CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Ad Dollars for CPB

Joel Kaplan

September 3, 2013

Pete Campbell of San Jose, California has a great idea for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to collect additional revenues.

"I have identified a way in which the CPB could raise significant revenues while satisfying the goal of educating children," he writes. "CPB could offer several major national merchants/partners with the opportunity to sponsor a 'smart crawl' that would appear at the bottom of the screen during select programming.

"Children would be presented with math tables, science and history facts, geography, etc. for just a few minutes of each program. The national merchants would be cited as sponsors of the program. CPB would be able to generate significant ad revenues through this new program."

Mr. Campbell's suggestion, though well meaning, is antithetical to the way public media in general operates, which unlike commercial media, does not sell advertising.

It is also a good opportunity to explain again how CPB operates. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has only one revenue source: the federal government. It receives an annual appropriation—two years in advance to protect First Amendment values and avoid political meddling. CPB then awards grants to various public media.

Even when private organizations and individuals would like to contribute to CPB, they are told to instead contribute to their local public media outlet or to PBS, NPR, APM or PRI.

Beyond the federal appropriation, the only other source of funding for CPB also comes from the federal government via the U.S. Department of Education as part of its Ready to Learn program.

CPB's current appropriation, with the sequester, is approximately $422 million. Under the federal government's funding formula, no more than 5% of that amount can go towards operations. At least 89% of the appropriation must also be allocated as community services grants to local stations and programming with 75% going to television and 25% to radio.

A little over a year ago, a report commissioned by CPB to examine alternative sources of funding concluded that "there is simply no substitute for the federal investment to accomplish the public service mission that Congress has assigned to public broadcasters and that the American people overwhelmingly support."

While Mr. Campbell's suggestion would not work for CPB, it might work for local public media or PBS or NPR. Those entities have a variety of ways of collecting revenues beyond CPB grants. They include merchandise licensing, renting donor lists and DVD/CD sales. They also often mention donors/sponsors on air with brief messages.

Mr. Campbell's suggestion might be an additional revenue source, but it also might cross the line into commercial advertising.

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