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.