Since Newt Gingrich is the GOP primary flavor of the week, let’s consider what his hypothetical presidency might mean for PBS. First, let’s remember that defunding the CPB and privatizing PBS were among Newt’s first agenda items when he rose to power in 1995. He has consistently branded PBS with a liberal bias, even though Pat Mitchell once offered him his own town hall talk show. In short, plastering Big Bird with advertisements may be Mitt Romney’s latest “starve the beast” talking point, but it’s been an article of faith for Gingrich for nearly two decades. As for the fading star that is Rick Santorum, he actually has lukewarm praise for PBS, but still supports cuts to the CPB; just not to direct funding to local broadcasters. Santorum’s logic may seem moderate by comparison, but cuts to the CPB would necessarily hit and hobble local broadcasters, so his thinking is either unworkably muddled or politically barbed. And while libertarian heartthrob Ron Paul has balked on bills to slash PBS in the past, his grassroots minions seem to champion motions like a New Hampshire bill to deny public broadcasting any state money.
Come November, no matter who earns the GOP nomination, defunding PBS and NPR is clearly going to be a platform plank. The time is now to build an unimpeachable case for PBS’ future. For those who care to defend the appropriation, Lawrence Dabney at The Faster Times has posted a rather telling pie chart illustrating the drop in the bucket that CPB’s appropriation actually represents at .003% of the federal budget. Click here and you can also play around with this extremely cool New York Times Treemap of the Obama’s 2012 budget proposal and search for ‘Corporation for Public Broadcasting’. Note that CPB’s appropriation is down nearly 11% from last year at not quite $4 per household. FIXPBS just believes that the appropriation has never been a safe bet, and is, at best, in danger of being negotiated down to Santorum levels of incapacity. We prefer a jujitsu approach that appropriates conservative logic in order to secure PBS a license fee and trust fund in the name of free market thinking.
The Guardian reports that BBC Director General Mark Thompson will likely be stepping down some time after the 2012 Olympics. The race to find a successor is off to a complicated start. The Guardian rightly notes that American executives are not likely to return any headhunters’ calls with the position’s salary on the chopping block, which speaks volumes about how the Brits see our cynical, laggard’s attitude toward public broadcasting. At FIXPBS, we will follow this developing story, and take every opportunity to remind our viewers about the undeniable benefits of a centralized pubcasting network and leadership.
What am I supposed to do with this thing? What would you do if you owned a global public broadcasting station? Let’s hear your big ideas in the comments!
David Margolick’s recent piece in Vanity Fair should be required reading for anyone who cares about public broadcasting and its future. He offers a rare “inside baseball” glimpse into NPR’s recent struggles with management and illustrates the zero sum game they play. We at FIXPBS.COM will forgive David for stealing our “National Public Rodeo” headline, coined for Vivian Schiller’s ousting last March.
PBS has slowly been opening its door to commercial sponsorships over the years, but Mitt Romney seems to want to kick the door off its hinges. We at FIXPBS favor keeping PBS entirely free from commercial interests by weaning it off the federal appropriation and negotiating a transition to a federally mandated licensing fee system, wherein cable providers charge households a negligible monthly fee for the inclusion of PBS in basic cable packages. Cable providers would be incentivized with a percentage of this fee, and PBS’ proceeds could seed a permanent public broadcasting trust fund. And, if a bigger and better PBS could then centralize its national network operations and eliminate waste and redundancies, its future could look very bright indeed. It’s a transcendent, winning logic that could play well as well for President Obama as it would for President Romney. Now is the time to prepare a real plan, and if PBS matters, why not opt for a real and lasting solution, rather than political stopgaps and half-measures?
PBS has announced that it is partnering with Canadian venture capitalist, David Lyons, to launch PBS UK. It seems a strange time and place to expand. Perhaps they aren’t aware that the BBC has cornered every corner of the pub-casting market in the UK, and on planet earth. And how could they know that British audiences have little to no appetite for American subjects? Not unlike its stateside mothership, PBS UK may even acquire or commission British content to round out a limited menu.
We at FIXPBS.com wish PBS UK well, but we don’t hold high hopes for its survival. If PBS can’t find a way to be relevant, and stay solvent, in America, how can it be expected to make an impact in a country that has already practically perfected public broadcasting?
PBS has long compensated for its meager programming slate by importing dusty old bargain basement series from British public broadcasters, and to no avail. Now, Downton Abbey has proven a rare success, but it’s still just British/ITV leftovers, not to mention, a sad reminder that PBS cannot afford the kind of world class original programming that UK pub-casters produce so well, and so prolifically. In the short run, PBS may bask in the acclaim Downton Abbey generates, but in the end, it’s only another break even bet.
First, the critical “moment” the series is enjoying is unlikely to register an increase in member support. Second, while DVD sales are bound to be a minor bonanza, PBS doesn’t own the series; it’s only got a licensing stake which primarily serves to benefit WGBH. And third, when PBS spends its scant resources on shelf product from the competition across the pond, it is missing the chance to invest in itself, and a shot at real relevance.
One upshot is that Downton Abbey has temporarily steered PBS into popular culture. This could and should represent a golden opportunity for PBS to re-brand itself for a new generation. Patton Oswalt, a comedian of the hippest order, has been live tweeting Downton Abbey. If PBS was smart, they would launch a viral digital campaign, featuring Patton and other celebrity fans, that parodied and/or praised the series…just in time to spice up a pledge drive, of course!