GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney suggested that American taxpayers could save $445 million a year by cutting subsidies to Big Bird and other public broadcasting characters. Predictable outrage followed. Some said that the national treasures on Sesame Street and National Public Radio should be beyond the reach of politics and are necessary expenses, even in a country that’s broke.
The free market shows that children’s television would survive those cuts. Nickelodeon has successfully created characters as beloved and profitable as Big Bird and Elmo.
Sesame Street reports annual toy sales of at least $53 million a year, according to PolitiFact. Sales of SpongeBob SquarePants merchandise and other Nickelodeon franchises total several billion dollars a year. These brands have been built without taxpayer subsidies, and educational children’s programming is found on several commercial stations. It is likely that a bidding war would develop for Sesame Street and the show would thrive without taxpayer subsidies.
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National Public Radio’s fate is less clear. Left-leaning radio programs have not fared well in the marketplace, but that is not a matter for the government to fix. The public should be free to listen to what it chooses and not be forced to pay for shows with narrow audiences.
The Los Angeles Times reported that cable systems pay about $0.53 a month to bring Nickelodeon to consumers. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is costing taxpaying households about $0.64 a month.
While this debate might be about an amount that is small in a $3.6 trillion budget, the issue highlights that not all government programs are needed. Public broadcasting filled a need when television was new, but with more than 2,200 television channels available now, none deserve a taxpayer subsidy.
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