Public Television in America

Eli M. Noam, Jens Waltermann
Release Date: October 1, 1999

In Europe, television began in a public format and public broadcasting defined the medium. But in America, public television was created to fill the programming void left by commercial TV, and has been tolerated as a belated addition rather than as an equal. For decades commercial television was controlled by three networks–ABC, NBC, and CBS–the economic imperative of which led toward entertainment. Education, by default, was served by public television, always the weaker part of the broadcast system in terms of resources and audience. Money was only part of the problem; the other was organization and vision. During the 1980s, cable television expanded rapidly, and with it, private cable channels. Public TV largely missed out on the opportunity to enter the era of multichannel television.

This book examines public television today, as it stands at a major crossroad. Technologically, digitalization, multicasting, and the Internet provide a new challenge. Institutionally, the structure of the entire system is under scrutiny. And finally, its long-term funding mechanism is less certain than ever before.