MPT viewer support drops by $100,000


Despite a last-minute, direct-mail appeal to members for additional funds, Maryland Public Television says viewer support for the fiscal year that ended yesterday will be down slightly more than $100,000 from last year.

Viewer support for the 1991 fiscal year -- in which MPT replaced on-air pledge drives with direct mail, telemarketing and short spots between programs -- is expected to total $3.15 million, compared to $3.26 million for fiscal year 1990, officials said. MPT's budget is $22 million.

In addition, the cost of fund raising last year was about $200,000 higher than the year before.

As a result, MPT will return this fiscal year to the on-air appeals, which frequently draw viewer complaints because they delay the scheduled start of shows. The first of three planned pledge drives will air next month.

"Trying new things is something we believe in, but we have to be flexible enough to change back if they don't work the way we had hoped," said MPT president Raymond K. Ho.

Mr. Ho said MPT, which has about 65,000 members, traditionally has a 1 percent to 2 percent annual growth in membership. But he said that with the elimination of the on-air fund drives, coupled with the recession, he expects membership to be "flat or show a slight decrease" when the books are closed on the fiscal year in the next few weeks.

Membership fees account for about 14 percent of MPT's budget, of which half comes from the state and the remainder comes from federal grants, corporate underwriting, program royalties and other sources.

In addition to the decrease in viewer support, MPT also received a $750,000 cut in state funds for fiscal 1991 and lost an equal amount in a planned phase-out of a three-year development fund, Mr. Ho said.

Most of the effect of the loss of revenue is being absorbed by leaving vacancies unfilled or administrative savings. But Mr. Ho said MPT has also been forced to "focus on selecting priorities" in terms of programming. As a result, he said, the Emmy-winning comedy show "Crabs" was canceled in the spring to allow MPT to concentrate on "issues that are really compelling," such as education and the environment.

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