KCET, the former PBS station serving Southern and Central California, has entered a partnership with Eyetronics Media and Studios to produce and acquire new series, the companies announced Tuesday. Under the agreement, Eyetronics will provide up to $50 million in funding for the new programs, which will start production in the fall.
Ever since KCET ended its 40-year relationship with PBS last October, there was some question as to how it would fill its programing slate without hallmark shows like "Sesame Street" and "Charlie Rose."
This deal erases many of those doubts about funding.
"I'm thrilled that somebody sees the value of public television," said Al Tompkins, senior faculty member for the Poynter Institute's broadcasting and online group.
"But, whenever there is an investment of this size the first part of you always wants to say let's make sure we remain independent," he added.
The initial group of non-fiction series will explore topics "relevant and resonant" to Southern California like the entertainment community, art community, local history and multiculturalism, said Al Jerome, KCET's President and CEO. He added that KCET will retain complete editorial control.
The Southern California-focus does not mean the shows will only be broadcast in the area. Dominique Bigle, CEO of Eyetronics, sees potential for an international following, particularly in Western Europe.
"We agreed to this partnership that allows KCET to produce the types of programs that really will resonate with our local community, which is something we have to do and want to do," Jerome said. " will fund those programs and distribute them nationally and internationally."
Bigle, a former Disney executive, started Eyetronics 10 years ago. The company is best known for its 3-D scanning and modeling, but Bigle's experience in international distribution was a major factor in the deal.
Jerome said the first markets Eyetronics will test out are likely the United Kingdom, France and Germany but that both companies' ties to Canada and Japan make those appealing options as well.
Adding to the new international flavor of the channel, Jerome said KCET would ask Bigle to "acquire certain programs from international distributors" to serve the multicultural community of Los Angeles.
In addition to its experience in international distribution, Eyetronics brings new materials, like the "Classic Cool Library," which comprises thousands of classic titles, rare footage, newsreels, cartoons, serials, documentaries, TV movies and series.
KCET's new partner should also help in its new social media efforts.
"Obviously when you look at TV, its still a very popular medium for all facets of society, but clearly people have different media usage patterns," Jerome said.
After lagging behind on the social media front, KCET has been trying to catch up by bringing more people into its social media unit and emphasizing digital platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
"A lot of these programs will really be out and about in LA and Southern California," Jerome said. "You've got to let people know about this instantaneously."
In a statement, Bigle said that he was interested in the deal because he is "impressed with KCET's vision for being an independent public broadcaster, as well as its widely recognized tradition as a producer of distinguished television and online content."