Why Not A Pay PBS App?

It is tough to be a saint.

Right after HBO announced its deal to finance (read “underwrite”) “Sesame Street” for the next five years, in return for first dibs on the new content, the Internet lit up with reminders that in 2012, Mitt Romney wandered into this territory, and got whacked by huge swaths of the press and Barack Obama.

“I’m sorry Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney told PBS’ Jim Lehrer, who was moderating the Romney-Obama debate in October 2012.  “I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not gonna keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.” (In fact, PBS’ share of the budget is so small, Romney might mistake it for pocket change.)  

The moment was the most replayed snippet of the evening, TiVo later said.

Republicans have wanted to de-fund PBS forever, it seems, and certainly since Bill Moyers used to gab there on a regular basis.



The HBO deal does give the pay-channel first dibs, and makes for a name-value kid-vid attraction as it tries to attract customers for its online apps. But those episodes get back to PBS nine months later, where they’ll be seen for free, once again, and PBS still has the bulk of the library to show. 

Nonetheless, the HBO deal could seem elitist as if some little rich pre-schooler will have much more advanced knowledge about  letter “G” than the poor kid he meets with his nanny in the park, beginning an inevitable division of fates that will last forever.

But to me, the deal brought the value of PBS into plain view.

Probably with some fancy dancing before Congress--or an easy foxtrot depending on who’s in office--PBS could have it on PBS On streaming service. For a price, it could get eager public television fans to pay for access to the library of smart, ecological, investigative, historical and kids fare. Instead, the network dishes it out for free on television, and then again, for free on a variety of Web sites.

It could be a kind of Hulu for eggheads.

Why not?

Well, because instead, its Web site and kids apps just give a lot of it away, so viewers of all income levels can get it online, where the viewing world, rich and poor, is moving. Which is, really, the right thing to do. And that’s mostly what public radio and television and its associates, like Sesame Workshop do. 

Yesterday, Salon’s feature editor Jessica Winter reflected on the “Sesame Street” move to HBO and wrote, “In practical terms, this is good news all around. In symbolic and historical terms, however, it’s terribly sad.”

She continued: “The public television producer Joan Ganz Cooney got the idea for "Sesame Street" in 1967, during the decade of the War on Poverty, which produced the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964—among other things, this established Head Start, the health and education program for low-income preschool children and their families—as well as Job Corp and the Social Security Act of 1965. And 1967 was also the year that Congress established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which brought us PBS and NPR.”  

In an earlier piece, she wrote: “Though it receives little in the way of taxpayer money, one could almost think of ‘Sesame Street’ and Sesame Workshop as a modern-day Works Progress Administration (WPA), enlisting filmmakers, writers, actors, musicians, songwriters, and other artists to build a creative public utility.”

So, she seems to say, taking “Sesame Street” to a pay service, is if nothing else, ironic, in a bad way, but also part of a larger dissing of the impoverished, like cuts to funding Head Start.  

“In this context, relocating 'Sesame Street' to the gated community of HBO—even if that community's gates swing wide at nine-month intervals—is only to be expected. There could be no more cruelly perfect metaphor for the ultra-efficient sorting processes of socioeconomic privilege.”

I get where she’s coming from. I just don’t agree.

2 comments about "Why Not A Pay PBS App? ".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, August 14, 2015 at 1:14 p.m.

    The public library has hours and hours of Sesame Street on DVD.  Or should.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 14, 2015 at 3:23 p.m.

    The people who are making these decisions do not live (for the most part) in the areas where streaming is not available. Those are rural areas and not on the higher economic scale. So how do you keep them down on the farm ? (after they've see Paree  - for those who don't remember)

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