Results tagged “Public television” from ARTicles

Alarm bells are sounding for PBS' The News Hour, where the loss of a major corporate underwriter has cut the show's budget. And the cut looks like it's not just the loss of a major sponsor but an indicator of a failing business model. From Monday's NYT:

Not only are corporations cutting back on all forms of advertising during the current economic slowdown, but public television's model -- soliciting long-term commitments -- is also increasingly out of step with the changing needs of corporations, which no longer sponsor public television programs for purely philanthropic reasons.

"Now, it's more a marketing-driven conversation, about audiences, and delivery and engagement," said Rob Flynn, vice president of communications and marketing for "NewsHour."

In the last five years, corporate underwriting on PBS has varied; in 2007, it totaled $91 million, or just under 23 percent of all program financing, PBS said. But the core series of the PBS schedule, like "NewsHour," "Nova" and "Masterpiece Theater," known internally as the icon series, have had corporate underwriting drop 40 percent.

Okay, so public television is facing the same problem everyone else is - a business model that seems to be failing and no obvious remedies in sight.

I have two reactions to this story. First, the "corporate underwriting" conceit is a bit disingenuous at this point. Public television and public radio in the US both run commercials and have for some time. They may be differently formatted than on the commercial airwaves, but they are commercials. Arguably, for the audiences public broadcasters serve, the "underwriting" format is more effective advertising than the shall we say "less subtle" form found on commercial TV. If advertisers are abandoning The News Hour and PBS, they've made the calculation that their messages aren't getting out as effectively as they once did. Commercial broadcasters (not to mention newspapers) have been finding their advertisers melt away after similar calculations. With expanding consumer choice, the pie is being redistributed and the stale bits are being passed over.

My second reaction is to...

May 21, 2008 11:34 AM |

The headline in Charles McGrath's piece in Sunday's Times, "Is PBS Still Necessary," has me worried that an insidious email from the '90s might sprout up again, like a monster in a B movie that refuses to die. You remember the one. The most common version began with the screaming exhortation "SAVE SESAME STREET!" and implored recipients to sign a petition protesting cuts to federal funding for PBS. The well-meaning authors of the missive wrote it in 1995, and it's been circulating periodically ever since. Every arts reporter and critic in the land must have received it dozens of times, if not more. With all due respect to Ernie and Bert, I almost always automatically hit delete when I see the "Sesame Street" plea in the subject line of an incoming mail. On particularly cranky days, I refer the sender to Snopes.  

Chain email aggravation aside, I'm not here to debate the merits of PBS per se. There's nothing particularly new about the arguments in the Times' piece, which complains that PBS programming is either precious or moldy (or both). I'm certainly not going to argue with McGrath's observation that that the "credit announcements" on PBS are "commercials in all but name." Even the fundraisers are commercials, especially for the impressionable younger set. That became painfully obvious when my five-year-old twins informed me that if I donated a mere $300 to our local station, we would receive four -- count 'em, four! -- tickets to "Disney On Ice."

But still. There's one minor little point missing in the discussion that almost never comes up when PBS funding is questioned. Yes, you can get similar - and sometimes superior -- programming on cable now, which has a niche for every interest. But, but, but. Public television is free.  Believe it or not, more than 20 million U.S. households still access television through an old-fashioned antenna. These so-called over-the-air households do not subscribe to cable or satellite services, and in those homes, PBS is the best option for educational programming. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I lived in one of those households. For a number of reasons, we didn't care or need to have hundreds of channels streaming into the not-so-big box in our living room. For my family, it's a choice. (One reason we finally succumbed to the call of cable is that we have a five-year-old Red Sox fanatic on the premises, and most of the games aren't available without cable. But I digress.) Undoubtedly, though, it's not a choice for millions of other over-the-air folks who simply can't afford to shell out big bucks to Comcast every month. That's why the original mandate for public television, outlined by the Carnegie Commission Report of 1967, remains pertinent today. PBS may not be what it used to be in this age of instant access, but it is still provides "a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard" -- at a price that most folks can afford. And that's important, especially in households with young children.

 Don't we still need to take those folks into account when we write about public television? I wonder if we, as arts journalists, sometimes forget that there is a sizable group out there that doesn't have access to laptops or cable boxes. I know, that's so mid-20th century, but it wouldn't hurt to keep it in mind, especially if the discussion heats up, and frantic email petitions start flying again.

February 19, 2008 5:16 AM |


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