From an office overlooking L'Enfant Plaza, WETACOM, the profit-making subsidary of nonprofit WETA, is breaking new ground in financing public television in the nation's capital.
As funding for public television shrinks, other public broadcast executives are watching this venture closely, and probably will emulate WETA if WETACOM becomes a dependable source of revenue.
WETACOM was begun early last year to market the production capabilities of WETA. The project was a collaboration between Michael Cunningham, vice president for finance at WETA, Jerry Slater, executive vice president, and WETA President Ward Chamberlain, who felt that public radio and television stations needed to escape dependency on federal and private grants.
By providing video production services and teleconferences and by offering pre- and post-production services to outside groups through WETACOM, WETA hopes to use its profits to support the programming initiatives of the station.
John Long, former sales manager of WJLA-TV who was brought in last January to make WETACOM a financial success, says, "My mandate is pure and simple--profit."
When the idea for WETACOM was first presented to station's board of directors, there was some initial skepticism. The two major criticisms, according to Chamberlain, were that WETACOM would "tarnish the station's image" as a nonprofit organization, and that WETA did not have the expertise to make it work. "We haven't had any problem with that at all," he said.
Although WETACOM is a part of WETA and uses the station's equipment and facilities, Long stressed that the two divisions are independent and operate financially at arms-length. WETACOM pays WETA for the space at L'Enfant Plaza and for the use of technical equipment and studio space in Shirlington. Therefore, even if WETACOM only breaks even, it still contributes to WETA. However, according to Long, the prospects for WETACOM being a money-maker are promising.