The future of Lark International – a consortium dedicated to international copros comprising U.S. PBS affiliates Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET) in Lincoln, Houston-based KUHT, Seattle-based KCTS and Detroit-based WTVS – is uncertain due to funding difficulties.
Lark isn’t dead, but it is ill, says Rod Bates, the group’s president and GM of net. ‘There aren’t as many projects in the pipeline [or] as much money to jump-start new projects. Consequently, [Lark] is in decline and will likely go away, if we don’t see a turnaround in the economy or an infusion of new money for projects,’ he says. Noting that Lark has about a dozen programs currently in various stages of negotiations, Bates says, ‘There hasn’t been a lot of new activity.’
Funding national productions has become difficult; the weakened U.S. economy means lower revenues from public donations and corporate underwriting sales at PBS stations, Bates explains. As a result, Lark members have less to spend on the consortium. (Each paid a one-time US$75,000 entry fee and $25,000 annually.)
Bates explains that in October, 2001, Lark’s board voted to change its financing structure to adjust to falling revenues at its member-stations. It would no longer be bankrolled by the increasingly cash-strapped stations, but would finance itself via finder’s fees from copros. ‘We no longer support [Lark] with annual fees,’ he says. However, revenues from finder’s fees have fallen as the volume of projects funneled through Lark has declined.
Bill Nemtin, the group’s former London-based MD (and only staff member), says Lark helped fund 20 hours of programming in 2002 worth approximately $8 million. But, Bates notes that the income from fees on those productions wasn’t enough, and since then Lark’s fortunes have continued to slide.
Bates explains that another move to help keep the group afloat saw Nemtin agree to be compensated based on commissions as opposed to a full-time salary. That change took place in the last few months, he says. As a result, Nemtin is operating as an independent consultant to clients. He will specialize in deals between North Americans and Europeans.