Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Big Bird is a big topic this week, since Mitt Romney said he would stop funding PBS.  Lots of demagoguery going on here, but let’s look at the history and hopefully a better understanding of these things.

American Public Television began in 1961, and was a key component of the National Education Television (NET). The concept was to promote quality television in a time when there were few choices.  It also offered television to people in remote places, unlikely to be able to pick up other stations.  In its day, it was an invaluable service, as promotion of the arts and education were simply not available on NBC, CBS or ABC – the only stations available.  PBS came about in 1970 as the successor of the NET service, and the main arm of PBT. Depending on the program and the affiliate station, government funding usually ranges around 25-40% of funding.

Sesame Street had its beginnings in 1969. I don’t know of anyone who does not like Sesame Street, nor think it is a valuable program.

If government was to pull the plug on APT/PBS, would Big Bird die?  Right now, due to revenues from toys and stuffed animals, Sesame Street brings in over $15 million a year.  It is self-sustaining.  With limited advertisement, Sesame Street could easily last another 40 years.

There are many quality stations that now exist with limited advertisement, demonstrating a new economic model that PBS can adopt (with or without their annoying fund drives) to finance themselves if they wish.

Or, we may see the more popular programming offered on other stations. I’m certain that Nickelodeon or another children’s channel would love to offer Big Bird to their young viewers.

As for other programming, such as opera, ballet, symphony, and John Denver specials, we now have hundreds of channels of programming to provide a venue for these.  National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, among others offer us great programs like Planet Earth.  There are many quality children’s shows now available on other stations (yes, there is garbage also. Parents will have to be involved).  It is very likely that many of those things now offered by PBS will be supported on other stations, simply because there will be sufficient desire by the public to have them.  Advertisement can pay for the continued existence of many shows.

For those shows that just do not matter anymore, either because people do not like them, or they are now redundant, why keep them?  Jim Lehrer is a decent news anchor, but so are the dozens of others ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, Headline News, etc.  What makes him so special that we need to subsidize him anymore?  Let him compete in the market, or retire.

For symphonies or concerts, I have a variety of music stations, the Internet, etc., which provide me with many options.

In 1975, PBS began showing Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a show it obtained from BBC in England.  The program was popular and successful. So popular and successful that Monty Python soon outgrew its PBS/BBC roots and made several movies.  Many of those actors, such as John Cleese and Terry Gilliam have gone on to become major actors in films like “A Fish Called Wanda.”  They did not require government subsidies beyond the first few years to be successful.

And perhaps this should be the case with Big Bird.  There was a time when we needed quality educational, children’s, and performance programming.  But this is the era of Internet, Video on Demand, and access to your favorite shows on televisions and IPhones. PBS and Sesame Street do not need to be subsidized any longer.

While it may not seem like a lot of money, it is an example of government programs that are no longer needed living forever on the dole. If we want to fix government, we have to be willing to give up our sacred cows.  We must let freedom work, which includes the chance that some of the PBS programming may not find a place anymore.  But this may also encourage television viewers to actively contact their cable operator and demand better and more quality television offerings.

See all of Rameumptom’s posts here.

27 thoughts on “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

  1. Good summary, Rame. There is another factor that is not very fashionable but is nevertheless true: why make people who don’t watch PBS and don’t enjoy it pay for it? NBC is paid for by people who watch it (indirectly) through advertising. If you don’t like NBC you are not paying for it, so it’s all good. I like the children’s programming on PBS but dislike Bill Moyers. Why do I have to pay for Bill Moyers?

    Add to that the fact that advertising is already part of PBS (“this program was brought to you by….”) and you get exactly zero good reasons for the government continuing to subsidize it.

  2. The Sesame Street tv show is a full program advertisement for Sesame Street products. Worse, PBS/taxpayers PAY for this “commercial”.

    Sesame Street is owned by a privately held FOR-profit company called Children’s Television Workshop, who’s CEO makes over $900,000/year salary. Who gets the profits for the sales/licensing of Sesame Street toys and books? Children’s Television Workshop.

    This is the DEFINITION of “corporate welfare”.

  3. YEP. I don’t even like Sesame Street anymore, and I grew up watching it. There are better programs elsewhere on the TV, so we watch those. And when it comes down to it, when the CEO of PBS is making $600K+ a year, I’m not going to feel very sorry if any of their funding gets pulled. But let’s look at the real issues here — while the nation has been sniping on about Big Bird, our Libayn Ambassador is still dead and questions still swirl around that incident. Our economy is still in the gutter and our freedoms are still slipping fast from our fingers. Way to focus in on the important things Pres Obama.

  4. Of course! Now that we have three or four golden eggs, why would we want to keep the goose that laid them? She’d make a mighty fine roast! And besides, we can always continue to leverage the golden eggs from the UK’s goose…

  5. As a matter of principle PBS no longer serves much of a role in today’s media landscape and probably shouldn’t receive government subsidies, but as a policy question the current debate over it annoys me. It’s all a distraction, and contra Joyce above, both sides are to blame: One one hand Democrats are grandstanding and trying to portray Romney as an enemy of Childhood and the public good, spreading FUD instead of substance. On the right, focusing on PBS lets Romney avoid discussing the real issue that prompted his Big Bird remark: how he intends to pay for his tax cuts and military spending — specifically, what tax loopholes he intends to close. He won’t say, and PBS is barely a blip in the federal budget (likewise Amtrak, which his web site also targets for cuts. Military and Medicare are the big drivers of federal spending, but we know Romney’s military stance and given that he’s accusing Obama of gutting medicare I doubt he’ll touch that). That leads me to believe that if he’s serious about cutting taxes (I think he is) and not closing loopholes on middle-income earners (ditto) he’ll use deficit spending to cover the difference. That would upset me if I were a Romney supporter who was concerned over the national debt, and I think people on his side should be demanding more answers from him, even if they can’t stand the though of Obama. But instead the media will let both sides bicker over Big Bird.

  6. chanson, Sesame Street is not a golden goose. It is just one of many costs to taxpayers. Are you ready to tell me that the middle class should subsidize a corporation like Sesame Street?

    The government is not a cash cow. Money is a limited resource. We have to pick and choose what we spend it on. Should I tell some hungry poor family that we cannot afford to help them, because we have to subsidize Big Bird and the big salaries of Jim Henson’s Muppet shop? Do you feel it is okay to pay some clown $900K salary, when we could use that money to hire 18 people at $50K a year?

    We have to prioritize our resources. During a recession, when there are hundreds of TV channels of cheap channels to watch, I think it is better to finance the recovery, rather than Big Bird.

  7. Actually, Romney has stated he will take on Medicare and Medicaid, with voucher systems, limited annual increases, and sending some parts back to the states to deal with.

    That he’s willing to mention Big Bird shows he doesn’t have a problem with placing popular things on the chopping block. He could have just said he was going to axe Jim Lehrer, and probably would have gotten applause by people in both parties. Ending PBS and Sesame Street on PBS is a whole different bird.

  8. rameumptom, that actually brings to mind another issue I have with Romney: his refusal to acknowledge that his voucher plan is in fact a voucher plan. He’s repeatedly denied the label because, basically, it sounds bad to some seniors. I figure, if you think vouchers are the way to drive down costs (I don’t, but that’s for another day), be forthright about it! But that’s politics for you, where battles are fought over how a plan is labeled rather than what’s actually in it. But assuming Romney gets his way on medicare, which might be tough even with a GOP congress, I don’t think his long-term reform plans (which he has said will not affect current retirees and will therefore take years to go into effect) will offset the shorter-term costs of military spending and tax cuts. So that again goes back to what I see as Romney pulling one on his supporters: pretending to be a deficit hawk while setting himself up for massive increases. I only bring it up again because that’s one of the main issues driving conservative-leaning voters today — it reminds of of liberals who voted for Obama because they though he’d reverse Bush-era civil liberties oversteps, only to see him strengthen them. But I’m on my soapbox now; as for the OP, even if it’s more symbol than substance PBS can go the way of the dodo as far as I care :)

  9. “But let’s look at the real issues here — while the nation has been sniping on about Big Bird, our Libayn Ambassador is still dead and questions still swirl around that incident. Our economy is still in the gutter and our freedoms are still slipping fast from our fingers. Way to focus in on the important things Pres Obama.

    You realize of course that Obama isn’t the one that brought Big Bird into the conversation?

    “That he’s willing to mention Big Bird shows he doesn’t have a problem with placing popular things on the chopping block. He could have just said he was going to axe Jim Lehrer, and probably would have gotten applause by people in both parties. Ending PBS and Sesame Street on PBS is a whole different bird.”

    Actually, that he’s willing to mention Big Bird shows that he knows he will score huge points with conservatives for concentrating on a part of the budget that is so tiny most people wouldn’t even notice if it disappeared from their taxes next year.

    Show me how much he’s willing to cut from the defense budget, and I’ll show you a candidate that isn’t only interested in scoring points with the people that blindly follow the carrot.

  10. I think your numbers on Sesame Street funding are wrong (I read recently that it costs $40 mil a year to run sesame street.) I’m sure the people are paid well… But much, much less than they would be if they worked in private TV.

    But, unfortunately, the thing that I think most people who say we should get rid of the .012% of the federal budget that goes to fund PBS that is most wrong, including you here, is this: “There are many quality children’s shows now available on other stations (yes, there is garbage also. Parents will have to be involved).”

    This is simply false. If you try and watch children’s daily programming on PBS every day for a week and then go and try and spend the same amount of time watching children’s progamming on any other network the next, it will be patently clear to you. People who use this argument usually haven’t spent much time watching children’s TV lately…

    I’d make the same argument for Jim Lehrer above… (And NPR). If you listen to sound bite news channels, you might be surprised if you swore off everything but PBS’s newscast for the next week. It’s _way_ more relevant and less link-baity than anything anybody else is currently producing.

    If the market actually _had_ produced anything like what PBS’s news + children’s programming does in terms of quality, I would agree with you. But unfortunately, there continues to be little of substance on the for profit networks.

    Seriously, take the Nonny Mouse challenge. Watch PBS’s newscast + children’s programming for a whole week and then spend the next week watching a different broadcast network’s (ABC,NBC,CBS,FOX) programming. There is a significant difference. The market has failed in this case. I’m not saying the market never works, I’m just saying, like with roads and public water, public TV continues to fill a big gap.

  11. Nonny Mouse, I have already taken the challenge. I have five kids and three young ones. There is plenty of great stuff on about 10 other channels on Direct TV, which we get for $60/month. I generally don’t like TV watching for the kids, but a lot of it is educational and pretty good. If public TV disappeared my kids would not even notice. But please consider the fact that there is no way Sesame Street, etc is disappearing if the subsidies end. Sesame Street makes plenty of money through good ol’ fashioned merchandizing, so it will be around for a long time regardless of whether some people are forced to pay for it or not.

  12. Supporting PBS with commercials would be better? That would be like washing down caviar with diet coke. Commercials are the reason I hate watching most TV. Ending one immoral war would pay for many thousands of PBSs.

  13. It’s interesting that the funding of public broadcasting is even being debated, since it’s such a very small part of the federal budget. (0.001% or whatever it is–I forget how many zeroes.)

  14. I’m thinking Romney would love to make bigger changes in Medicare than he now is offering. The problem is, too many seniors would balk. Sometimes to get some things done, one must compromise. And sometimes that means pushing some things further down the road. Everyone wants government slashed, but don’t you dare cut their personal benefits and entitlements! Personally, I want them to cut down my benefits and entitlements, so my kids and grand-kids do not have to carry the burden. Unfortunately, I am just one of millions, and many of those millions believe they are entitled.

    Nonny,
    None of us are arguing that there is no value in PBS. If there were no value, cutting it would be an easy thing. I would have you think of this in another way, however. If you had to choose between feeding poor children or having PBS, which would you choose? The reality is, if we do not cut our spending, and we end up going bankrupt as a nation, then not only will there be no Big Bird, but no school lunches for poor kids, either. There will be no welfare program, no Medicare for seniors, no Medicaid or WIC for families with kids.
    Oh, and there are some great news programs out there, such as Face the Nation, and other Sunday shows. Lehrer’s format has never impressed me much. If I want details, I can read a newspaper, or research an issue on the Internet, and not get his slant.

    I agree we can fix many things by ending the wars. Iraq and Afghanistan have been mishandled for years. However, the reality is, we also live in a dangerous world. We cannot simply shut down the Defense Department, thinking the other nations and terrorists will simply stop. They won’t. We have a responsibility to not only ensure our kids are not starving, but also are not dying in terrorist attacks. Those are way more important than Sesame Street and Jim Lehrer.

  15. I don’t think I have watched PBS consistently since I was in High School, and that was for Nova before it went completely political. Not even sure if its still made. The last PBS show of substance I watched was the one on the Mormons, and that I saw online. Sometimes I would watch cooking shows with my wife, but that can just as easily be found on the Food or Cooking networks. The reason to focus on PBS that gets comparatively paltry government backing is because NO ONE wants to focus on the bigger fish. Better to cut back on something to prove we can get somewhere than continue down the path we are on and end up less than nowhere. Personally, PBS is pretty much a worthless non-issue. I want that propagandist NPR defunded like today!

  16. Geoff: We don’t have cable or Direct TV. I’m sure you’d be willing, though, to support great TV for the public by donating that $60 to PBS each month so we can get it off government subsidies, right? ;)

    Look, my basic point is that the premise for cutting PBS “there exists great stuff out there in the market already” is simply false. It’s not that I like certain programs, or that I prefer Jim Lehrer’s slant. It’s that nobody else does children’s programming like PBS does (compare, for example, Curious George to anything on the Disney channel [all I see are advertisements on line, but they all seem pretty devoid of actual educational content where as every single episode of Curious George teaches math + science skills... explicitly as part of the programming. It's the whole point of the show...]) and I have yet to see somebody on non PBS news give the kind of in depth non-sound-bitey analysis that they give. I worked for a broadcast affiliate for 2 years. I know the TV news industry relatively well, and have seen how it works behind the desk. What PBS does is fundamentally different.

    Unfortunately, there is simply no economic motivator to educate our children for privatized TV stations. The only economic motivator is to sell toys on advertisements.

    Geoff B: take the challenge for reals. Spend a two weeks watching only PBS kids shows with your kids. Only PBS. Then spend the next two weeks watching the Disney channel. PBS just does it right. Over and over and over again. Everybody else sells toys.

    Rame: “The reality is, if we do not cut our spending, and we end up going bankrupt as a nation, then not only will there be no Big Bird, but no school lunches for poor kids, either. There will be no welfare program, no Medicare for seniors, no Medicaid or WIC for families with kids.”

    I’m not arguing we need to not balance the budget in order to pay for Big Bird. I’m in favor of a balanced budget amendment and I think our country has to make some very hard decisions about things we’re willing to pay for and things we’re not. I _am_ saying that of all the things our government spends money on, if we’re going to cut things, the kind of quality programs that this provides for kids ought to be one of the last things on the chopping block. Surely, for something that is such a small percentage of the budget ($445,000,000 out of the annual $3,000,000,000,000 of spending), we can come up with a clever way of streamlining some department somewhere to come up with the cash to help partially support quality children’s programming. Heck, according to wikipedia we only need to find $80 million in the budget somewhere to cover the kinds of programs I’m talking about here. And clearly, we can do this without having to sacrifice our national defense, or any of the other programs you’ve talked about before. It’s not an either or thing here. There’s plenty of pork belly spending to get rid of :) I’m just saying that of all the things to put on the chopping block, programs that actually educate kids ought to be one of the last thing we cut.

  17. Nonny, already done that. We did not have satellite or cable for several years and just watched PBS. The kids are up at 5:30 a.m. There is a yoga woman on until 6:30. Then Curious George (good) and Sesame Street (OK). Then it is on to other broadcasting.

    Meanwhile, the 10 channels that are on include Phineas and Ferb (hilarious — I even enjoy it), lots of stuff on Nick Jr and the Disney channel and the Cartoon network, etc, etc. The Mickey Mouse Club alone is better than Sesame Street because it includes all kinds of educational stuff, but then you throw in Dora, Handy Manny and on and on, there is simply no comparison.

    If PBS went away, my kids would not even notice. If all the other stuff went away, they would be pretty unhappy (but would get over it).

  18. Nonny, again, no one is saying that PBS is bad. It is a discussion of whether it is important enough to tell children we can’t buy them school lunches, or afford to buy some kids a wheelchair, simply because we have to maintain PBS.
    Sesame Street would be picked up instantly by either Nickelodeon or Disney, if not one of the big 3 channels.
    I love Monty Python, but do not think my taxes should subsidize it. Yet, it was on PBS for many years (and reruns still seen on many stations). How is that quality television that I cannot get elsewhere?
    If you do not have cable television, then good for you! Having your kids read books, study things on the Internet, and play outside is much better than Sesame Street any old day.

    So, if we keep PBS, which children’s food/health program are you wanting to cut instead?

  19. Where do we draw the line with regard to the “I don’t want my taxes going to X” game? For example, if we are going to demand that our taxes don’t go to NPR or PBS, then I am going to demand that my taxes don’t go towards two foreign wars which, in my view, are morally unjustifiable. (Thankfully one of those wars is now over.) Give me back my money from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and public television is on me!

    The fact is that we live in a country where we are going to pay taxes which will go to things we don’t like. Many people here don’t like their taxes going to PBS. I don’t like my taxes being used to build bombs that kill people. But I have to live with it. We all do. As Jon Stewart said at his weekend “rumble” with Bill O’Reily, who was also complaining about his taxes going to NPR, “Welcome to the [expletive] Club.”

    I agree that we need to prioritize where our taxes are going. I don’t know any politician, Republican or Democrat, who wouldn’t agree with that. The question is what should we as a people be valuing more?

    I don’t know about y’all, but I’d personally rather have my taxes go toward PBS and food stamps to educate and help the poor than the military budget.

    But that’s just me.

  20. Rame: “So, if we keep PBS, which children’s food/health program are you wanting to cut instead?”

    I think you missed my point :) I’m happy to cut the coffee fund at all federal agencies to cover Public Broadcasting, and I think you should be, too :) There’s no reason why in a 3 trillion yearly budget we can’t find the 80 million to cover Big Bird by trimming something that’s truly unnecessary (do I really need to invoke the bridge to nowhere? :)). Everyone agrees that there are large sections of waste all over the federal government. I’m just saying that Public Broadcasting (especially children’s programming) is not waste. There are many other things that we should get rid of first before we starting gutting anything that helps kids.

  21. Stephen Smoot, I would rather none of my taxes go to foreign wars or to PBS. If the US is attacked, I have no problem paying for defense. I DO have a problem paying for sending troops to Afghanistan for an endless period, to Iraq, and the many other places where we seem to feel it necessary to intervene. Just today we found out we are sending troops to Jordan, so count me as somebody who is opposed to that.

    It seems to me we are both justified in speaking out about how our taxes are spent. I oppose taxes spent on PBS and I also oppose taxes spent on troops in Jordan. You may be OK with taxes spent on PBS but not on Jordan. It is your right to speak out in this manner. However, I would remind you that you are forcing other people to pay for things that you like (PBS), and personally I have a problem with that, especially when there is another perfectly acceptable alternative, which is to let the market pay for PBS.

  22. In a perfect (or near perfect) Libertarian world, almost all things would be left for free men and women to do for themselves. Our nation grew very well with little federal government interference for most of 2 centuries without largesse.
    Yes, government does have a role in defending us and promoting commerce. I don’t have a problem, then, with Eisenhower creating the interstate highway. I don’t have a problem with bombing Afghanistan (or even Iraq). However, our government does not have a clear role in nation building, and so we should not be still in Iraq (there are still several thousand troops there) and Afghanistan after all these years.
    There may have been a role in government providing quality television early on. There isn’t a reason now. If government wishes, it could require X number of channels/programs for real education to be provided by free markets. In fact, there are laws on providing children’s programming, which probably need to be updated to ensure that programming is quality stuff.

    It isn’t an issue of selecting between Sesame Street and Defense. It is an issue of finding the right ways to reduce our federal government, so that the people may be free to live their own lives, without regulation or giant debt hanging over them. If there is no real reason to keep PBS, then it should be a no brainer.

  23. And Nonny, you haven’t proven to me that PBS is not waste.

    Today on my local PBS, we see things such as a visit to a sneaker company, the cat in the hat, Cookie Monster becomes known as the Veggie Monster, Curious George tries to build a tree house, Clifford the dog gets a sweater, a sand castle disappears on Word World, Charlie Rose interviews an author of a fiction book, etc.

    Frankly, Dora the Explorer easily replaces Curious George and Clifford the Dog. I can listen to authors on CSpan, I can learn about vegetables on the Food channel from Giada, etc.

    I just do not see how important it is. Why not cut it, and let people keep the money in their own pockets???? Why do we think the government must provide us such entitlements? Are we really that addicted to Elmo that we cannot live without him? Seriously?

  24. “Frankly, Dora the Explorer easily replaces Curious George and Clifford the Dog. I can listen to authors on CSpan, I can learn about vegetables on the Food channel from Giada, etc.

    I just do not see how important it is. Why not cut it, and let people keep the money in their own pockets????”

    Because there are millions of people who don’t enjoy the blessings of Cable television that you do :) And what they have on the broadcast networks is not Giada or Dora or CSpan. It’s a bunch of crap nobody wants to watch (thus the cable channels you like) and PBS that contains some decent programming.

    Plus, at $400 Million dollars a year it’s something like $1.42 per citizen of the US for all of the public broadcasting subsidy. If you get it down to the $80 million just for the programming I’m advocating here, it’s $.25 per person per year. You really think we can’t find that in the coffee budget? You keep talking about defense. I’m talking about much smaller change here. :)

  25. If it were just an issue of one good program needing money, then I would not have a problem with this. But there are thousands of good programs that each want $400 million. It is sucking our nation dry.

    25 cents per person adds up, when there are thousands of programs each wanting that amount or more.

    We now have a deficit of $16 Trillion. How do I explain to my little grandchildren that we left them a giant debt to pay, just so they could watch Sesame Street as children?

    And if our nation goes bankrupt, then there will be no programs. The reality is, before there was television, millions of children somehow survived without Sesame Street and PBS, and somehow ended up growing up to be quality adults. Amazingly, I think we can still raise good kids without television. Many parents still do, tossing television out of their homes.

    So there is no “need” for PBS. There is a want. And I just do not see how we can justify adding more debt like that. $400 million a year is a LOT of money. We can feed a lot of hungry kids with that kind of money.

Comments are closed.