The Maine Public Broadcasting Network is ending one of its biggest and most visible yearly fundraisers, The MPBN Great TV Auction, after 40 years.

The event, which was organized by four full-time employees and took up more than a week of evening airtime, became too expensive to run, said Lou Morin, director of marketing and public relations for MPBN.

Morin said the auction usually brought in about $450,000 in gross revenue, but after expenses, the net revenue was only about $150,000. MPBN officials thought the network’s money and resources would be better spent on other kinds of fundraising.

“We just felt the $150,000 could potentially be raised other ways, maybe through more corporate support,” said Morin. “We expect that some of the businesses who donated items to the auction might now do some corporate underwriting.”

While the auction may not have been the most cost-effective way to raise money, it became an iconic event in the state over the years.

Morin said the auction was created in the early 1970s, when there were only three commercial TV networks and PBS, and the model for fundraising was very different.

The MPBN Great TV Auction was typically held over 10 days in April, with thousands of donated items shown and talked about on air, and calls solicited from bidders. The auction pre-empted the network’s regular nightly lineup of shows. That became a factor in the decision to end it.

“People want their normal programming interrupted as little as possible,” said Morin.

After the last auction was held, this April, donations for the next auction were solicited. Because the TV auction will not be held in 2012, Morin said, those donations will be auctioned off in an online version of the auction, to be held throughout November at auction.mpbn.net.

Of the four full-time workers who organized the auction, two will be transferred, said Morin. One has already left the network, and the auction’s longtime director, Margie Oxman, is retiring.

The statewide public radio and TV network raises about $1.6 million through corporate sponsorships of programming and about $4 million by selling network memberships.

Of MPBN’s $10.5 million annual budget, 15 percent comes from federal funding and grants, 18 percent comes from the state, 3 percent comes from other grants or bequests, and about 64 percent comes from fundraising efforts, including corporate sponsorships, memberships and events like the auction.

Many viewers and businesses saw the auction as a fun way to help Maine businesses and the network at the same time.

“I think the auction is an institution in Maine, representing good old-fashioned TV, the kind of thing we won’t see on TV anymore,” said Tami Kennedy, director of communications for Portland-based Sea Dog Brewing Co., an auction donor. “We viewed it as much as a community service as advertising.”

Cameron Bonsey, director of marketing for Coast of Maine Organic Products, said the auction helped his business reach an audience that is probably more interested in organic products “than the mainstream.”

He said his company also donated products to the auction for the “good will” that helping public broadcasting can create.

“That auction has been there for years, and I think it’s sad,” said Bonsey. “If it was continuing, I think we’d always be a part of it.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]