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A legislative panel on Tuesday signed off on the Arkansas Educational Television Network's request to hire a senior director of content at the maximum authorized salary of $112,899, after the network's director said the leading candidate for the job will be "a game changer."

Memphis native Rachel Raney is director of national and local production for UNC-TV in Durham, N.C., a public television network serving North Carolina, where she makes $102,000 a year, Kay Barnhill, the state's personnel administrator, said in a letter to the Legislative Council's personnel subcommittee.

Raney has more than 20 years of experience in television production and media development in California, Massachusetts and North Carolina, according to Barnhill.

AETN created the position of senior director of content in November. The salary range is from $77,862 to $112,899 a year.

Raney has not officially accepted the position because "we needed to get the approval for the salary to move forward," Marty Ryall, AETN's director of professional relations, said after Tuesday's meeting.

The agency conducted a national search before deciding on Raney, said Tony Robinson, personnel review administrator for the Bureau of Legislative Research. Twenty-six people applied for the position and 15 people were interviewed for it, Ryall said.

[DATABASE: Search salaries of state employees ]

Ryall said the network relinquished two vacant positions to help fund the new position.

During the subcommittee's meeting, state Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, questioned why the new position is needed.

"We are in a changing media landscape," said network Director Courtney Pledger, who was appointed to the post in March 2017. "I'm sure you are all aware that audiences are not only on broadcast, they are on multiple platforms, so the way that we create content, the types of content, the way that we distribute it, the way it is consumed, it's all changed drastically.

"AETN is quickly adapting to that, and those are very specific skills for that kind of job, and we are the only statewide public media in Arkansas, so it was a necessity to go to the larger public media world to find those particular skills. And we have really identified somebody who will be a game changer for us," Pledger said.

Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, pressed Pledger on how Raney would be "a game changer" for the future of AETN.

Pledger said Raney understands content creation for multiple platforms as well as for broadcast television, and the distribution strategies that the network has to employ to be successful on these platforms.

Raney also is a fundraiser, Pledger said, adding that "we raise all of our money for every Arkansas story that we tell, and she has extensive experience in raising money through grants and other means for production."

"She has created series for North Carolina that are long running. She has done something for national PBS that she created," Pledger said. "We do first and foremost make stories, culture, arts, tell the story of Arkansas and Arkansans. But we are now also telling that story to the world, like we'll be doing next spring for the State of the Art, which is a documentary about Crystal Bridges, artists [and] their exhibits."

Raney is well-qualified with the level of understanding of what it takes to be a diverse 21st-century media company, Pledger said.

Hammer asked about the network's viewing audience and ratings.

Pledger said the network is in the process of moving to a system to measure "all of our metrics and data from multiple platforms, and we are in the early stages in that. We'll be able to, in the not-too-distant future, very accurately measure those audiences."

For broadcast television, the network relies on PBS county-by-county viewership information that it gets every few years. The most recent showed that at least 320,000 households on a weekly basis tune in, and that's close to 500,000 viewers, Pledger said.

In fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, AETN's revenue totaled $14.5 million, and among the sources are $5.2 million in state funds, $3.5 million in project and production income, $2.3 million in private contributions and $2 million in Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants, according to information provided by Ryall.

Metro on 06/13/2018

Print Headline: Lawmakers sign off on AETN's request to hire exec at top salary

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