With Pressure On Its Funding, Can Public Broadcasting Increase Sponsor Dollars?

The pressure is on public broadcasting. Some in Congress already believe there are too many TV and video networks, stations, and digital areas, a lot of it free with advertising support. Why should the taxpayer pay for more of it?

PBS stations, as well as those independent public TV stations not connected with the PBS system, have been making lots of effort to get viewers to contribute through the year -- and also increasingly seeking more sponsorship dollars. The big question: what if this is not enough?

If viewers are tapped out in this still fragile economy, it would seem those public TV and radio stations would need to slightly broaden their advertising revenue base. But where? How could they do that and keep calling themselves "public" in the face of more commercialization?



President Obama budgeted a $6 million increase -- to $451 million in 2012 -- for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund public broadcasting programming and stations. That's about the amount of a mid-level cable network's annual advertising take.

But pressure from Congress has some estimating there could be a massive 25% cut of around $100 million at the CPB. Can TV marketers find more space on public stations and make up this difference if needed?

In 2008, PBS had about $101 million in revenue from corporate underwriting. But this has been going in the wrong direction and was down from around $120 million years earlier. Recently PBS has been mulling whether or not to sell just week-long show sponsorships, versus year-long ones -- all an effort to pull in more money from marketers who now have more fluid media plans.

The good news: public TV and radio stations still get decent audiences in this digital world. Also many public stations have prepared for this. Among bigger TV and radio stations, federal dollars contribute a smaller part of their budgets, just 10-15% these days. At the same time, federal dollars constitute a higher percentage of smaller stations' revenue.

Viewer contributions can go only so far. That means that in this more drastic world, more ad messages appear before and after shows on public broadcasting stations (but probably not during specific shows -- the most sacrosanct area, and the most desirous for marketers).

Recent surveys show viewers still love a free TV environment. For online TV shows, they prefer a similar free, ad-supported TV environment.

But viewers have a different opinion of PBS programming -- even online. A couple of years ago, there was some public outcry when Hulu showings of a few PBS shows, including "Nova," incorporated some commercial network-style pre-roll ads.

Consumers may not be ready for more creeping commercialism of public television -- but soon they may have no choice.

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