NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public TV Donations Rise

January 2, 1996

The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is the largest television network in the United States. A year ago, leaders of PBS warned that if federal taxpayer subsidies were eliminated, as many as 87 public television stations might have to close.

Of course, if that happened, PBS would still have more affiliate stations than the ABC, CBS or NBC networks.

However, contrary to claims by PBS and National Public Radio (NPR) that voluntary donations wouldn't rise to make up for cuts in federal funding, viewers and listeners responded to their warnings last year by giving more.

  • Nationally, the number of pledges to public TV in March 1995 was 12.9 percent higher than the same month the previous year, and the total dollars pledged were up 15.3 percent.
  • According to NPR, on average, stations did 15 to 40 percent better during the March 1995 drive than the previous year, and those radio stations that did only 15 to 20 percent better stopped once they reached their goals.
  • In the August 1995 pledge drive, the number of pledgers increased 18 percent over the previous August and dollars pledged were up 16 percent.
  • However, by December 1995, when it became clear that Republicans were not going to eliminate the subsidies, or even cut them substantially, the pledge drive collected only 7 percent more than the December 1994 drive.

Supporters of subsidies to public broadcasting also ignore the positive effect proposed tax cuts in the Republican budget plan would have on giving. During the 1980s, when tax rates were cut, individual donations to public TV increased every year.

  • In fiscal year 1980, 2.6 million individual donors gave an average of $29.96 for a total of almost $78 million.
  • By fiscal year 1989 the number of donors had doubled to 5.2 million and the average contribution had increased to $50.38, for a total of $262 million.

However, in fiscal year 1991, after the Bush tax increase, the number of individual members dropped to 5.07 million.

Source: "Donations Rise as Funding Threatened," MediaNomics, Vol. 4, Issue 1, January 1996, Media Research Center, 113 S. West Street, 2nd Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314, (703) 683-9733.


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