Why Is The Government Now Spending Millions For PBS to Take On Established 'Corporate Giants' in Educational Apps?

Back in the 1960s, PBS was created to fill a hole in the market for educational television. So it’s strange to read The Washington Post and find PBS trying to finagle its way into a crowded market of digital and mobile apps in 2013. Reporter Cecelia Kang began: “On television, Big Bird stands tall among children’s shows. But on the iPad, he is just a little chick.”

Kang says PBS is hoping for an Internet hit with its new math show "Peg & Cat" and is competing “against corporate giants such as Disney, Fisher-Price, and Netflix for a share of the multi-billion-dollar business of entertaining and teaching children online.” Only one paragraph in this PBS-promoting story has a free-market rebuttal from Trevor Burris of the Cato Institute:

“The justification for PBS children’s grants has run out because there are now so many options available in the private market that are better and more diverse,” said Trevor Burris, a fellow at the Cato Institute. “The initial idea for broadcasting was to respond to a scarcity of spectrum and that there wasn’t enough good children’s content. You can’t say that now.”

Then came the immediate rebuttal:

PBS executives say their programs have particular appeal on mobile devices because they are well-recognized brands that parents trust.

“We are looking at new technology and apps as an exciting opportunity to reach children and engage them in new ways that ignites passion for learning,” said Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president of children’s media at Arlington-based PBS.

The Post did not offer a rebuttal to this rebuttal: why must taxpayers pay to keep the PBS “brand” relevant in a crowded marketplace that’s already educating children, where other competitors have already established themselves? Answer: PBS needs its “education for kids” brand to keep its own image as the Big Bird Channel – and not its prime-time PBS image of Ken Burns Lectures Conservatives About National Parks (or Tavis Smiley Rants Against the Tea Party).

As was easily proven by the 2012 election and Mitt Romney’s debate remarks, liberals begin every PBS debate with Big Bird and end every PBS debate with Big Bird. So liberal media outlets write stories about how PBS is trying to “stay relevant” and compete in areas where there is no reason for them to compete. In an era of trillion-dollar deficits, our government is still throwing millions into competing with the private sector:

On Monday, PBS launched its hope for an Internet hit, funded in part by a $72 million Department of Education Ready to Learn Grant. The program, called “Peg + Cat,” a math adventure series, will be introduced to preschoolers through a flood of online games and videos and will eventually make its way into some schools.

The Post also could have earned some questioning from conservatives about “how poor is poor” when it touted how even low-income kids use Web and mobile apps: “An August survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed 67 percent of families with incomes below $30,000 say they either own a smartphone or broadband Internet connection at home.”

Related: Both the Los Angeles Times ("perky") and the New York Daily News ("solid") are dutifully boosting "Peg & Cat."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis