PBS executives announced recently that their famously uninterrupted programming would soon be interrupted with commercials just like all the other TV stations. Although the nation's public broadcasting network has aired promotional spots at the end of the hour for years, the new format will slice up popular programs like "Antiques Roadshow" into 15-minute blocks with two-minutes of ads. Network executives hope that the new strategy will prevent viewers from fleeing to other stations during the promotional breaks between programs, some of which can last up to eight minutes. "It’s almost as if someone pulled the fire alarm and they scrambled for the exits,” chief programming executive John F. Wilson told The New York Times today. Under the new model there will be no break between shows, a strategy know as the "hot switch" in the industry. It looks something like this:
This is sad for two reasons. First, nobody wants to snap out of the Ken Burns zone for even a few seconds. As The Times points out in their coverage, PBS's chief selling point to both audiences and sponsors was the unbroken programming, a format that both felt more authentic and supports the in-depth focus of shows like Frontline or any of the network's many documentaries about everything you didn't think was so exceedingly interesting until you sat down and leaned in for an hour. (Case and point: Notes on Milk.)
Second, this latest shake-up draws further attention to how America's favorite source of everything balanced and objective--and Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiago?--is in trouble. Last week, on the heels of the same meeting during which executives unveiled the new interrupted programming structure, The Times also reported how a number of stations were withdrawing from the network because of record high dues, in some cases to be replaced with programming from religious networks. Paying $4.5 million in PBS dues annually and operating at a $4.2 million deficit, WTTW in Chicago nearly bailed on the network citing how "viewers can see that content on other stations and increasingly, whenever they want to on PBS.org." That website, turns out, is not an ideal solution given the vulnerabilities revealed this past weekend. In retaliation for a condemning Frontline episode on WikiLeaks, hackers broke in and reported that Tupac Shakur had been found alive in New Zealand and apparently publishing thousands of passwords. That in addition to the news leaked by insiders that Sesame Street has been spreading secret political messages for decades. Funny, a little bit. Objective and reliable, not so much.
(chart via Current.org)