos.

Now Bill was not a “typical” public broadcasting leader.

As Terry Lincona fondly recalled, Bill was “a classic Texas character. He was a snuff-dipping, tobacco-chewing, cigar-chomping, hunting, fishing, guitar-playing kind of Texan.”

Not exactly the type you’d expect to find working in public television, especially in those early days.

But Bill had a vision for a new kind of music show, one that put the music first, and gave everyone a front row seat to some of the most exciting artists of the last four decades.

Looking back, it’s easy to think that the success of Austin City Limits was guaranteed from its conception.

This was a matter of being in the right place, at the right time. A matter of luck.

But I don’t think that’s true.

I think it has more to do with Bill Arhos’ vision for what public media can and should be: something intensely local, but that speaks to our larger experience as Americans and as human beings.

This year we also lost Richard Moore of KQED, one of the true icons in our system.

It’s hard to summarize a life as rich and varied as Dick’s in just a few sentences. He was one of the founders of KPFA, and helped build KQED into a national powerhouse, producing over 100 programs for our airwaves on an incredibly wide array of topics.

Dick was driven by a poet’s soul, and his fierce belief in using media to make an impact. His brilliant mind and generous spirit will be greatly missed.

This year we also lost Charles Benton, of the Benton Foundation, and Lisa Simon of SESAME STREET.

John Siceloff, who helped create Now with Bill Moyers, and Susan Sollins, executive producer Art in the Twenty-First Century both passed away suddenly this year, as well as two dear colleagues at PBS,  Steve Friedman and Scott Dumond.

Many of these colleagues were behind the camera and behind the scenes, but that does not make their impact any less profound.

And I think that it speaks to power of the diversity in our system that each led such different lives, and made their mark in such different ways.

But there are also some things that unite them. They were bold. They were fearless. They were focused on quality content.

And they were focused on service.

Today the landscape may look different.

The challenges we face may seem even more daunting.

But we can build on the work and vision of those who’ve gone before us. We can build on our legacy, on our brand, that signifies decades of trust.

When it comes to down to it, our most powerful asset is the name we share: PBS.

PBS stands for many things. It represents quality content, educational programming, a trusted place in the media landscape where people know they can get context and information, not just noise.

Today, I want to challenge us to live up to that name. To embrace it. To share it proudly. And to keep our name, and our brand, fresh and vital by embracing the spirit of our past and bringing it into the future.

Today I want to suggest that our name offers us a guidepost for the future.

In order to truly live up to our past, we must:
- Promote innovation;
- Build community conversations; and
- Share content of consequence.

I think that LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM is a perfect example of how we’re carrying forward this spirit into a new age of media.

With this extraordinary film we tried a few new things.  We called attention to the film’s Oscar nomination by making it available to stream before its premiere.

Across the country, our stations held more than 150 community events.

As just one example, in New Orleans, more than 2,000 people attended special screenings of the film.

Nashville PBS used its online platforms to host a screening and a discussion of the film.

And in San Diego, KPBS partnered with USS Midway Museum to present a week of original programming inspired by Last Days in Vietnam. 

This is just a small sample of the range of events that were held all across the country.

What I think is so important about these events is that we brought together new community conversations.

It was also a powerful opportunity for our stations to join forces with other community organizations.

At a national level, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE joined forces with StoryCorps to collect the stories of Vietnamese American refugees and Vietnam veterans.

This effort was more than the sum of its parts.

Anchored by a tremendous film, we told an extremely important story at a moment when our country is reflecting on the legacy of the Vietnam War and our place in the world.

As Rory Kennedy said, this film offers us a chance to look at a moment in history that’s largely unknown, and to give people who might have seen no heroics in our actions in Vietnam a chance to recognize the “extraordinary acts of courage” of some Americans who single-handedly saved tens of thousands of lives even as the waves of history moved against them.

Moving forward I want our system to do more of this work: to challenge ourselves to be creative, take risks, encourage community conversations, and focus on stories that matter.

In this way we embrace our heritage, and bring it forward into the future.

That begins with promoting innovation.

As we move forward, we must look hard at how we can infuse creativity and risk-taking into everything that we do.
For too long now, we’ve used innovation as a synonym for our work in the digital space.

We can no longer separate out our work in this way.

In order to promote innovation, we must look carefully at our work across platforms, and at how we create and distribute content.

And rather than relying on how we’ve always done things, we must be bold, experiment, and embrace new ways of doing things.

In Crystal City, we’re taking an integrated approach to our work.

Our programming team is working closely with our educational team, and our digital team is collaborating with our development team.

That means that we’re not putting innovation in a silo. We’re bringing teams together so that we can try new things, and new approaches.

For Ken Burns’s THE ROOSEVELTS, we streamed all 14 hours online the day after the first episode aired.

This approach let viewers catch-up on episodes they might have missed, and helped us build our biggest audience for a Ken Burns program in over 20 years, with over 33 million people tuning in to the broadcast.

We’re taking a fresh look at how we can help stations build sustainability.

We’re experimenting with new ways to build support around our core programs, helping stations expand their Planned Giving efforts, and leveraging PBS.org to deliver donor prospects to stations.

We’re also building a new system to help incentivize membership through MVOD, Member Video on Demand.

Our digital team and educational team are working closely with our programming team, so that we can provide unique tools for classroom use.

And we’re trying new things to encourage system conversations, with our Regional Meetings, which are bringing new people into the discussion about the future of public media.

We’re also looking at ways to support the next generation of leaders in our system, with trainings and programs like the Young Professionals Workshop that we held yesterday.

One of the most important ways in which we can promote innovation is through partnerships.

As we look at how to refresh our interconnection system, it’s extremely important that we work together as a system, and with our colleagues at NPR, to build efficiencies and position our system for the future.

We must also build partnerships with those outside the public media family.

Earlier this spring Jon Abbott and I spoke at the Council of Chief State School Officers Conference, where we talked about new ways that states can partner with PBS stations to bring the best of our educational content into classrooms.

But we should not embrace innovation just for innovation’s sake.

We must promote innovation and bold thinking in service of our communities.

And so in addition to promoting innovation, we must build community conversations.

I’ve always said that our local stations are our best asset when it comes to serving the American people, and I think that’s even more true now as media spreads on to so many different platforms.

With all of the different platforms that are available, it’s said that everyone wants to experience media in their own way, on their own time.

But I think that’s not quite true. What I believe will drive media consumption in 2015 and beyond is the opportunity media offers to be a part of a larger community.

Human beings are social animals. From the time our earliest ancestors walked the earth, they gathered together and told stories around the fire.

More recently, we’ve gathered around the television to share our collective experience. For more than a half century, the box in the living room has served as our electronic hearth. It has given us a place to congregate during moments of triumph and moments of tragedy.

Now, we’re gathering around iPads and Xboxes and computer screens.

But people are still driven by those same social instincts: to be a part of a larger community, and share their experiences with others.

And that’s why our local stations are so important, because you all have decades of experience building communities within your region.

I have traveled a great deal over the past nine years that I have been in this job, and it has been inspiring to see the work that you’re doing all across the country to serve your communities.

I was just in College Station, Pennsylvania recently, to speak at WPSU’s 50th Anniversary Celebration.

In addition to excellent local programming, WPSU has developed multimedia elements and videos to be integrated into courses at Penn State University.

I was recently in Michigan, where WGVU is working closely with Grand Valley State University to use PBS LearningMedia to train the next generation of teachers.

I visited WHMT, where their series NEW YORK NOW takes viewers beyond the headlines to deepen their understanding of the issues and debates that matter most to Empire State residents.

And I travelled to Montana PBS, where each election season, Montana PBS provides extensive election coverage.
They are the only TV broadcaster to carry the Governor’s State of the State Address.

And perhaps most importantly, they are the only TV outlet in the state doing long-form investigative journalism.

Now while the work that Montana PBS is doing is extremely important, I know that they are not exceptional in our system.

Whenever I travel to a different station, I am inspired by the unique ways in which you serve your local community, to inform and engage citizens around the most important issues.

At the national level, we are focused on creating the tools and resources you need to best serve your communities, and create a reason for people to come together and watch your station.

And that means we are focused on sharing content of consequence: stories that matter, that make a difference.

I’ll leave it to Beth to highlight our programming priorities for the next year.

But I want to stress that we’re focused on excellence across all genres of our work, of stretching ourselves to try new things and experiment with new topics and new approaches.

We’re partnering with the BBC to bring new natural history, science, history, religion and arts programs to our schedule. 

We’re now taping MERCY STREET, the first American drama on PBS in more than a decade.

We’re celebrating our musical heritage with AMERICAN EPIC.

We’ve announced a new strategy to highlight our work with independent filmmakers across platforms, and to give stations new tools to bring in viewers to access the diverse views and viewpoints our independent films present.

And we’re experimenting on digital platforms, forming new partnerships between PBS Digital Studios and our stations to bring new content to our audiences.

As we move into the future, we must bring the best of our past with us.

That means we must promote innovation, build community conversations, and share content of consequence.

And we must embrace the family name we all share: PBS.

Before I conclude my remarks, I want to talk about one more giant of our industry, whose work was fundamental to our mission on behalf of children.

When Peggy Charren began her crusade to get better options on television for her kids, she had no idea it would take her a lifetime.

But she fought relentlessly to ensure that media was not devoid of education, building coalitions, mobilizing an army of moms who wanted the best for their children.  For years she also served as a member of the board of WGBH.

Peggy’s example reminds me of something even more important: we must build the world we want to live in.

We must work tirelessly to put media to its highest use.

We must work relentlessly to shine a light on stories and topics that would otherwise go untold.

But most importantly, we must work together.

We are a collection of exceptional stations and exceptional individuals.

We will not just study history- we will make it.

And when the history books are written, they will say that this generation of public media leaders came together to embrace their diversity and unite behind a common name, to build on our legacy in order to serve the people of this country.

And in doing so, we will fulfill the promise of public media, and pave the way for future generations to reach their full potential as citizens and as people.

Last week I was fortunate to attend a dinner at WTTW honoring their 60th anniversary and paying tribute to my personal hero, Newton Minow, who famously challenged broadcasters to “put the people’s airwaves to the service of the people and the cause of freedom.”

Over fifty years ago, Newt visited the space coast with President Kennedy.

On that visit, the President asked Newt about the launch of the first communications satellite.

Without blinking an eye, Newt told President Kennedy that the launch of this satellite would be more important than sending a man into space.

“Why?” the President asked.

“Because,” Minow said, “this satellite will send ideas into space, and ideas last longer than men.”

The idea of public media, of using our platforms to educate and empower all Americans, will outlive all of us, because it is too powerful, and too essential, to pass from this earth.

Together we are a part of something much larger and more enduring.

We are more than just a collection of stations, bound together by a common name.

We are an essential part of this democracy.

Working together, we must keep public media strong, not just for this generation, but for generations to come.

Thank you.