What's ahead for PBS, Part 2. Funding: enough to thrive or just survive?
``Stayin' Alive'' might well be the theme song of the current Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) pledge drives, which are taking place this month on most of the 309 PBS stations throughout the United States. But to some PBS advocates, ``banging the tambourine'' seems a demeaning way to finance what they consider one of broadcasting's highest-minded operations -- one that makes a broad selection of uplifting cultural and educational programming available to practically all of America's households with TV sets.Skip to next paragraph
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The theme should be ``thriving'' rather than just ``surviving,'' they believe -- and thriving on a permanent, secure basis, so that future programming can be developed without stations looking over their shoulders at the bill collectors. This, however, would require a steadier, surer flow of money into the coffers of PBS than has been the case in recent years.
Who picks up the tab for public TV?
In 1984, state governments contributed 21.7 percent of the costs (see chart); viewer-subscribers, 20.2 percent; corporations and businesses, 15.7 percent; the federal government (through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), 12.9 percent; and state colleges and universities, 7.3 percent. The remaining 22.2 percent came from such sources as local governments, federal grants and contracts, foundations, and auctions.
Despite the perception that public television is funded primarily by the federal government, only 16.1 percent came from Washington, while 83.9 percent came from nonfederal sources. And, again contrary to public perception, viewer-subscribers gave around a third again as much as corporate underwriters.
Almost all the insiders agree that the funding pie is balanced, so that no single group is likely to wrest total control. Most, however, would like to see the federal government's share increased considerably and the amount of its funding determined three years in advance, to conform with commitments to production schedules.
What are some additional income sources? Several have been tried and others have been under consideration for years (see article at right below). The two most in the news these days, however, are ``enhanced underwriting'' and channel swapping.
Enhanced underwriting provides more time for the underwriters of a program to identify themselves and describe their services. PBS insiders consider that it stops just short of advertising.
PBS station WNET in New York has gone a step further. It recently announced that it is shopping for sponsors for 30-second spots, to allow corporations to identify themselves and their products on the station.
WNET's president, John Jay Iselin, explains, ``We have to develop alternative sources of revenue. Our first advertiser was We Care About New York, which took 20 spots selling a cleaner New York.'' Mr. Iselin asserts that WNET spots are different from normal commercials because they are principally in support of community-based operations. He calls them ``videograms,'' rather than commercials. ``They do not sell products, but say something about the corporation or even our programming. And there are no interruptions, no selling of adjacent spots.'' Iselin indicates that the WNET guidelines will probably make it necessary for advertisers to prepare special spots for PBS, ones that would not interrupt programming but would appear before or after shows.