Updated: 04/23/2013

Film, Radio and TV - 27









>>In the minds of many people "Public Broadcasting" connotes "educational" and "highbrow" broadcasting."

This is somewhat of a myth.

Although Public Broadcasting is, on the average, viewed by wealthier and better-educated people, its programs cover a wide spectrum of interests.

Public Broadcasting is seen as
"filling the gaps" left by network programming.

PBS 31

 Each year the National Television Academy presents Emmy awards to networks to honor the best in news and documentary work. Note from the table on the right that recently PBS won more Emmy awards than any other network.

 Some of the major awards PBS received include:
  • 10 Daytime Emmys (35th Annual Awards), putting PBS ahead of all broadcast and cable networks for children’s programming for twelve consecutive years. Sesame Street has now won 120 Emmys, more than any other program in the history of the Emmy competition.
  • 10 Primetime Emmys (60th Annual Awards). PBS received a total of 33 Primetime nominations in 2008, more than Bravo, A&E, Discovery, History and Biography combined.
  • 10 News & Documentary Emmys, more than twice as many awards as any broadcast or cable channel
  • 6 George Foster Peabody Awards (68th Annual Awards), more than any other media organization.
  • 3 Golden Globe Nominations (66th Annual Awards)
  • 1 Academy Award Nomination (81st Annual Awards)
  • 11 Parents’ Choice Awards for Websites (2008)
  • 2 Webby Awards (12th Annual Awards).

>>Unfortunately, there is no direct link between quality and popularity and PBS generally ranks lower in the ratings than the major networks. Even so...

  • Some 50 million households or about 80 million people watch public television during an average week.
  • Each month about 133 million people tune into public television.
  • PBS.org is one of the most trafficked web sites in the U.S.

PBS Demographics
Education of HOH*
< 4 Yrs. High School 14.4% 13.8%
High School Grad. 29.9% 28.4%
1-3 Yrs. College 27.3% 26.5%
4+ Yrs. College 28.3% 30.8%

Household Income
< $20,000 22.1% 21.5%
$20-$39,999 23.1% 22.4%
$40-$59,999 17.6% 17.4%
$60,000 + 37.2% 38.7%

*HOH, Head of Household

>>Public Broadcasting programming -- both radio and television versions -- can represent a refuge from the deluge of advertising we encounter in commercial broadcasting.

Although time is spent on fundraising and mini-commercials, they generally do not interrupt program content, and these breaks are nothing like the 33% chunk of time (hourly average) of commercial broadcast stations.

>> Not being ratings driven, Public Broadcasting can present programming that will not necessarily have to appeal to a broad base of viewers, the so-called LCD, or lowest common dominator. We know that education, intelligence, and socioeconomic status are related to the ability to understand abstract ideas. This is probably why the classics in music, art, and literature have never been able to succeed on network television. .

At the same time, as network TV appears to be, in the words of some, green dot going the way of the dinosaur, the LCD approach to producing programming has become less relevant.

>> Not included in most ratings data is children 2-5 years of age -- many of whom  watch the children's shows on PBS.

Not only have programs such as "Sesame Street" won many awards, but for several decades, they have had a positive impact on the reading and math abilities of young children.

>>Public Broadcasting has been able to tackle topics that are bypassed by the commercial networks.

Frontline For example, "The Rev. Moon in America" is an in-depth Frontline documentary into the millions of dollars from a Korean religious organization, commonly referred to as "the Moonies," that supports many conservative causes in the U.S.

The documentary, based on a two-year investigation, revealed that the Rev. Moon has spent more than a billion dollars in the United States, largely to influence U.S. public opinion and decision-making. (Interestingly, considerable effort was brought to bear to keep the documentary from airing.)

To cite one more example, a PBS Frontline documentary on the U.S. invasion of Granada reveals a strikingly different story than the one promulgated by the U.S. government and subsequently by the mainstream press. As late as 2011, Frontline programs won six Emmy nominations for its news and documentary programs. Most PBS programming is available on cassette for use in the classroom.

>>On a different subject, NOVA on PBS regularly presents in-depth, investigations into cutting age science.


Political Attempts at Influencing the

Programming of Public Broadcasting

>>Although documentaries like the above reveal important information that voters should be aware of -- information that might not otherwise come to light -- they also draw sharp criticism.

There is a clause in the 1967 public broadcasting law that expressly forbids government "direction, supervision, or control" of public broadcasting.

>>It's understandable that conservatives see Public Broadcasting as being liberal -- the demographics of public broadcasting listeners and viewers tend to lean in that direction.

But probably the main and largely unstated objections and political attacks on Public Broadcasting have resulted from the documentaries that embarrassed some administrations by exposing disturbing facts.

This has resulted in various types of pressure, including the reduction of funding, and even the delay of Public Broadcasting funds. In 2011, representatives in some states launched an effort to to cut funding for National Public Radio (NPR), which is a major component of Public Broadcasting.

As a result of these efforts, Public Broadcasting has had to rely more heavily on corporate funding. Consequently, Public Broadcasting is understandably nervous about programming that goes against the interests of its funding corporations.

Foundations of Public Broadcasting

>>Being concerned that radio and television would be used solely for commercial purposes, nearly a half a century ago the Federal Communications Commission reserved both radio and TV channels for noncommercial stations.

Subsequently, the U.S. Congress established and funded Public Broadcasting to "...encourage the growth and development of public broadcasting, including the use of radio and television for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes...." One of the mandates was also to be active in technological innovations. 

Consequently, Public Broadcasting has been on the forefront of broadcast innovation. For example, it led the way in the move to digital and high-definition television.

Only on Public Broadcasting can the blind can "watch" TV. Through a service called DVS (Descriptive Video Service) a second audio channel is used to provide a description of the action taking place on the screen.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting

>>The parent organization of public radio and TV in the United States is the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting).  It was authorized by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 to assist in the development of a nationwide public broadcasting system. The CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation that oversees the growth of public television and radio in the United States.

The CPB receives funding from the federal government and then disperses it to noncommercial stations for the production of radio and television programming. It also distributes direct grants to individual stations.

In addition to federal money, the CPB receives numerous grants from foundations. The Ford Foundation, which was responsible for originally funding many noncommercial TV stations, and the Walter H. Annenberg foundation are just two examples.

In order to be a Public Broadcasting affiliate, a noncommercial radio or TV station must meet certain operational standards. For this and other reasons, there are many noncommercial stations in the United States that are not affiliates.

The Public Broadcasting System

>>Delving further into the structure of the CPB we have PBS (the Public Broadcasting System), a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 350 public television stations. The sources of funding for public television are shown below.

>>PBS provides TV programming and related services to more than 350 noncommercial stations serving the 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. PBS programming is available to 99 percent of American homes with television sets, and its programming reaches nearly 100 million people each week.

Of the PBS stations in the U.S., 51% represent community organizations, 32% colleges/universities,12% state authorities, and 5% local educational or municipal authorities.

The wide range of weekly programming available on PBS can be seen by – clicking here.


Public Radio

>>Public radio in the United States dates back to the dawn of broadcasting. In 1921, radio station 9XM (the forerunner of today's WHA-AM), started regular noncommercial programming from the University of Wisconsin.

After this, many other stations followed and noncommercial radio enjoyed a brief burst of growth. But then growth was stifled -- both by the economic chaos brought about by that  era's Depression and by competition from emerging commercial radio stations.

Things picked up when congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act, which authorizing the creation of CPB. The act specifically called for the CPB to encourage "the growth and development of noncommercial radio" and to develop "programming that will be responsive to the interests of the people."

Public radio, like public television, has responded to this mandate by filling a gap left by commercial radio stations. This even extends to small communities. For example, in many remote Alaskan villages with limited mail and telephone service public radio stations are the primary means of communication and frequently the only source of daily news.

In some communities with large non-English-speaking populations, public radio provides  programming in their native languages.

Public Radio Networks

NPR (National Public Radio) is the basic radio network of Public Broadcasting. Its most popular programs include "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." Today, there are more than 600 NPR affiliated stations on the air.

NPR has led important technological advances in radio, including establishing the first nationwide, satellite-delivered, U.S. radio distribution network in 1979. 

The Critics of Public Broadcasting

>>As we've suggested, Broadcasting isn't without its critics.

Some feel that whereas Public Broadcasting used to represent a bold, independent voice, political and corporate pressures have developed a stranglehold on their financing, and have made them fearful of offending the "hand that feeds them."

People at Public Broadcasting deny this, and they can legitimately point to series such as the award-winning Frontline, that frequently tackle controversial topics.

>>In the next module we'll look at the principles of TV programming.

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