Monday, August 17, 2015

HBO, Sesame Street and untended consequences

Most of the industry press I've seen about the HBO/Sesame Street deal has been positive. HBO gets first-run of the iconic educational program, and in exchange, public radio stations get to air the broadcasts nine months later -- for free.

While it seems to be win/win, I believe there's a possibility that's only in the short run. In the long run, it might possibly kill public broadcasting.

Remember the last presidential campaign when Mitt Romney targeted public broadcasting?

James Poniewozik distilled the essence of the pros and cons of the fight in his October 2012 article for Time magazine, Why is Mitt Romney picking a fight with Big Bird?

It’s the defenders of public money who bring up Big Bird... whenever this happens. It personalizes the debate. It gets people worried about their favorite characters and educational TV for their kids; it conjures the specter of heartless politicians killing Big Bird. 
And if you’re a conservative budget cutter or culture warrior, you do whatever you can not to cite Big Bird, or Sesame Street, or any cuddly figure that millions of people love. You talk about Bill Moyers, or a documentary you charge with liberal bias... You tell voters that coastal socialist elites are taking your money to undermine your values! You only mention Big Bird, if you must at all, to say that government money or no, Big Bird will be fine. (emphasis mine)

Now that HBO's funding Sesame Street, Big Bird will indeed be fine. So in conservatives' minds there's even less reason to fund public television. And for the supporters, one of their most emotionally potent arguments has been removed.

With Sesame Street out of the picture, I believe we'll see the renewed call to kill public broadcasting from virtually every Republican candidate this campaign season. And why not? With Big Bird out of the picture, it will be one of the safest campaign stances ever. And should the Republicans win the White House, it will be one of the easiest campaign promise to keep.

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