PBS Makes a Questionable Momentum Play

So what’s next, the U.S. Government putting ads on dollar bills? Maybe hospitals could add interactive ads to x-rays and sonograms. Consumer reports dumping its virus-writing magazine and starting a social networking site?

Jeff Chester reports that PBS has decided to run online ads this fall at PBS.org and PBSkids,org.

Why? You know why: “to benefit from the ‘explosive growth and rising demand’ of interactive advertising.” Oh, and because it is “a response to the demand of the market.” Right.

Jeff sums up this mistake nicely:

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) is merging. The distinction about whether content is delivered via any platform no longer matters. But what does matter is that PBS, and its stations, don’t 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.

The reason that most people support PBS is because it offers programming that they cannot generally get elsewhere. Granted, the hundreds of channels available via cable and satellite have blurred the distinction a little. And as we all know, PBS has nosed up to, but not yet crossed, the line by adding sponsorship messages at the beginning and end of some shows. But adopting the mercenary and short sighted approach of the mainstream media (as well as all of Web 2.0) is inconsistent with the history and mission of PBS. If any of this online mistake creeps onto the television, I suspect many of PBS’s supporters will cry foul when they get the letters and phone calls about donating to the cause.

You can’t act like Fox and expect to be treated like the neighborhood co-op.

What disappoints me the most is that I would have expected the brains behind PBS to see through the advertising hype and avoid the temptation to make what is clearly a momentum play.

I wonder what Louis Rukeyser would say about this investment?

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