Endangering Big Bird?

Mitt Romney has recently taken a bit of heat for saying that funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should be cut. I happen to agree with that stance. The Federal government should not be in the business of subsidizing speech, as when government subsidies come into play, the speech is not truly free – as in freedom, not price.

But a lot of people seem to think that cutting funding to the CPB means that Sesame Street is in trouble. And nothing could be further from the truth.

For one, look at Planned Parenthood. When their Federal funding was threatened, private donations skyrocketed for a short period of time. If people really want to see something stick around, they’ll fund it. If Federal funding to the CPB is threatened, we could expect private donations to make up a good portion of the difference, possibly even overtake the difference. After all, it is one of the reasons the various PBS stations hold their massive telethons every year, as government subsidies do not pay all the bills.

But let’s say the "worst case" happens and PBS ends up going away as a result. Does this mean there is no home for Sesame Street? Again, hardly.

Sesame Street has been around since 1969 and is a name readily recognizable by… well… anyone. This means that if PBS were to go away, the company behind Sesame Street could probably shop the show around and have the other major broadcasters practically beating each other up competing for it because the show would be an advertising boondoggle to the channel(s) that picked it up. Nickelodeon, Discover, even ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox could pick up the show to keep it on the air channels. Again it would be a ratings and advertising "cash cow" to those networks.

Seriously, folks, if there is enough demand to keep Sesame Street around, even if PBS goes away, the money will flow to keep it around somehow. That is how private sector markets work. Sesame Street doesn’t need the government to keep it going, and the sheer amount of money likely being churned up each year in merchandising alone shows this.

Now the other shows on PBS may not fare so well, but then that is the market’s "natural selection" at work: something you cannot convince private investors to fund likely isn’t worth funding.