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PBS Turns 30…Seconds

PBS has a new premium for big spenders. No, it's not a really nice travel mug or a Three Tenors CD. It's a 30-second spot. PBS will now allow 30-second national underwriting credits, up from the previous limit of 15 seconds per credit.

The creation of this new category of premium sponsorships is intended to keep big spenders in the tent —expected to be defined as underwriters that spend $2.5 million or more—and to get existing underwriters to boost their spending, according to the PBS board, which agreed to the change at a meeting in Williamsburg, Va., the weekend of Feb. 1-2.

The creation of the premiere sponsorships is also intended to generate new money. The board concluded that it needs to "attract corporations that would not have considered underwriting PBS programs in the absence of 30-second credits."

The change came as no surprise. Public broadcasting has been encouraged to grow its own sources of funding, but that has become increasingly tough in a down ad market. "The proposal was submitted for board consideration," said PBS Vice President, Media Relations, Lea Sloan, "after considerable softening in the sponsorship marketplace, resulting from a weakened national economy and continuing competition for corporate dollars from commercial television."

The new policy essentially extends to national sponsors a practice increasingly common at the station level. Twenty-six noncommercial stations in the top 30 markets already accept 30-second credits.

Technically, the new 30-second spots aren't ads. What's the difference between a 30-second spot and a 30-second underwriting credit? For one thing, said Sloan, they are still not allowed to feature a call to action. "You may see more of that Cadillac on screen, but nobody is going to be asking you to buy it."

According to the new PBS policy, there are a number of other constraints on the new premium spots/credits:

The 30-second credits, tabbed "premiere sponsorships," apply to prime time and The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer
but not to PBS Kids programs and the PBS Plus weekend programming service.

Corporate funders must meet a minimum spending threshold. The board's membership committee has recommended a $2.5 million threshold, although the final number has yet to be officially set.

The funding "pod" can't exceed the current one-minute limit, which means a maximum of two premiere credits per show.

Spots must adhere to current underwriting guidelines: no qualitative statements, comparisons, price information, calls to action or inducements to purchase.