Big Bird Bailout: Does Sesame Street Need Federal Funds?

October 5th, 2012

Despite the fact that the US government owes trillions upon trillions in debt and unfunded liabilities, virtually no specific cuts were mentioned in last Wednesday’s presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. In fact, both candidates outlined policies that would increase spending by billions. This may be because the moment any candidate ever announces a budget cut, the opposition paints them as a heartless and cruel person who wishes harm on others.

However, Mitt Romney did offer one oddly-chosen, relatively-small budget cut: funding to PBS, and, in so doing, he specifically name-dropped Big Bird. Immediately, television media outlets and the social media universe went wild, painting the cuts to Sesame Street as cruel, draconian, and against children. Big Bird memes popped up everywhere online. In all the panic, however, few stopped to ask whether or not PBS or Sesame Workshop even needs federal funds to survive. Sesame Street is arguably one of the most popular children’s television brands of all time. Let’s take a closer look at where it gets most of its funding (spoiler alert: not the federal government).

Sesame Street’s Staff Admits: Federal Funds Not Needed

Some may be surprised to discover that cutting federal bucks to Sesame Street would not by any means force the beloved program off air. According to a report by NY Daily News, PBS has a $475 million dollar budget, only 15% of which comes from Congress.

In an interview with CNN, Sesame Workshop’s executive vice president Sherrie Weston admitted that little of Sesame Street’s funding comes from the government, “Sesame Workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS. So, we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship. So quite frankly, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of public broadcasting. But when they always try to… say we’re going to kill Big Bird—that is actually misleading, because Sesame Street will be here.”

Sesame Street’s Golden Parachutes

Children’s broadcasting can be quite lucrative for those involved. According to Breitbart, Sesame Workshop (the organization behind Sesame Street) is having no difficulty making ends meet. The organization’s CEO Gary Knell brought home $956,513 in compensation in 2008 alone. Merchandising has also been fiscally rewarding, with Big Bird and company raking in an average of over $50 million per year.

All-in-all, federal government funding is not necessary to keep Sesame Street on the air. The cries of panic about the cancellation of lovable characters like Bert, Ernie, and Big Bird just don’t match up with reality. Even Sesame Workshop staffers admit that government welfare is not a necessary part of their funding formula. Given that the US government is trillions deep in a debt ditch, it might be time to stop treating every single funding item as a sacred cow. Cutting Congressional aid to PBS won’t drive the channel off air, end Sesame Street, or have any other noticeable impact on American lives. In fact, the clamor surrounding the cuts might make it easier for Sesame Workshop to raise funds and sell merchandise. As a bonus, funding cuts to PBS might mean that the feds will stop using the endless repetition of Sesame Street songs to torture people detained in Guantanamo Bay, which Al Jazeera reported on earlier this year.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.