Arts & Entertainment

KCET sells Sunset Boulevard studios to Church of Scientology

KCET's landmark studio on Sunset Blvd.
KCET's landmark studio on Sunset Blvd.
Fire Monkey Fish/Flickr (cc by-nc-sa)

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KCET, which severed its long-standing ties with PBS at the beginning of the year, announced Monday that it has sold its Sunset Boulevard production studios to the Church of Scientology.

Al Jerome is KCET’s president. He describes this sale as part of the second phase in KCET's transition from PBS affiliate to independent public media center. "The first phase, of course, was independence, and we had to move out from under the PBS situation," says Jerome. "The second phase is to move into a new location that allows us to really create the right environment for our future as an independent public media center.

"We also have to get the right kind of equipment that allows us to take advantage of the rapid changes that have taken place in technology across all media platforms and get oriented toward this. And the third phase, of course, is to develop and produce particularly the local programs that will distinguish us in the new era of KCET, as opposed to the ones we have been through."

KCET dropped the affiliation in January with PBS – and also dropped some viewers. "Our hope is to obviously gain audience back – not necessarily all the same audience," says Jerome. "With as significant a change in programming as we've had, I think what we're in the process of doing is reconstituting an audience. And we've seen some really interesting information.

"It's a little too early to talk much about, but our audiences have generally been up, the audience we had in January, as more than a 30 percent increase in our weekday children's block. Our 4 to 7 international news block has grown 67 percent from March to January, where we're running BBC World News, and Al Jazeera English, and NHK, IBA Israel. And some of our primetime programs, like Doc Martin, and MI-5 and Hustle have shown growth. So while we certainly have not recaptured the full audience that we had as a PBS affiliate, I think the numbers are going in the right direction."

The new facility likely won't be as large as the building being sold. "In the existing facility that we're in, there are 105,000 square feet, and there are three sound stages. And we think we need more in the neighborhood of 60,000 square feet."

Jerome looked back on what happened this year and talked about the odds of rejoining PBS as an affiliate down the road. "If in fact we would be able to remain or rejoin PBS at an affordable, sustainable level, we would certainly consider that," says Jerome. "But with our dues having increased 40 percent over four years when the economy was coming down, we couldn't maintain the $7 million a year dues bill, and that's why we frankly spent a year negotiating to try to either have some reduction in that level of dues or to have a relief from the requirement that we carry all of the PBS lineup. So, in other words, if we were able to get relief on one of those two things, and if that was PBS's wish, we would certainly consider that."

The Church of Scientology calls the studio a perfect fit for the Church’s production of religious and social betterment audiovisual properties. The sales price has not been announced.

- Steve Julian

More from KPCC wire services:

KCET, which severed its long-standing ties with PBS at the beginning of the year, announced Monday that it has sold its Sunset Boulevard production studios to the Church of Scientology.

The amount of the sale was not disclosed.

The station will continue to operate out of the studios at 4401 W. Sunset Blvd. for as long as a year until a new location is found.

"We are now implementing phase two of our transformation from a PBS affiliate to an independent public media center for the 21st century," according to KCET president and CEO Al Jerome. "New facilities and equipment will allow us to augment the quality, award-winning content that our fans love."

Jerome said station officials were in discussion with several Los Angeles-area production facilities as potential new homes.

According to the Church of Scientology, the studio includes two sound stages, post-production resources and television, satellite and Internet broadcasting capabilities.

"It is a perfect fit, in both size and location, for the expansion of the Church of Scientology's production of religious and social betterment audiovisual properties, and we welcomed the unexpected opportunity to acquire it," according to a statement from the church.

"... It is also ideally set up to establish a central media hub for our network of churches around the world. Utilizing the studio's existing satellite uplink, we will be able to provide our churches and affiliated groups globally with instantaneous access to a wealth of content, all in high definition, ranging from the church's six annual international events to new educational and introductory films and even video updates for the public informational displays located in churches around the world."

- KPCC wire services