PBS Accepting Ads on Web Sites

Aug 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

PBS will accept paid ads on its Web site, a course reversal brought on by a funding pinch by Congress and swelling demand for Internet ad real estate.

Five years after abandoning ads in the heat of the dot-com bust, PBS is stepping back in gingerly, unveiling a long list of the kinds of ads it will refuse. Still, the sales of ads this fall is drawing critics’ fire.

PBS this week named the newly formed online sales division of National Public Broadcasting to handle Web “display underwriting” and digital sponsorships sales and said it has already sold ads to a major supermarket chain, automakers and some nonprofits.

PBS didn’t run any Internet ads from 2001 thorough last year. It used banners to promote its own products, then in January started featuring text-only Google ad links on a few pages. It will now accept full-image advertising in standardized sizes.

PBS said ads will initially run on section fronts at PBS.org, including Arts & Drama; News & Views; History; Science & Nature; and Home & Hobbies, but also on the front of PBSkids.org and PBSkids.org/go, the two main PBS children’s sites.

PBS said it will be restrained in the kinds of ads it accepts.

Alcohol ads, M-rated video game ads, fur ads, gambling ads, political and advocacy ads, and “material that advertises products to children” are all banned, though PBS accepts underwriting from beer and wine companies for its TV shows. PBS also will ban ads from direct competitors, which it said “may include or evolve to include TV/cable networks and other products and services that compete with PBS across disciplines and platforms.”

Ads for prescription drugs, R-rated movies and any on controversial topics or that make competitive claims will be subject to “strict review,” and PBS said it expects to exclude ads for most R-rated films.

PBS will even further limit kids site advertising by not accepting ads on individual program sites.

On its two kids section fronts that will have ads, Kevin Dando, a PBS spokesman said, the half-banners will be targeted at parents.

“Sponsorship messages within PBSkids.org will preserve the noncommercial look and feel of the site and will reflect the spirit of PBS’s broadcast guidelines for kids,” he said.

“Exclusions in the Kids space will mirror our broadcast guidelines, and all advertisers and messages will be carefully reviewed and approved by PBS before they appear.”

Consumer groups have criticized PBS before for allowing some marketers to underwrite TV shows and air corporate messages during the show. On Thursday, Commercial Alert—a Ralph Nader-associated group concerned about excessive commercialism in public life—criticized PBS for accepting Web ads.

“This is a betrayal of parents and children across the country,” said Gary Ruskin, the group’s executive director. “PBS has forgotten its mission and is selling our children to the highest bidder. PBS President Paula Kerger should be fired immediately.”

“PBS is supposed to be a noncommercial alternative, but it is quickly becoming a copy of the other commercial networks,” Mr. Ruskin said.

“There should not be ads on PBS anywhere—not on its programming, and not on its Web site. If PBS wants to keep its funding from the public and the taxpayers, it’s going to have to walk its talk about being noncommercial,” he said. “People are catching on that there’s less and less difference between PBS and commercial TV. If they quack like a duck, then they’re a duck.”

Mr. Dando said the decision to again accept ads came after months of research, development and consulting within PBS and was made “given the current funding landscape for public media.”

“PBS is taking several steps to initiate new revenue-generating lines of business, including the introduction of online sponsorship on PBS Internet sites,” he said.

“PBS is responding to these market influences while also responding to the demand for sponsorship on quality online destinations, like PBS.org. We feel there is a real opportunity to open PBS.org to sponsorship messages that will help drive positive financial results for public television, while continuing to support PBS’s mission-based activities.”