This article was originally published as a sidebar with: "What's 'Public' About Public TV's News Flagship?"
The Nightly Business Report has been distributed by PBS for over three decades, making it the de facto business show of the public television system. But who exactly owns the show became murky last August, when it was revealed (Broadcasting & Cable, 8/19/10) that Nightly Business Report was being sold by Miami public TV station WPBT to a private company called NBR Worldwide. The company is headed up by Mykalai Kontilai, whose Resumé includes some educational video projects, a sports energy drink company and management of mixed martial arts fighters. Kontilai also runs a company called Public Media, Inc., which has been trying to develop a public TV show called Collectors Cafe, that would assess the value of collectibles and serve as the inspiration for coffee/collectible franchise establishments of the same name (New York Times, 8/19/10).
The idea that a private company could buy a public TV show raised some eyebrows; as Hollywood Reporter noted (8/18/10), this is “the first time that a major nightly news broadcast produced for PBS and owned by one of its affiliates has been acquired by a private entity.” (The NewsHour was already privately owned—by its co-anchors—when Liberty Media bought a controlling stake.) Nightly Business Report had reportedly been struggling to raise additional corporate sponsorship, so presumably Kontilai has some plans in this regard.
No one involved will say how much NBR Worldwide paid for the show; WPBT said it was not a “huge windfall” (New York Times, 8/19/10). The new owners won’t say who put up the money, telling Current (9/7/10) that the funding was “provided almost entirely by a New York-based institutional investor.”
So what is arguably the main business show on public television—and by some accounts in the country (NYTimes.com, 8/19/10)—is now owned by a private company, and we’re not sure who paid the bill. PBS told Current that they weren’t part of the negotiations and are merely the distributor of the show. Over the years, PBS has taken a keen interest in who’s funding particular programming, but as FAIR has documented (e.g., FAIR Press Release, 9/1/99), those rules seem mainly to apply to shows of the sort that corporate sponsors aren’t interested in paying for—i.e., the kind of programming PBS was intended to distribute and to promote.