Public Media Stations Ignite Digital Transformation Through CPB-Funded Initiative

April 30, 2018


The staff of WBHM-FM in Birmingham, Alabama, celebrates its success with the CPB-supported Digital Accelerator. 

Through the CPB-supported Digital Culture Accelerator, station leaders at ideastream in Cleveland, Ohio, UNC-TV in Durham, North Carolina, and WBHM-FM in Birmingham, Alabama, enhanced their traditional linear broadcast operations through the strategic implementation of digital technologies, platforms and organizational change.

“The accelerator is helping UNC-TV transform from being a television station to becoming a digital publishing company” integrating broadcast and digital operations, said General Manager Brian Sickora.

In early 2017, following discussions with public media leaders, CPB launched the project to define new and improved ways for them to accelerate digital transformation of station operations. The objective of the program is to help stations reach new audiences and develop sustainable business practices.

“Serving evolving audience demands in this rapidly changing media environment requires new thinking and behaviors across leadership and staff,” said Maja Mrkoci, CPB’s SVP, Television Content and Innovation. “As CPB continues to make strategic investments into public media’s digital future, we are using a multi-level approach to maximize system impact.”

With support from CPB, a consulting team from QCatalyst worked with the three stations for six months to break down silos, create alignment, explore digital tools and opportunities, and inspire cultural change within their organizations. Jason Seiken, a former PBS Digital executive, founded QCatalyst and guided the effort.

As part of the grant, QCatalyst was also charged with capturing the methods used and lessons learned into a step-by-step guide that leaders throughout the public media system can use to ignite digital transformation at their stations. The Digital Culture Accelerator Playbook is available to all public media organizations, and Seiken and his team are leading a nine-part webinar series detailing the strategies used during the pilot.

The pilot started with the stations’ senior management and boards of directors and extended to the entire staff. Instead of focusing only on digital departments, the consulting team encouraged the involvement of staff across the organizations and the inclusion of metrics in programming, engagement and fundraising.

While customized for each station’s strategic plan and operations, the program helped all the stations experiment while systematically using metrics to track progress. The stations found that being able to track their successes helped build enthusiasm for the project.  

“The biggest change is the senior leadership is all now digitally focused -- their dialogue and discussion are how to extend what they do in the digital space,” said Kevin Martin, CEO of ideastream.

WBHM, Digital
A WMBH social media campaign boosted pledges by a third.

The Digital Culture Accelerator has already demonstrated important successes: WBHM saw a 33 percent increase in pledge donations from its social media campaign; UNC-TV used a social video pilot to enhance its Knight-Lenfest initiative challenge to drive broader reach and engagement; and ideastream outperformed its pilot key performance indicator goals by an average of 371 percent. ideastream’s “Making It,” a series of short, social-media friendly digital videos, has generated more than 11,000 page views on, and reached 436,000 on Facebook. 

The ideastream “Making It” digital video series spotlighting creative people in Northeastern Ohio features Brandyn Armstrong, creator of the Studio Stick, a portable recording studio.

 “The staff achieved something amazing, and they are energized and ready to move forward and do this again,” said Chuck Holmes, WBHM CEO. “Now I can’t get them to stop talking about what they are going to do next.”

To view the Digital Accelerator Playbook and register for the webinars, go to