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Barry Shapiro Authors, “A Merger Roadmap for Not-For-Profits” for LIBN

Publication Source: Long Island Business News

Barry_ShapiroAt a time when there remains much gnashing of teeth over the quality of broadcasting in this country, a vibrant and innovative regional partnership continues to pay dividends for Long Island television viewers. It has been more than two years since our two local public  television stations, WNET13 and WLIW 21, joined as a combined operation. While a number of Long Islanders voiced concern that WLIW  would not only lose its character as a cutting-edge, creative Long Island based television station, but that it might actually disappear. Not only has that not happened, but this marriage has proven to be a success.

In this time of tight budgets and reduced governmental and corporate support, other not-for-profit organizations should carefully examine this model and consider whether affiliating with organizations with  similar missions can allow them to achieve their charitable goals in a manner consistent with the best interests of their constituents. The Board of WLIW deliberated long and hard over the decision to join forces with WNET. We knew that if the affiliation of the two stations worked as planned, the station and its viewers had everything to gain.

WLIW today is a far stronger, more financially stable station than ever  before, delivering services to our viewers that were, candidly, beyond our fiscal ability before the affiliation. With WNET’s assistance, we are beginning to give the WLIW broadcasting facility in Plainview a multimillion-dollar technological facelift to make it one of the most  modern digital studios in the nation, allowing the station to produce and broadcast high-definition images consistent with 21st Century broadcasting.

The efficiencies resulting from the transaction have allowed us to augment our focus on Long Island in ways financially impossible before the transaction. At least four new programs dedicated to Long Island issues have been or will shortly be launched, including “Act II with  Newsday,” “Ticket,” “21 Forum” and “Our Long Island.” This is in addition to “Face Off,” our long-running and award-winning political commentary, and three 90-minute town hall specials focusing on critical Long Island issues.

One of the principal objectives of the affiliation with WNET was the opportunity for the stations to share infrastructure and facilities,  avoiding unnecessary duplication and saving money that could be better spent on delivering programming to our viewers. These benefits have all been realized. WLIW still maintains studios and broadcast operations in Plainview, but the stations now share a state-of-the-art  master control facility in New York, saving WLIW millions of dollars and providing access to broadcast technology unavailable before the affiliation.

Administrative offices have been combined for further savings. Fund-raising software, facilities and viewer solicitation are also being shared and coordinated leading to even greater efficiencies. Management has been integrated, with key WLIW personnel assuming senior positions in the new organization. New advertising campaigns to bring WLIW’s programming to the attention of our viewers have been implemented along with greater community outreach. Ratings of the two stations remain at or near the top and sometimes exceed that of commercial  stations, a true testament to the quality of and demand for our programs.

In many ways, the transaction was a merger of equals. Today, WNET and WLIW are being efficiently co-branded as distinct public television stations serving the tri-state area and producing programming for distribution throughout the PBS system. WNET continues to focus on blockbuster features with both local and national interest. WLIW, in addition, focuses on regional programming, such as its  renowned ethic heritage series. Members of the WLIW board serve in senior positions on the WNET board and are playing an active,  enthusiastic role in shaping the future for both stations.

The affiliation of these two great public television stations has enabled once formidable competitors to become strong allies. With charitable dollars becoming ever more difficult to raise other not-for-profits will find in this merger a road map that allowed two proud organizations to maintain their identities, pool resources, lower expenses and meet the unique needs of their respective audiences. The lesson is obvious. Joining forces does not mean brand oblivion but, rather, an act of “realpolitik” in an era of fiscal austerity that ensures the work of the  organization can continue.