Why commercial broadcasters may want to support non-profits


PBSFor quite some time, some politicians in Washington DC have wanted to zero-out public broadcasting from the federal budget. CPB, PBS and NPR are constantly being forced to justify their existence and visits to Washington by the likes of Big Bird, Elmo and the Cookie Monster are a regular feature of Capitol Hill budget battles. But for commercial broadcasters, it may be much better to keep the money flowing as it has in the past. News from Canada that its public broadcasters may start selling advertising is why.

The reason is simple – advertising is tough enough to sell as it is, without adding an entire new class of competitors into the mix. And that is what just might happen if public broadcasters are cut off from public funding and told to make it on their own.

According to the FCC’s December 2011 station census, there are 3,644 noncommercial FM radio stations, 289 noncommercial UHF television stations and 107 noncommercial VHF television stations out there.

That is a heaping big pile of new competition to suddenly coming swooping in out of nowhere.
To be sure, many small noncoms probably will not survive. But the ones that do will be able to claim a generally well-educated and well-to-do audience. They will also be able to claim more than a few parents with children, a valuable target for many retailers.

And if you think it gets annoying having Big Bird and Elmo showing up in Washington every so often, imagine them being brought up day in and day out in your own local market.

A local retailer could advertise that it is supporting the news, the information, the documentaries, the fine art and especially the high-value educational programming of the leading local non-profit.

What can it say about a commercial broadcaster, that it is supporting the construction of a nice retirement home in Palm Springs or Fort Myers for some broadcast muckety-muck?

Of course, it is not nearly that simple. Commercial broadcasters provide hour upon hour of high quality programming. They provide local news and information, public affairs programming, highly-desired network programs, big-ticket sports and countless other offerings.

The fact is that there is room in every market for both commercial and noncommercial broadcasting.

We just do not want to compete for advertising dollars. We don’t think that would be good for either side. We think it is wise for commercial broadcasters to do what they can to keep the noncom in public broadcasting.