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The general idea of sponsorships for the Public Broadcast Service, or PBS, has been ever changing and evolving in efforts to keep up with the digital age. Once there was a time in PBS’s life where broadcast sponsorships where the most effective and most popular to use, due to the fact that there was a time when the internet was not present. There came a point around the late 90’s that PBS viewers felt like what they were watching was in a sense like spinach, good for them to eat, except they didn’t want to eat it. In 2000, Pat Mitchell, a prominent cable executive ascended to power and wanted to evolve the mission of PBS away from the spinach views by instating her very useful mantra “Keep the best and reinvent the rest”. With her newfound direction, PBS began ascending from a dull, dry, and traditional media corporation, to a more edgy, hip, and informative force that utilizes traditional as well as interactive emerging media.
PBS executives came to understand that their efforts aren’t about reaching the most people, but more of a focus on reaching the “right” people. PBS reaches the most primetime viewers than any other cable company, according to ptvsponsorship.org. PBS, along with every one of their competitors began to notice a sharp decline in ratings and viewership of their traditional public broadcasting, so it seemed all too obvious that they needed to reinvent themselves. Enter Corporate American sponsors.

PBS’s goal of sponsor is to provide them not only with funding for their business activities, but also to help build a conglomerate of ideals and trust between corporate sponsors, PBS, and its viewers. PBS viewers are unique in the sense that they greatly value their corporate sponsors and they believe those sponsors are fully dedicate to quality and excellence, which in turn builds loyalty among viewers to the products offered by those sponsors. You might ask yourself, why would giant corporations like ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, McDonalds want to be sponsors of the Public Broadcast Station? The answer is that many companies use PBS as an intermediary to reach 99% of American households and to touch millions of PBS viewers. According to a recent study cited by AdAge.com, television sponsorship has a “great er impact on the emotional/implicit mind than the rational/conscious mind and both make brands famous and increases purchase intent, favorability, and ‘for me-ness’.” This provides insight into the real reason sponsorships are so vital to PBS. According to a poll on pbs.org, a majority of PBS viewers believed that sponsoring companies are industry leaders, which in turn, persuades them to purchase from PBS sponsors. PBS has the fewest non-programming minutes, so sponsor messages invariably stand out to the viewer due to Public TV’s uncluttered environment.

Over 65 million viewers in 40 million households watch public television either on air or online during an average week. Public television programs not only outperform many cable channels in audience size, they also reach viewers who don’t generally tune in cable TV, which creates a valuable unduplicated viewership. As stated before, PBS wants to reach not just any individuals, but the “right” ones. On WNET.org, it shows that PBS fragments their perspective audience into three segments; Active, Boomers, and Influentials.
The Active target audience demographic is composed of men and women in the key bracket of 25-54, who are engaged and active in their communities in volunteer and civic duties. The next, and potentially the most vital audience is made up of the Baby Boomer generation which in today’s world represents the greatest amount of buying power in the history of the country. For public television sponsors, this means that their audience falls right in the middle of America’s demographic mainstream, the sweet spot, as it is referred to, which is represented by the millions of baby boomers who hold an unprecedented buying power. The third segment, called Influentials, in itself reiterates PBS’s claim that in the fragmented marketplace of today, ‘how many’ viewers is important, but the quality of those viewers is more vital. When attracting the “right” viewers, PBS has distinguished itself from others by attempting to reach the ten-percent of the population that influences the other ninety-percent, appropriately named, “Influentials”. This segment is composed of savvy industry leaders, highly selective in their media consumption, that drive every brand. According to a MRI comparison between segments 35-64 and 25-54, the second audience is 56% more likely to be members of local government, 55 % more likely to be a member of a business club, and 36% more likely to own $150,000 or more in stocks than the first segment.

When it comes to sponsorships dealing with the Public Broadcast Station, there are quite a bit of limitations and guidelines that must be adhered to in order to ensure character and integrity to PBS and its affiliates. PBS developed a set of guidelines, as well as review processes, to protect and maintain the integrity and validity of their content. PBS has the right to review and approve all sponsorship material, as well as retaining the right to remove previously approved material, if found to not fall within the set guidelines. When proposing a sponsorship message, there must be a solid sense of accuracy within it and PBS makes sure not to let anything slip through their fingers. All product claims must be substantiated by evidence in the possession of the sponsor. PBS has a specific list of topics that they deem inappropriate for sponsors to align themselves with because it is inconsistent with their brand character and values. A few topics from this list are anything dealing with: tobacco, weapons, alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, political affiliations, religious promotion, violence promotion, advertising messages geared toward children, pharmaceutical promotion, and messages containing fraudulent, misleading, or false statements. Sponsors that include messaging that is questionable to these guidelines, they are subject to PBS’ strict review policy. It seems to me that the limitations of sponsorship is necessary for the company to ensure their integrity as well as the integrity of the sponsor, to ensure that viewers understand who and what PBS is and what values they hold.


The participation of sponsors has a direct impact on the quality and success of PBS and they depend almost solely on generous contributions alone. There is a variety of sponsorship opportunities made available by PBS. There are different levels of sponsorship packages, the most expensive is named, Platinum Plus, and it will set you back $50,000 dollars. The Platinum package costs $30,000, the Gold level packages cost $16,000, and the Silver level costs $8,000. Below these levels are additional packages that range anywhere from $6,000 to $2,500. PBS holds an event called the PBS Technology Conference every April to draw hundreds of technical decision-makers representing 356 public television stations throughout the country. This event alone provides an unprecedented opportunity for reach within the public broadcasting community and more importantly providing a chance for major contributions from sponsors.

There are two types of sponsorship available, national and local. Sponsors of national programming receive credit on-air, as well as credit on all off-air program extensions, while local sponsors receive credit on programs airing in individual markets and via local off-air initiatives. National sponsors capitalize on every conceivable opportunity to partner with PBS programming, from one time specials, to daily series’ which can be sponsored quarterly or for the full year. This is unique because PBS can customize a sponsorship that is tailored specifically for you. It is interesting to see that at one time PBS was frightened by emerging digital media, but now they are embracing it with open arms.


PBS sponsorships now extend across all media platforms to ensure greater reach. They offer sponsors multiple points of contact in order to reach their company’s target audience through a synchronized campaign across a full spectrum of new and old media. As stated before, Reach is a variable that PBS and it’s sponsors utilize to the fullest extent by focusing not only on the amount of people reached, but more specifically the right audience to reach. Sponsorships can vary in length, position, and frequency, depending on what kind of sponsorship message it is, what time it is to be aired, and any other criteria the agreement ensures. The frequency of traditional broadcast media is the highest due to the amount of television viewers, therefore sponsorship messages on this medium also reach greater numbers, as opposed to viewers of PBS’s online content.
The impact of sponsorships have created a transformation of the once, outdated image of PBS, to a more colorful, interactive entity that utilizes emerging media to expand its reach. Through sponsorships and other contributions, PBS has been able to extend their hand toward a wider audience and at the same time, focus more narrowly on local programs and communities. Sponsorships are very important in public broadcasting because television is a key destination for gaining corporate recognition, building brand image, and making an impact on target audiences.
Sponsorship with a company is much like the cattle egret that lives on the back of an elephant, in the sense that it’s a symbiotic relationship. Both the sponsor and the sponsee benefit from the deal. A sponsor can benefit by raising brand awareness, creating preference, creating positive PR, building brand positioning through associative imagery, and the creation of internal emotional commitment to the brand. The one who is sponsored stands to benefit enormously from both financial support and other forms of backing from their established partner. By entering into this relationship, both the sponsor and the sponsee, unite as one entity to establish a foundation based on similar ideals, beliefs, and objectives.

· Bailey,C. (n.d.). Charting Possible Futures. Serial Review. Retrieved April 10, 2010, from http://epress.lib.uh.edu/pr/schpup.htm

· Martin, P. (2003). Made Possible By: Succeeding with Sponsorship (1 ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

· Nathaniel, C. (n.d.). Advertising Age – Ad & Marketing Industry News. Advertising Age- Ad & Marketing Industry News. Retrieved April 10, 2010, from http://adage.com

· PBS. (n.d.). PBS. Retrieved April 9, 2010, from http://pbs.org

· WNET.ORG. (n.d.). WNET.ORG. Retrieved April 11, 2010, from http://wnet.org