Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Nailing the PBS coffin

Poor public broadcasting. Remember when it was called “non-commercial” television and radio because it really was.

Some countries still have such a thing. No commercials.


But here things have changed.

First we had on-air “underwriting,” which merely mentioned the name of the “underwriters,” mostly do-good foundations. The brief name mentions were limited to the beginnings and ends of the programs.

Then underwriting became sponsorships, which gradually became highly produced commercials or “promos.” Their length grew and grew, presumably with the size of the "contribution."

Somewhere along the way the term “non-commercial” broadcasting was replaced with “public broadcasting.” But because the sponsors had now largely become private corporations, “public broadcasting,” with few exceptions (like Bill Moyers' Journal and Frontlines), was bent to private interests over The Public Interest, a tenet enshrined in the original Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934 (but that's another story....)

Still, at least “public broadcasting” left programming uninterrupted by commercial or promotional interruptions.

Now we learn that those days are about to end too, with PBS planning to do “preliminary testing” of intrusive commercial fare in the middle of programing. Are PBS executives so out of touch that they have to “test” a bad idea? Sounds like a done deal.

What, pray tell, is the difference between PBS's commercial interruptions and those found on commercial broadcasting? And why should we, fellow viewers and listeners, make monetary pledges to support yet another advertising vehicle.

Do I send checks to CBS, ABC, NBC or, heaven forbid, FOX?

Oregon Public Broadcasting, which prides itself on viewer and listener support, is certain to suffer financial fallout from the PBS change.

To show you how far PBS has fallen, consider its response to a story posted HERE. The response is crafted in PR-ese by PBS communications Vice President Anne Bentley (formerly of AOL), who has clearly learned the dark art of corporate double-talk.

We are always looking at ways to improve the viewer experience. In line with that, we’ve done research and one of the things that we’re going to try is to come up with is a way to develop better flow between shows. It is all about the viewer and how the viewer gets an opportunity to see our shows.

Our intention is to test it out with a single night and see how that goes. Depending on what we learn, we’ll see where we go from there.

We’ve done some preliminary testing, but we intend to do more before we move forward absolutely.

Initial testing showed that viewers didn’t really notice the change, but we want to do additional testing. As we move forward, we’ll be monitoring it closely.

As PBS "moves forward," a few millions of us will no doubt be moving on to some other improved "viewer experience."

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