What are the advantages of PBS?

Twin Cities PBS

Last updated on December 10th, 2021

Last week, the Trump administration released its proposed 2018 federal budget. As expected, it’s very slanted toward boosting military spending (it proposes a $54 billion increase), and tax breaks mostly favoring the wealthy. It also would cut all manner of discretionary spending, from anything to do with climate change to public broadcasting. Specifically, funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which helps support PBS and NPR stations) would be eliminated entirely. Currently, $445 million a year goes to the CPB. The Washington Post has a detailed analysis on all of the budget’s proposals.

Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney addressed the proposed CPB cuts in a TV interview a few days ago. As Politico wrote, Mulvaney stated this in the administration’s defense:

“When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no,” Mulvaney said Thursday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

While this isn’t a political blog, this is one that tries to cover media-related topics, and gutting public broadcasting’s definitely something I’m against. The US already spends more than the next six countries combined on military spending, including world stage rivals Russia and China. The idea single mothers in Detroit—a heavily Democrat-leaning city with a large African-American population—would favor cutting all PBS spending just to buy more tanks is ludicrous. I’ll note WTVS (Detroit Public Television, the PBS affiliate in Detroit) gets 10% of its funds from the CPB.

I suppose the aforementioned Detroit mother could likely pick up CBC and TVOntario (Canada and Ontario’s public broadcasters respectively) from Windsor, Ontario over-the-air. However, that doesn’t lessen the value of PBS, or serve Detroit viewers specifically.

PBS, of course, isn’t taking this lying down. They’ve posted an infographic to their Twitter account listing what they feel are the public broadcaster’s advantages:

What are some of PBS’ advantages in the era of Netflix and YouTube? I’ll look at some of them below.

Children’s programming

Word Girl logo
“Word Girl.” (PBS)

PBS’ children’s programming has been one of the network’s strongest and most popular aspects. Their children’s programming has been under its own brand since 1994; before that, “Sesame Street” and the like aired under the general PBS banner. Since 1999, “PBS Kids” has been the name of PBS’ kids’ show lineup.

Among PBS Kids’ advantages:

No commercials

I’d imagine parents greatly appreciate the lack of commercials.

Quality programming

Many of the shows are well done and have dedicated viewership. “Arthur” is PBS Kids’ second-longest-running show, airing since 1996.

Now available 24 hours a day

PBS Kids is now available 24 hours a day, between its streaming platforms and (recently) a national-level PBS Kids digital subchannel. Some PBS stations had programmed localized children’s digital subchannels on their own until recently.

The only major over-the-air children’s programming left

As I’ve written before, children’s programming is pretty much dead on commercial over-the-air broadcasters. The commercial networks air a limited amount of “E/I” (educational/informative) programming to meet FCC requirements. However, most of them aren’t the most well done shows, and usually only air on weekend mornings. Thus, cord cutters who’ve dropped cable, plus those who can’t afford it, will appreciate PBS as an option.

News programming

PBS’ “NewsHour” has been the network’s evening newscast for decades. The Huffington Post reports that ratings for it have actually been rising lately. The rise of sensationalism and cable TV news’ quality decline are cited as some of the reasons.

Since PBS is noncommercial, it also might have fewer conflicts of interest in reporting on some issues (like net neutrality or media consolidation) versus the other networks, who’re all part of big conglomerates.

Online presence

PBS has a strong online presence. As noted above, PBS Kids also has a strong presence via streaming and apps.

The network also has a strong YouTube presence through PBS Digital Studios. Among other YouTube channels, the Idea Channel is well done, and popular; it has over 748,000 subscribers as of this writing.


Ultimately, I’d hope that PBS (and NPR) aren’t drastically harmed, especially if Trump’s budget passes as-is. Hopefully my local stations would get through a worst-case scenario, though I’m less optimistic about smaller PBS stations, such as a few of the ones back in the Midwest (where I grew up). Either way, public broadcasting funding shouldn’t be tossed aside, especially to pay for unnecessary or flawed spending plans.

Photo by Michael Hicks. (Flickr / CC BY / cropped from original)

Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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