NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

PBS Goes Commercial

July 11, 2002

In earlier days, corporations underwriting programs on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) were confined to a simple announcement that "The following program is brought to you with the support of the (xyz) corporation." No longer. As Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular TV at Syracuse University puts it, "Now it's a moving video and some of it is pretty substantial -- it's longer, it's a full-fledged commercial."

The issue has caught the attention of Congress and was discussed at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

  • Congress's view of how commercial-free PBS is has a bearing on PBS's funding.
  • Although congressional moves to cut PBS funding have receded in recent years -- PBS says its federal funding is actually on the increase -- some say they wonder how long this can continue.
  • PBS says program underwriting -- which consists mostly of corporate underwriting -- was $221 million last year, up from $175 million a year earlier.
  • Public-television officials report that pledges from the public remain the single largest source of revenue for local public stations.

Exerts say that public television runs the risk of losing all federal funding if it continues the trend toward commercialization. As the distinction between it and fully commercial television blurs, there simply would be no reason for public moneys to be funneled to it.

Source: Sally Beatty, "PBS and Corporate Underwriters: Too Close for Comfort?" Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2002.


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