PBS to Run Commercials Online, including at PBS Kids site. Doesn’t it know there soon won’t be a real difference between the Web and TV?

PBS intends to run online advertising this fall at its PBS.org website. The so-called non-commercial network says it seeks to benefit from the “explosive growth and rising demand” of interactive advertising. In an example of how out of touch PBS executives are with its non-commercial mandate, a PBS VP explained that the move is a response to the demand of the market. He said that such ads would generate “positive financial results” for the network, helping it fulfill its “mission-based activities.” They claim there will be “guidelines” helping determine what ads can run. But an ad’s an ad. Incredibly, PBS will also seeks advertising for its kids website homepages—PBSkids.org and PBSkids Go!

PBS should not be seeking commercial opportunities in the broadband market. Instead, it should be pioneering new forms of non-commercial content readily available throughout our ubiquitous digital system. PBS must recognize by now that online and TV (as well as mobile) are merging. The distinction about whether content is delivered via any specific platform no longer matters. Whether received via TV, cellphone, or PC, public broadcasting content should be fully non-commercial. PBS, and its stations, (and NPR) should not attempt to replicate what commercial media companies are doing online and with mobile networks. It will be a U.S. media universe saturated with advertising. If PBS is to remain distinctive at all—it has to strictly adhere to non-commercial formats in all forms of distribution. Certainly, new PBS president Paula Kerger can do better than this. PBS officials think they have a loophole because they aren’t prohibited from running ads online (they are restricted in terms of commercials and their TV licenses). Congress must step in to bar PBS from running any ads—in any medium.

[source: “PBS to resume Online Ads to Exploit Market Demand.” Dinesh Kumar. Communications Daily. Aug. 24, 2006. Subscription only].

PS: In response to those who say that PBS needs money, so hence it must run online ads. In my view, only by creating meaningful interactive non-commercial formats can PBS hope to raise money from viewers/users. Its future is with the audience increasingly using social media web sites. It has to provide those users with distinctive content. A fully non-commercial service is likely to be appreciated with viewer support. Foundations might like it too.

PPS: Read the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childrhood’s alert on PBS ads here.

And Commercial Alert’s here.

PPPS!: See a good overview article on PBS’s deal with Google’s Adsense service. The piece includes an interview with PBS’s VP for Interactive and Education. It’s at paidcontent.org and called “PBS.org Starts Accepting Contextual Ads From Google; More Coming.” See another piece about the PBS station in Cincinnati that has “re-launched its web presence as an ad-supported on-demand video site.”

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

2 thoughts on “PBS to Run Commercials Online, including at PBS Kids site. Doesn’t it know there soon won’t be a real difference between the Web and TV?”

  1. I sort of agree, sortof not. I believe that the Public Broadcasting System should not use ads in any form, but if the money is not being given to them to create new and distinctive content, people may think their money will go to just fund what is already there. For that matter ads don’t have to be a bad thing. I love the ads in Gmail. Have you used Gmail? They don’t show up until you click on an individual email or “conversation” and then the ads pertain to words or key phrases within the email. They purely text ads and non-obtrusive. I usually don’t click on any, but sometimes I do. They’re more like reminders from companies than ads. If you don’t get what I’m talking about, just email me and ask me to invite you to join Gmail. It’s free you just have to be invited or verify by getting sent a text message. Even small banner ads like on scifi.com, yahoo.com, etc don’t bother me because there are only a one or two and they don’t get in the way. But as for those stupid blinking ads and blasted pop-ups, I cannot stand them! Just thought I’d ad my two cents.

  2. There are plans for a news network called “The Real News” in 2007 which will take no money from corporations or from the government. Just foundation donations and individual donations.


    PBS has more than news, and so “The Real News” won’t be competing in every way, but this will be competition for the PBS model of mixing corporate sponsorship, ads, government funding, and individual donations.

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