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  • Why Big Bird’s Federal Subsides Need to Go

    The call to eliminate federal subsidies to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), such as Governor Mitt Romney’s recent statement, shouldn’t ruffle the famous fowl.

    After all, not only does PBS not need taxpayer support, but because it inevitably entangles Big Bird in politics, it does him more harm than good.

    Federal contributions to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which distributes money to PBS, totaled $444 million in FY 2012. While that may not be a lot in Washington, which spent a whopping $3.54 trillion that year, it is real money to most Americans.

    But ending these subsidies wouldn’t break the bank for public broadcasting. In FY 2010 (information available to date), the CPB subsidies amounted to only 15 percent of public broadcasting station’s total funding. Other sources included listener and viewer contributions, university and foundation support, and business underwriting. Sesame Street itself received only $1.4 million in a federal grant through CPB in FY 2012. As Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, affirms:

    [Sesame Workshop] receives very, very little funding from PBS. So, we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship.

    Big Bird and his popular Sesame Street neighbors would not disappear if federal ties are severed. Westin adds that “when they always try to tout out Big Bird, and say we’re going to kill Big Bird—that is actually misleading, because Sesame Street will be here.”

    The “Golden Condor” has quite a healthy nest egg, too: Sesame Workshop reported a net worth of $356 million as of June 2011.

    While federal funding is marginal to Big Bird’s coop, it does buy its creators grief. Objecting references this week to the bird by Governor Romney and President Obama, Sesame Workshop indicated it would rather not be a pawn in politics. Newsflash: When the government funds a program, it will have a say in its content, and politics will follow.

    Big Bird’s fans who want him politics-free should support a truly independent public broadcasting system. They should be the first to push to end federal subsidies.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    19 Responses to Why Big Bird’s Federal Subsides Need to Go

    1. Do_Japan says:

      Why the government should continue to fund PBS: I've never seen a commercial media network I liked.

      • Ohio Joe says:


        It is not clear what point you are trying to make. Are you saying you like PBS because the government funds it?

      • JIM says:

        It is time to take Big Bird off welfare. HE HAS 356 MILLION $, HE SHOULD BE ABLE TO LIVE OFF THAT

        • JJfan says:

          I haven't watched PBS much lately, but not long ago I can remember the programming being interrupted by requests for donations to keep the shows going. They seemed to do pretty well back then.

        • T Lady62 says:

          No kidding. Not to mention the mega bucks Sesame Street earns from its merchandising arm (toys, books, DVD, video games). That $444 billion we've been on the hook for should be refunded in tax credits.

    2. big bird does not need government funding

    3. Bobbie says:

      It does ruffle the populace that are barely able to provide for their families while high pay and benefits goes to big bird and his populace on top of independent funding. There's no sincerity when the big name of Lavar Burton says PBS needs tax funding on top of what they're already getting or the quality of PBS education will drop? That sounds like a threat!!?? Sincere teaching comes from the heart, not peoples' pockets to bribe!

      All areas that take "very, very little funding" can do without because a "little funding" is relative and there's too many areas getting very little funding that is altogether, astronomical. Then to have the President take stimulus money from shovel ready jobs he promised, just to say the shovel ready jobs aren't really ready while he distributes the stimulus money to his special interests and who knows where else? This President just can't be truthful and straight forward, incapable of making decisions without extreme bias, forcing immense sacrifice on some collapsing the country on all!

    4. Bobbie says:

      oops, another thing. Not only does PBS get what they get, local broadcasters have the audacity to send out requests for contributions. Where does all the money go??

    5. Bobbie says:

      and the local broadcasters sending out requests for contributions mislead the request by calling it a "free service" with no indication they are receiving government funding…
      Who wants America lied to by a public broadcasting service educating children? I thank God for the once great "electric company!!!" Also a provider of children's education, probably snuffed out by "sesame street"s unfair, discriminating higher funding through unfair, discriminating bias, government! Is sesame street indoctrinating socialism or promoting individualism? Government ties means government direction…

    6. Vel says:

      I wonder how much money the executives at PBS are paid? Are they getting millions from the government and the tax money goes to them instead of the programming?

    7. Todd says:

      PBS is a great service and does a lot to provide good entertainment and educational services. But in today's environment, we have to prioritize what we can afford. I applaud Mitt Romney for looking at things that we may have to scale back on and possibly eliminate funding. PBS will have to start acting like a real business in order to survive. I am sure there are a lot of potential supporters who market to the demographics that all of PBS programs touch, not just Big Bird, that will fund many PBS programs.

    8. Pete Houston says:

      I believe that Romney said that he would review the budget line item by line item to make a determination as to what will stay or go. The test is that is it worth borrowing money for to continue. Managers/Executives typically set guidance for the underlying staff in a division/company etc and they all the other managers are instructed to follow. Those that do not follow the guidance are replaced. The end result will be that PBS may loose their government funding and if they chose to borrow the money and pay the interest they will have that option.

    9. @undefined says:

      Raise your hands if you think our national debt is completely out of control and it threatens the near-future financial stability of our country?
      Therefore, we must support the only Presidential candidate in the 2012 election who has made it clear he is deadly serious about dealing with our debt. Governor Romney is correct–we must review and proceed to eliminate any and all federal subsidies that seem to continue in perpetuity but are simply a waste of money.

      Let us all admit that our toddlers love Big Bird. But let’s face the honest truth: Big Bird is part of the top 1% richest individuals (I mean “enterprises”) in this country.

      For the very sake of our children, all the toddlers who love Big Bird, let’s get serious about our national debt–otherwise the future financial security of our children is in jeopardy.

    10. george4908 says:

      >>Why the government should continue to fund PBS: I've never seen a commercial media network I liked.

      If this is an argument for PBS, it amounts to "I like it, therefore the government should fund it." I like ice cream — where's my subsidy?

      More seriously: One of the founding tenets of public broadcasting is that is supposed to be commercial-free. If that ever were the case, it's not now. Corporate sponsors get more than just a name-check these days. It's more like "The Blofeld Corporation — Increasing the World's Supply of Oil Through Fracking in an Environmentally Sustainable Way." You can almost feel the resentment dripping in the announcers' voices as they are forced to read this stuff.

    11. Brian says:

      If CPB is such a great product, let it compete for capital rather than have some bureaucrat decide that I should support it financially through the taxes I pay. I happen to like PBS (mostly) and will gladly contribute VOLUNTARILY based on the continuing quality of the product overall; but if not enough others share my views, someone will fill the product void, or PBS will cut costs and illustrate, once again, the inefficiency of many government subsidized enterprises.

      As for the crown jewel, Sesame Street, that has been presented as a likely casualty to a private enterprise centric administration, nothing could be farther from reality. The administration's position just illustrates how thoroughly indoctrinated they are with government control as the best system for resource allocation. In reality, Big Bird and friends are not in jeopardy but potentially in a position to be liberated. Take Sesame Street public with an IPO (apologies for having to involve Wall Street capitalist pigs in the process). Make Big Bird the CEO. I'll bet the franchise is worth at least $5 billion. Let Big Bird soar and pay back us long-standing, patient taxpayer investors the value we deserve for our investment.

    12. Jeanne Stotler says:

      Over the years, I've seen stuffed "big birds" and Elmo's, etc, as well as coloring books, children's readers, now I suppose these are all covered under the copyright lawsand "Seame Street" gets royalties, also as with other stations, doesn't PBS charge for Ads and YES those letters we all get semi-annually asking for donations ( this would be PUBLIC) . I am all for education, BUT being forced to subsidize on TV is not my way. When my kids were growing up we had "Romper Room" and other educational shows, even "Howdy Dowdy" was educational an there were others, all paid for through ads. Ads can be limited to before and after shows if need be. Let's get tax money limited to Goverment needs and they need to be audited.

    13. steve h says:

      TLC was started by Health Department and NASA. Then it went private. Now they show Honey Boo Boo. Do we really need more crap on tv. Why not have educational information that is not bought and sold by corporations who are trying to sell you more junk. I love the idea of a public broadcasting system that is nonbiased, like CSPAN – with no commercials and no one trying to take it over with an agenda. We’re talking tiniest percentage of the budget. Fighting to keep hundreds of billions from being cut from defense funding, even though the pentagon said it doesn’t need it all, but to keep millions for public education is undoable. Shows how many are duped by the defense contractor industry.

    14. @undefined says:

      It is these kind of subsidies that need to go. The cover story of TIME Magazine a few weeks ago laid out some other subsidies, like the maintaining of tennis courts in Palm Beach, that should not require the valuable dollars or government manages a.k.a. our tax dollars.

    15. zmannw says:

      The point here is not to attack PBS specifically. It is that EVERYTHING should be reviewed as far as tax payer dollars are concerned. It just seems like everytime something gets started by the feds, it becomes permanent, regardless of whether it is still relevant or necessary. Is PBS worth borrowing money from China to support. NO. Will it fail if the feds stop sending it money? Probably not. But if it does, well, too bad. There are a lot of things I'd like to have but cannot afford, so I don't buy them. That's just common sense.

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