fbpx

Latest Posts

Home

Facebook

Twitter

Search
About

Public broadcasting = Government broadcasting

On Tuesday, my colleague Tom Steward wrote about how Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), under pressure from one of Gov. Walz’ aides, deleted footage of an event which went badly for the First Lady.

Who are the ‘public’?

What does the ‘public’ in Twin Cities Public Television mean? NBC and CBS are both public in the sense that members of the public, such as you and I, can watch them, assuming we have a TV, and if we don’t we cant watch TPT either.

Does it refer to the ‘public’ interest, which TPT is supposed to serve? Again, NBC and CBS serve the interest of the section of the public which watches them. And, judging by their relative ratings, the public are, on average, much more interested in the output of NBC and CBS than they are in that of TPT.

Who pays?

There is an old saying back in England: he who pays the piper calls the tune. NBC and CBS are paid by their advertisers, so they have to please them. They do so by drawing big audiences for their adverts. And they do this by putting on shows that (they think) a large portion of the public will like.

In their excellent textbook Modern Principles of Economics, economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok write that “Good institutions align self-interest with the social interest”. We see that here. People get programs they enjoy not because NBC and CBS are run by altruists who get a kick out of entertaining people, but because NBC and CBS want to get money from advertisers. In turn, those advertisers don’t hand over money to NBC and CBS because they get a warm fuzzy feeling when kids jump up and down with excitement watching American Ninja Warrior. They do it because bigger audiences for their advertisements will help them sell more of their products. The institutions – TV companies, advertising, advertisers – are aligned with the social – or public – interest.

It is a different set up with TPT. It gets much of its funding from the government. So, just as NBC and CBS have to please their advertisers, TPT has to please government. This is how videos of uncomfortable meetings get deleted.

The government, in turn, gets its money not from businesses which have to produce a good or service the public want to pay for to generate revenue, but from the public on pain of imprisonment. Here the institutions align self-interest very differently. TPT gets its money from the government, which may, in return, get helpful coverage. The government gets its money from the public, which pretty much has no choice in the matter. There is no incentive anywhere here to provide the public with programming they actually enjoy. That is borne out by the relatively low ratings for TPT’s product.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

Comments

Subscribe

Categories

Upcoming Events

  • Morning in Minnesota: St. Cloud

    Location: St. Cloud

    Sign up HERE! Courtyard by Marriott St. Cloud 404 West Saint Germain Street St. Cloud, MN, 56301 Please join Center of the American Experiment on Tuesday, July 21 for breakfast with Center policy fellow and education expert Catrin Wigfall as she explains K-12 education in the state and its persistent disparities despite decades of increased spending. Following her presentation, Catrin will lead a Q&A session. 7:30 AM Check In and Breakfast 8:00 AM Presentation 9:00 AM Conclude   Catrin Wigfall is a Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment. She is also the director of EducatedTeachersMN and EmployeeFreedomMN. Catrin’s…

    Register Now
  • Kristi Noem: The Courage to Reject a Shutdown

    Location: Online

    Sign up HERE! Join us Wednesday, July 8th for an interview with South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem over Zoom. In response to COVID-19, Noem defied the norm of a statewide shutdown and let South Dakotans choose for themselves what safety precautions to take. Tune in to this live online event to hear how Governor Noem preserved her state’s economy while still keeping citizens safe. Wednesday, July 8th at Noon CT Sign up HERE!  

    Register Now
  • Morning in Minnesota: Marshall

    Location: Marshall Golf Club

      Sign up for this event HERE! Please join Center of the American Experiment on Thursday, July 16 at Marshall Golf Club for a breakfast with Center economist, John Phelan, as he discusses Minnesota’s economic future. Following his presentation, John will lead a Q&A session. 7:30 AM Check In and Breakfast 8:00 AM Presentation 9:00 AM Conclude John Phelan is a graduate of Birkbeck College, University of London, where he earned a BSc in Economics, and of the London School of Economics where he earned an MSc. He worked in finance for ten years before becoming a professional economist. He…

    Register Now