Public Service Broadcasting is a broadcasting program meant for the public, financed from public funds and commercial undertakings. Companies that offer broadcasting services of this nature are mostly state owned or non-profit organizations.
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Public broadcasting is mostly employed by governments for educative reasons, quality programming and informative purposes, which is not always the case in most countries. Broadcasting in the America is no exception; it has degraded in value due in recent years due to various reasons mentioned herein.
In the United States, the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), a non-profit organization, was founded to broadcast to public television stations. The organization, rather than distributing its services directly, relies on its member stations for this purpose. PBS’ lack of a central program production department gives the member stations more flexibility in choice of programs.
PBS is not accountable to member firm programming schedules, thus state public television providers often tend to air programs that appeal to their individual citizens.
Furthermore, some states have more than one PBS member station, leading to competition for viewership which results in more airtime given to popular programs. The competition also leads to a lack of unity, which further undermines the public broadcasting initiative.
Source of financing for public broadcasters in the US could help explain why programming is different from the model used in Europe. Funds required to operate a public broadcasting service are mainly from donations, television fees, government grants and commercial advertising services.
In the US, money sourced from the federal is only a percentage of its budget, which leaves public broadcasters to rely, on a great extent, on commercial advertisements.
America’s market driven culture will require such stations to concentrate more on entertainment programs, and thereby awarding less time to educative programs. A major sponsor fall-out from a contract might lead to budgetary cuts and frozen salaries for a program’s newscast, for example “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” program on PBS (NY Times 2008).
Due to the bureaucracy involved in most non-profit organizations, a lot of consideration is given to the stories aired in public media. Public service broadcasters would be reluctant to air negative news about a key donator, or even a politician, for fear of loss of funds or job loss. For this reason, news content is reviewed in more detail and, depending on management’s stand, edited before it can be aired.
This causes a delay in airing the news, the outcome of which is a loss in the viewership market to private media companies that are always keen on being the first company to report the news.
Subsequently, the low viewership ratings will lead to a loss in advertizing revenue that public stations desperately require. Low funds would imply that fewer funds are spent on technology and personnel, thus public broadcasters loose out to for-profit organizations in delivery standards.
Public stations are also facing a hard time in a market characterized by capitalism. Public broadcasting stations, due to lack of adequate resources, cannot compete for quality journalism talent with private companies. America’s corporate culture has a strong influence on journalism personnel, who will seek employment from top US media companies such as CBS, FOX and CNN, due to hefty pay packages and recognition.
Lack of a qualified and respectable journalism workforce furthers a public station’s problems since most viewers relate credibility to recognition. As such, prime hours, in a public broadcaster’s schedule, fail to reach the initial targets set by management. Management in public broadcasting stations are currently in search of for programming services that will increase viewership.
Sponsors require public stations to air programs that will reach large audiences, so as to better market their products; else they’ll end the sponsorship contract. This has the effect of airing more commercial based programming for the American public stations, rather than qualitative programming.
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Most private media conglomerates show-case programs nowadays which would traditionally be aired by public broadcasters. With more money at their disposal, private media companies use better technologies and experts in order to get quality programming, as they seek to expand their audience.
Public broadcasting stations are facing an uphill task of catching up to such media powerhouses, given that they have fewer resources and the slow nature of their decision making processes. Independent film makers also opt to enter into contract with these large media companies due to the lucrative royalties.
Without enough fresh material to air, most public stations result to repeating broadcasted dramas, comedies and science fiction during off-peak hours. Failure to innovate on their part forces public stations to sit by and watch as conglomerates eat up their market share. Without enough sponsors, the government will be forced to step in and infuse money into the station’s budget.
As with most lenders, a government loan comes with regulations. The broadcasting station will be required to take measures that will ascertain its long term future and plans that will help repay public funds used in the bail-out.
From the above argument, it can be seen that the public service stations will be forced into profit making activities, while trying to maintain objective programming. The public broadcaster’s management will end up being more selective in the events and programs they wish to air, thereby placing more emphasis on material that is likely to attract advertising.
This diverts management’s efforts towards source of funds, rather than on quality programming. Managers are also looking for ways to attract young viewers, since the audience of public service stations comprises of mostly an ageing population. Public television in recent years now focuses on a large extent in providing children and cultural programming, as the public stations concentrate on these two niche markets.
Unless PBS makes efforts to modernize its technology and gain public support, then public broadcasting in the US will cease to serve national objectives. Member PBS firms should also establish guidelines so to ensure coordination in programming, which will guarantee uniformity along state borders.
The guidelines set in place need to be obligatory, as this will ascertain conformity in programming of quality programming, as opposed to commercial practices. The American government should review its budgetary support framework for public stations, while still steering clear of managerial influence and control.
Without these funds, public stations will be left to rely extensively on advertizing revenue, which comes with its own drawbacks, as stations are forced to detect into commercial broadcasting. In so doing, both the government and the public service broadcasters can ensure timeliness of information, and qualitative and educative programs meant for the public good.
But even if these suggestions are implemented, a few questions still remain; will the public stations be able to compete with private enterprises? Are public stations self sustaining in the long-term? And finally, how long are they here to stay?
Buckley, S., Duer, K. M., Mendel, T., (2008). Broadcasting, Voice, and Accountability: A Public Interest Approach to Policy, Law, and Regulation. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Bullert B.J. (1997). Public television: politics and the battle over documentary film. San Francisco, CA. Rutgers University Press.
Caves, R. E., Guo, K, (2005). Switching channels: organization and change in TV broadcasting. London: Harvard University Press.
Jensen, E. (2008, May 19). Lehrer Says ‘News Hour’ Money Woes Are Worst Ever. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/19/business/media/19newshour.html
Seneviratne, K., ASMICC, (2006). Public service broadcasting in the age of globalization. New York: AMIC Publishers.