S.C. Educational Television (SCETV) has backed off an exploratory leadership proposal to lease space in its Columbia studio to a private broadcaster following pushback by staff.
The proposal to generate new revenue comes two years after a former board chairman and two others resigned after months of drama to try to get more money from SCETV’s nonprofit endowment that has pumped millions of dollars into the network to ensure South Carolinians get high-quality public programming.
This week, sources said the agency’s news and content staff members were edgy about a potential deal with WOLO-TV, an ABC affiliate, because it would put a news competitor in the same building with the public broadcaster. Additionally, they said the deal could threaten state funding if state lawmakers withheld money in the future.
Deal shared with staff
SCETV President and CEO Anthony Padgett announced the proposal to staff in a long Sept. 3 email that outlined what could happen in the short-term and long-term:
Short-term facility rental: “This appears to be an appropriate revenue-generating opportunity for SCETV. We will continue our conversations and are evaluating this opportunity with the hope of making a final determination in the next few days. If the short-term rental proves to be feasible and beneficial, we expect the WOLO team will begin using the studio on or about October 1,” the email said.
Long-term facility rental: “Exploratory conversations are also taking place around the WOLO team occupying space in the building on a long-term basis. At this time, these are preliminary conversations; nothing around this topic has been finalized.”
As of Wednesday morning, the state agency that provides fiscal oversight, such as approving leasing deals, did not know about the proposal, according to Grant Gillespie, executive director of the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA).
“I have not heard of this to date and to my knowledge, there are no plans to discuss today” at the authority’s Sept. 8 board meeting, he said.
Proposal called off
Late Wednesday, Padgett, through an agency spokesman, said the deal was off: “This has been a recent exploratory conversation, as we explained in the email to staff. Based on our review of the situation, including staff feedback, we will not be proceeding in this direction.”
When asked about keeping SFAA or the state Department of Administration in the loop, Padgett said, “We have been consulting with and following guidance from the Department of Administration throughout this exploratory process. Had there been a decision to move forward, we would have navigated the appropriate approval processes with state entities.”
SCETV commissioners reportedly also did not know about the proposal for WOLO to move into the agency’s space.
“We have kept our Commission Chairman informed of the conversations taking place as we explored this opportunity,” Padgett said. “This was intended to be a topic for discussion at the upcoming Commission meeting. Again, this was an exploratory conversation, and we would not have proceeded before discussing with our full Commission.
Finally, when asked about why there was a need to rent space to a private broadcaster, Padgett explained, “We were approached by a local broadcaster about the potential for renting space in our facility — an opportunity which held the potential to benefit our agency and create additional industry-specific partnerships. If another state agency (or another entity) would have approached us, we would have explored that opportunity as well. We will always explore opportunities that present a potential benefit or allow us to maximize the use and effectiveness of state resources.”
Jeff West, vice president and general manager of WOLO, said Thursday that the station’s lease of office space in a building across from the Statehouse was finished in six months. When asked where its news team would go after then, he said, “You’ll just have to stay tuned and see. That’s all I’ve got to say about it.”
SCETV President and CEO Anthony Padgett sent the following email staff Sept. 3 to let them know of a “potential opportunity.”
From: Anthony Padgett
Date: September 3, 2021 at 3:26:47 PM EDT
Subject: Potential Opportunity for SCETV
We hope that you all are preparing to enjoy the last official holiday of the summer. As summer winds down it is an appropriate time to take a moment and reflect on our accomplishments over the past few months along with what we are working towards for the future.
As an agency we have continued to evolve and advance. Many times, those two things go hand in hand. As we prepare for the Fall season, it is important to note that this will continue to be a time of transition and growth for the agency. We thank you for your patience, support, and cooperation as we continue to move forward together.
One notable transition that is on the horizon is the potential for a short-term rental of our DL 1 studio space to WOLO (ABC Columbia). We have been exploring this possibility over the last few weeks and thus far, this appears to be an appropriate revenue-generating opportunity for SCETV. We will continue our conversations and are evaluating this opportunity with the hope of making a final determination in the next few days. If the short-term rental proves to be feasible and beneficial, we expect the WOLO team will begin using the studio on or about October 1.
Parallel to this effort, exploratory conversations are also taking place around the WOLO team occupying space in the building on a long-term basis. At this time, these are preliminary conversations; nothing around this topic has been finalized. As I am sure you can imagine, we are taking many factors into consideration around these opportunities including parking, working hours, traffic flow within the building, security and safety and, above all, SCETV’s current and future workspace needs.
In addition, we recognize that many of you may be concerned about a commercial entity sharing the building. We are keeping SCETV staff top priority as we navigate this process. As mentioned, there are multiple factors to consider, and we are carefully examining the cost and benefits of having a tenant in the building. If a decision is made to bring them onsite on a long-term basis, please know it does not devalue or detract from who we are as an agency, nor does it take away from our presence as the state’s public media entity and the incredible service we provide to the citizens of South Carolina.
Trust, communication, and cooperation will be critical as we navigate these conversations, and many other issues moving forward. Our goal is to do what is in the best interest of SCETV and our service to the state of South Carolina. The leadership team values each of you and your work towards that same goal.
President & CEO
South Carolina ETV and Public Radio