Friday, October 12, 2012

Fact Check: Big Bird and Taxpayers

Once again the media has attempted to portray a (somewhat) conservative candidate as evil.  Mitt Romney has promised to cut taxpayer funding for PBS and the media and White House accused a candidate of trying to kill Big Bird.
Trying to keep things in perspective, let's look at the facts and not the rhetoric.

Public Television funding not simple.  Public television stations around the country are all run independently of PBS.  PBS member stations pay high fees for the shows that are distributed by the national organization.  The member stations have the freedom to choose their scheduling and programming will vary across the country.  However, PBS does require particular programs be carried and marketed on a national basis.

PBS is different from it's radio counterpart, NPR (National Public Radio).

PBS has no news department.

All the programming created under the PBS heading is created by other parties.

Once PBS accepts a program for distribution, PBS owns the exclusive rights for rebroadcasts, but local stations negotiate with PBS rights to licensed merchandise.

PBS stations are operated by non-profit organizations, state agencies or local authorities (Boards or Education or Universities).

Somewhere between 50 - 60% of public television revenues come from memberships, donations and grants.

PBS is funded by Congress through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to the tune of $422 million in 2010.  CPB funds both PBS and National Public Radio.
In 2010 CPB allocated $281 million for public television.
That same year, PBS had revenues of $570 million.  (This number does not include the fee paid to PBS by affiliates for programming, so their total income is higher than $281 + $570 million in 2010)

Now onto the Sesame Street Controversy...
Sesame Street is created by Sesame Workshop, another nonprofit organization.  It's assets are valued at $289 million.
It gets money from multiple government agencies AND receives $4 million a year from PBS. Sesame Workshop, while not part of PBS is distributed by PBS to their member stations.
The show makes 26 episodes per year, each 1 hour long at a production cost of $14 million.

Sesame Workshop took in $47 million from licensing Sesame Street products, $45 million from donations for it's programming and $42 million in distribution fees and royalties for $134 million.
$19 million is from federal funding (of which $1.5 million is from PBS).

Since 2004, Sesame Street has run on a cable channel (Sprout) in addition to PBS stations.  So, Sesame Street doesn't depend on PBS for it's income and sole distribution, in fact, PBS now needs Sesame Street.

And in case you were interested in how a non-profit spends their income, look to the salaries of the "actors". The man who portrays, Big Bird as well as Oscar the Grouch earned $314, 072.  And he isn't the highest paid puppeteer.  Joseph Mazzarino who portrays other characters earns $500,000 per year.  Other characters make between $300,000 and $450,00 per year.

How can an organization that takes public funding pay their actors this much? Isn't this irresponsible and corrupt?  If they were a private company who earned their money, it would not be my concern, but the press would vilify them.

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