Big Bird controversy is silly and nonsensical

If you visit the PBS web site, you’ll get a screen full of reasons why public broadcasting is so valuable, including impressive figures on how many people watch.

“PBS’ primetime audience is significantly larger than many commercial channels, including Bravo (PBS’ audience is 92% larger), TLC (88%), Discovery Channel (69%), HGTV (64%), HBO (62%) and A&E (29%). In addition, PBS’ primetime rating for news and public affairs programming is 91% higher than that of CNN. (Nielsen NPower, 9/19/2011-9/9/2012),” the site says.

Thank you, PBS, for making the argument for cutting your network from the taxpayer umbilical cord.

The first lesson in running a successful media business is that audience attracts advertising, which in turn results in profits. Anyone who thinks PBS is commercial-free hasn’t watched much lately. And anyone who thinks Sesame Street, Antiques Roadshow or Downton Abbey can’t survive on its own doesn’t live in reality.

Sure, you can argue that a purely commercial network might not have produced such shows if the government hadn’t established public broadcasting in the 1960s. But establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes money to a variety of programs and stations, has proven there is a market for such programs. Thank you, now it’s time for the government to get out of the way.

The ridiculous political maneuvering around Big Bird and Mitt Romney’s resolve to cut funding is based solely on the perception that most people like these programs and perceive that ending public funding also would end those programs. The premise is voters are too stupid to understand that the shows will continue.

People argue that funding for public broadcasting makes up a miniscule 0.014 percent of the national budget. We won’t solve the national debt by eliminating it.

However, that is not an argument for why taxes are necessary to fund it, or why the United States, of all places, needs government-funded news programs.

The other oft-heard argument is that PBS provides programming to rural and poor areas that otherwise would have no access to quality educational programming. It would be interesting to see the ratings such programs garner in those areas. Regardless, there is little reason to believe their access would be cut.

This entire controversy ignores the titanic shifts now taking place in the Information Age. Traditional delivery mechanisms are being challenged.

Yahoo and the ad agency Carat Interactive released a study this year showing that teens spend more time online than they do in front of the television or talking on the phone. Other studies have contradicted this view, but it’s hard to ignore all the alternatives out there, from Apple TV to Roku, that allow people to watch an impressive array of programs on-demand, including international shows, and for a fraction of the cost of cable.

In light of this, it seems silly to keep pumping $445 million of our taxes each year into public broadcasting.

Categories: Campaign 2012

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.


  1. Roland Kayser

    The reason that PBS funding has become an issue is because Romney states he will drastically cut domestic spending while failing to specify any specific cuts. PBS and Planned Parenthood are the only cuts he has identified, which don’t even make the tiniest of dents in our spending.

    I’m open to supporting a candidate who favors lower spending, but not one who won’t tell us what spending is going to be cut.

  2. hansendp

    Funding this program … and that program … and on and on. Never ever was it the intent of our founders to use the Fed Government in such a way. This isn’t just Obama – it is every prior president who has just gone along with the flow and created this monster. The states is where the all governing power should reside with the exception of national defense and income tax etc for only critical expenditures such as national defense. There were other critical national projects worthy of federal control such as the building of the Hover and Boulder Dams etc… The point is that our Federal Gov has its hands in EVERYTHING and that is why we have the deficit and that is why we have a need of more taxation. There needs to be an ax taken to federally funded programs and restore the federal gov to its proper role.

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