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Mitt Romney should have gone after Barney not Big Bird because PBS is a dinosaur

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Mitt Romney wants to save money by cutting the
government subsidy for PBS.
During Wednesday's Presidential debate Mitt Romney said he was prepared to de-fund PBS even though he loves Big Bird and Jim Lehrer. Romney was right to take a stand against PBS, but not because it is going to save money for the American taxpayers, but because PBS is an unnecessary government intrusion in the marketplace.

In 1970 when PBS was born there weren't many television channels and educational or niche programs  wouldn't have been able to find a place on one of America's three main networks. That was the thinking anyway.

Whatever about the 1970s that justification doesn't apply today. The costs of broadcasting and getting that signal into American homes has collapsed. The market has fragmented and there are literally hundreds if not thousands of channels available to viewers. All those channels are only begging for content that will bring eyeballs.

I daresay that Big Bird, Barney, Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose and Downton Abbey would bring eyeballs wherever they happened to go. They would find homes on one channel or another. Heck, I bet even 45-year-old repeats of Lawrence Welk would find a slot on some obscure digital cable channel. {Okay, don't hold me to that one.} And, of course, broadband is blurring the lines between what is television and what is internet. Every program on PBS could be shown on TV or on the web, even Lawrence Welk.

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Again it's not about the money. PBS gets about $300m per year from the government, which represents about $1 per person per year. Obviously not a whole heckuva lot.

However, it is completely unnecessary and should be cut. Actually PBS is not just unnecessary but it actually distorts the market. All those free-market television stations and web sites should not be competing for viewers (& subscribers and advertisers) with a government-funded corporation.

We have the same problem in Ireland where the national broadcaster, RTE, is also distorting the market. Only in Ireland the cost is not $1 per person per year, but €160 ($208) per household per year - an outrageous amount.

At least PBS isn't spending tons of money to outbid commercial stations for the rights to major sporting events as RTE does. At least PBS isn't outbidding commercial stations for the rights to popular dramas and comedies as RTE does. At least PBS isn't outbidding the commercial stations for the few half-decent broadcasters in the country as RTE does.

The Irish argument in favor of keeping RTE within the cossetted public sector is that the quality of the news coverage other programming would suffer if not for RTE and it's massive tax. My response is always, "how do you know? We've never tried it."

Barney does not need PBS
to get on TV
{Photo: PBSKids.org}
I don't know if the quality of the news coverage would be as good if RTE was privatized, but at least I wouldn't be forced to pay for political programming that is at odds with my own views. That's the same for everyone in Ireland, other than the few well-heeled, liberal, south Dublin people whose views RTE expresses unreservedly.

RTE is so expensive that it's beyond just an annoyance that it gets taxpayers' money. It's immoral, people on small incomes paying for the the commercially non-viable programming beloved of the better off.

PBS is much the same, but the amounts are much smaller per person. Still, if Swan Lake can't find a sufficient audience to make it a commercial proposition on TV how is it right to take any money from those who have no interest in ballet to provide it for those who do?

It makes no sense whatever in today's day and age. You want to watch Swan Lake? Find it on YouTube if you can't find it on one of the hundreds of TV channels available today. There is no excuse for public funding for PBS. That model is as dated as a rotary telephone. It's a dinosaur and should be extinct.

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