The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

January 7, 2013

OETA chief: Vote could threaten PBS network

ENID, Okla. — Oklahoma Educational Television Authority may cease to exist in 2014 if a sunset bill passes the state Legislature this year and state funding is withdrawn.

A sunset proposal in the Legislature threatens authorization for another year, and some legislators wonder whether funding the network is part of core state services.

Dan Schiedel, OETA’s executive director, said the network reaches 99.5 percent of Oklahomans. The network — a state agency  Schiedel called “Oklahoma’s storyteller” — has a number of functions, including emergency communication and Amber Alert systems. It is a combination of Public Broadcasting System and local content outlet.

“We preserve some of Oklahoma’s stories in our archives, and we’re one of the best places for children’s programs,” Schiedel told members of Enid Rotary Club on Monday.

The network, which has been in existence for 60 years, also offers special programming dedicated to adult literacy.

“We have programs for schools and home-schoolers that meet state standards,” Schiedel said.

He said the network features Oklahoma news and business programs, OETA Movie Club, and the PBS program “Downton Abbey,” which has become a phenomenon. OETA’s annual budget is $10 million, which includes the OETA Foundation. The network annually receives corporate underwriting totaling about $200,000, and the state provides $3.8 million, about 36 percent of the network’s budget.

“We raise about $2.80 for every dollar we get from the state,” he said.

OETA also receives funding from individual contributions and some federal grants. Viewer contributions amount to about $2.2 million annually, and the cost of programming is about $2.2 million, Schiedel said. He said OETA is one of the most efficient public television operations in the United States.

Schiedel said improving regional connectivity is among the network’s plans, and OETA does education outreach for Oklahoma Department of Education.

The network is authorized to have 71 jobs, but that number has dropped to 61, Schiedel said. OETA is a non-profit operation. If the network ceases operation, he said the state will have to sell all equipment and repay the federal government for equipment that has been purchased through matching grants. Schiedel said the network could not be purchased by a private entity, because of its non-profit designation.

Schiedel said if OETA ceases to exist, some of the most popular programs in the state no longer will be shown in Oklahoma. Among the most popular programs are “Lawrence Welk Show” and “Antiques Roadshow.”

Schiedel said every state has a public broadcasting system, but Oklahoma no longer will have one in 2014 if the sunset legislation continues.

State Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, said continuation of OETA probably would continue, but there will be debate over funding. Jackson said there is a separation between funding and operation, and the sunset measure will go through the Administrative Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Gus Blackwell of Guymon.

“I think it will continue. We have to look at it every year, but I expect it to continue,” Jackson said. “OETA not being on the air is not something I hear, but should the state be funding a television program, or should we look for outside sources to fund? I expect it will continue and be extended.”

Jackson said among the issues is whether OETA is a core service, and the House is split over that question. Some would argue providing the revenue in terms of getting out information would be a core service, but others believe some programs are politically motivated.

Jackson said a number of states have dropped state funding for public television, but the stations have continued by moving to more commercial operations. He said OETA could replace state funds if it went to advertising.

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