In a year of Congressional haggling over cutbacks in federal funding for public television, donations to Maryland Public Television from its viewers rose 7 percent.
That increase in membership revenues, plus the additional income generated by television programs produced by MPT and distributed nationally or internationally, added up to an 8 percent increase in overall annual revenues, station executives said yesterday.
This year, the station received $4.5 million -- up from $4.2 last year -- in membership revenues, or donations from viewers, according to MPT figures. Syndication fees for shows produced at MPT earned another $17.3 million -- up nearly $1.4 million from last year.
"I am gratified that public support for MPT has never been stronger especially during a year when we are looking at the threat of federal cuts on the horizons," said Raymond K. K. Ho, president of MPT. "It proves that public television is well received and well supported."
Since 1986, when Mr. Ho became its president, MPT's budget has increased from $16.6 million to its current $28.5 million.
Just over one-third of its 1995 budget -- $8.8 million -- is supplied by the state. About 20 percent -- approximately $5 million -- comes from various federal sources including the Public Broadcasting System and its funding agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said Mr. Ho. The rest comes from private and corporate donations or foundation grants.
Mr. Ho long has advocated a financial strategy he describes as "thinking globally and acting locally" or forming partnerships with corporations outside Maryland to produce programs that will attract international interest -- and revenues.
"All the programs we produce are seen in Maryland, but [these figures] show that in the global economy, we have to look for opportunities around the world," he said.
"We want to successfully diversify through the production of national and international programs, specifically the educational programs."
Shows such as "Motorweek," a weekly automotive magazine program produced at MPT, which airs nationally both on PBS and on some commercial stations, illustrate his point, Mr. Ho said. "Motorweek" earned $600,000 last year in syndication fees.
Another example, he said, is the Pierre Franey cooking series, which is produced locally. The program, distributed nationally by PBS, also airs in Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. It brought in $98,940 in international syndication fees.
However, the future direction of MPT -- like that of public television stations nationwide -- hangs upon how Congress resolves its debate on federal funding for public television, said David Nevins, chairman of the Maryland Public Television Commission.
"For the time being, MPT is in a very healthy financial situation and everybody involved has worked very hard to make that so," he said.
But, he added, "we're not sure what [Congress] is going to do. For that reason we are not jumping up and down with joy over these numbers because we are equally concerned about the future."
MPT's announcement about increases in revenues comes as the commission is conducting an annual evaluation of the senior management of MPT, scheduled for completion by Labor Day.
"In looking at the future, it's only commonplace and logical that we would look at the staff and do an evaluation to make sure they are or are not prepared to lead us where we want to go," Mr. Nevins said.
He added: "In the future our success will not be determined by record budgets, but by the success that we have in generating new and creative revenues."
New ways of generating income that might be explored include more effective ways to raise money from the private sector or sales of ancillary products such as videos, Mr. Nevins said.