Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Remember When Republicans Were Trying to 'Kill Big Bird'?

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the Most Interesting Bird in the World™

There I was, minding my own business, waiting for this Lipton Tea ad to finish loading so I could close it without crashing my computer again (long story!), when I noticed it was being pitched by... a Muppet. That's right. The same Muppets singing the praises of Toyotas night after night...these guys are grubbing for money everywhere! That does it! The gloves are off!

Back in 1995, in 2010 and once again during the presidential race of 2012, there were discussions about reducing or eliminating federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as a "low hanging fruit" means of starting to cut the Brobdingnagian colossus that is federal spending. Each and every time, principled liberals (stop laughing!) managed to muster one essential, substantial argument against it: 'Republicans Hate Big Bird'.

'Republicans Hate Big Bird'. 'Republicans hate Sesame Street.'
'Republicans want to kill Big Bird'. 'Republicans Hate children'.
Yada, yada, yada.

The facts, that liberal minds are apparently too pure to look upon, suggest otherwise.

Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting increased from $250 million in 1992 to $350 million in 2002. It has since increased to $450 million for fiscal year 2012. At the current rate of funding, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would take in between $5-6 billion from taxpayers over the next decade. While the figure is not huge in terms of the overall budget and spending crisis, it’s just a small piece of the entire pie that could be cut.

The taxpayers, you and I, have subsidized CPB/PBS/NPR and Big Bird to the tune of billions of dollars. That's "Billions" with a "B". We are poised to spend Billions more. The question, apart from whether a country so far in debt can afford it, is: Will cutting federal spending for public broadcasting "kill" Big Bird?

When pressed, PBS admits that federal funding is a small portion of their overall funding*. If they had to compete as a privately owned cable network, how would they fare? According to PBS themselves:

Over the course of a year, nearly 90% of all U.S. television households - and 217 million people - watch PBS. The demographic breakdown of PBS' full-day audience reflects the overall U.S. population with respect to race/ethnicity, education and income. (Nielsen NPower, 9/24/2012-9/22/2013

In a typical month, 104 million people watch their local PBS stations. (Nielsen NPower, 9/30/2013-10/27/2013)

PBS' primetime household audience is significantly larger than many commercial channels, including HBO (PBS' audience is 98% larger), Bravo (93%), TLC (93%), HGTV (74%), Discovery Channel (64%) and A&E (53%). In addition, PBS' primetime rating for news and public affairs programming is 119% higher than CNN’s primetime audience. (Nielsen NPower, 9/23/2013-3/30/2014)

So, their audience share is larger than quite a number of cable channels who manage to get along just fine without government why can't PBS?

And Big Bird??

Back in 2010, I wrote a piece called "Demagogues-R-Us", in which I referenced the illustrious Mr. Bird:
Back in 1995, when Republicans suggested a cut back in support for public television, the issue was (and is again) being couched as "Republicans hate Sesame Street", or "Republicans hate Big Bird". Never mind the fact that the Muppets, a division of the Disney empire**, have garnered huge financial rewards via licensing, toys, books, movies, clothing, DVDs, etc.*** In the demagogues' mind, moving Big Bird away from the public trough is to "hate" Big Bird.

In the wake of the Juan Williams debacle, the wisdom of public funding for such a slanted media outlet comes again to the forefront, and still the demagogues trot the Muppets out as if Republicans hate children.

Is Big Bird now part of the 1%?? Should we "Occupy Sesame Street"?

Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children's Television Workshop, or CTW) is the owner and sole proprietor of Sesame Street as well as television properties Dragon Tales, Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, The Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, Square One TV and Big Bag.

In December 2000, Sesame Workshop bought the rights to the Sesame Street Muppets for $180 million, from the then German owned Jim Henson Company. The rest of the Muppets were sold back to the Henson children for $78 million, who later sold the characters to Disney for an undisclosed price, but probably under $200 million. There's a reason why the Muppets sell for hundreds of millions of dollars: they're worth it. The Tickle me Elmo doll alone sold a million units in 1996, at around $30 a pop. (Up to $1,500 on the black market by Christmas). The Weekly Standard reports that in "...2011 Sesame Workshop took in $46.9 million in licensing income from Sesame Street."

Year in, year out, after thousands upon thousands of different products and commercial ventures, I think Big Bird is solvent enough to pay his own way. And if he wishes to light his cigars with $100 bills, he is perfectly within his rights. He just shouldn't expect the rest of America to pay for it.

* NPR Doesn't Hate You, Middle America. They Still want Your Money (video)

** At that time, I didn't know that there were Muppets and then there are Muppets!

*** some 100,000 different Sesame Street products licensed by CTW/Sesame Workshop.

Original art by John Cox. More at John Cox Art
Cross posted at LCR, Political Clown Parade


  1. There was a time when among at least some conservatives there was still class and refinement. I guess those days are all but over.


  2. There was a time when liberals didn't lie through their teeth at the drop of a hat. Mostly about conservatives.
    Remember when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans wanted to increase the federal dollars spent for school lunches but give more control to the states? And all the liberals could bleat was that the Republicans want to "cut" school lunches and starve children. That kind of "class and refinement", Jersey?


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