Big Bird has bigger problems than Mitt Romney

While the GOP candidate may want to ax government funding for PBS, the Sesame Workshop has larger financial troubles.

By Jonathan Berr Oct 8, 2012 8:12AM
During last week's presidential debate, Republican Mitt Romney horrified some fans of "Sesame Street" when he said he was going to stop federal subsidies of PBS even though he likes Big Bird. Many pundits seemed to think the beloved children's character was headed for the barbecue.

"A collective stab pierced the heart of Generation X, who grew up with Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch as their best friends. I immediately thought, 'Oh no, Big Bird will be unemployed if Romney wins,'" Suzi Parker wrote in the Washington Post.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee formed "Team Big Bird" to rally the troops around public broadcasting, asking pointedly, "What did Big Bird ever do to Mitt Romney?"  "Saturday Night Live" even allowed Big Bird a chance to rebut the former Massachusetts governor.

But they're missing a bigger point. Mitt Romney is not as big of a threat to Big Bird as for-profit rivals such as "Yo Gabba Gabba" and "Dora the Explorer." Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces "Sesame Street," gets very little direct support from the government. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting awarded the show $1.25 million in funding through a National Program Service grant to PBS in fiscal 2011 and $1.4 million under the same program a year later, according to a CPB spokesperson. Those funds represent about 2% of Sesame Workshop's annual budget.

Sesame depends on PBS to distribute its shows and would be hurt if government funding for public television ended, as Romney and others have advocated. But PBS is just a gnat on the elephant of federal spending. Zeroing it out would not do squat to alleviate the deficit. A scaled-back PBS would prompt Sesame Workshop to find alternative routes to distribute its show, which might be more expensive and may not reach the low-income viewers the organization tries to reach. Though the organization has a licensing arm, it cannot rely solely on the private sector to fund its operations.

Though someone on Twitter created a Fired Big Bird account that has attracted more than 31,000 followers, dark clouds have been forming for a while over "Sesame Street," where the sun is always supposed to shine. Competition for the preschool market is tough and getting harder. Sesame Workshop reported a loss of more than $10.8 million in 2011. Early this year, the organization announced plans to lay off about a dozen workers, its second staff reduction since 2009.

Sesame Workshop reported more than $132 million in total operating revenue, including $46.9 million in licensing revenue for toys and other merchandise, in 2011. About 35% of its revenue comes from corporate, foundation and government support, according to its annual report, posted on its website.

Like for-profit media companies, Sesame needs to pay top dollar to attract talent. Carroll Spinney, who has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since the show's inception, earned more than $314,000 in compensation in 2011, according to the organization's 990 form. Former Sesame Workshop head Gary Knell earned $988,456, including $270,000 in bonus and incentive compensation. Knell became the head of National Public Radio last year.

  A reality  check is in order. Big Bird and friends have been around for more than four decades and it will take more than a cut in government support to erase the impact they have had on generations of children.  Sesame Street may be a beloved children's show but its also a big business.   The show's biggest challenge is attracting young viewers who have plethora of entertainment choices.  Politics is secondary.

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter@jdberr.

Oct 8, 2012 9:05AM
Unique idea ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Let PBS live like the rest of our Free Enterprise economy; i.e., pay their own way or go away!

Oct 8, 2012 10:46AM
Only 15% of PBS's funding comes from the government.  The rest comes from "viewers like you!"  If you're really so worked up about "losing Big Bird", put your money where your mouth is and donate.

Oct 8, 2012 10:01AM

PBS is fractionally funded by the government.  Our government must stop spending money. 

If Romney said something bad about cock roaches the media would immediatley spend time and money racking Romney over it.

It's quite obvious obama is losing this race so look for the scum bag media to pull out all the stops.  Even the unimaginable.

Oct 8, 2012 2:20PM
According to the above article PBS gets $1.25 million from the government.  Big Bird and his cohorts, Kermit, Ernie, Oscar, etal can pony up that amount and never feel the pain.  They make somewhere in the neighborhood of $175 million a year from toy sales and other promotions.  As Romney says the government doesn't need to borrow money to give to PBS. Around here PBS is always having pledge drives and they are are not shy about asking for money. 
Oct 8, 2012 10:41AM
Only makes sense... the people who raise this as a bad idea are the best example of why we need change.
Oct 8, 2012 12:18PM
This is the problem with government. It isn't how much will be saved by cutting such a paltry expense as a PBS subsidy. It's the fact that once a handout is established it is almost impossible to cut. They can always find a reason not to cut something and then we find ourselves where we are today: in debt up to our eyeballs and no political will to start making hard choices. When I can't afford my Netflix subscription, I cancel it so I can continue to pay for things that matter in my household. Government has gotten so inured to borrowing that they have forgotten this simple lesson of budgeting. Oh wait, this administration hasn't even passed a budget. Now you know why we're in the mess we're in. At some point, we have to stop discretionary spending and if it starts with forcing Big Bird and friends to fend for themselves, so be it.
Oct 8, 2012 11:45AM

I don't know why any of these articles mention that the muppets brand was

bought out by Disney years ago and I believe just before or after the

Death of Henson. This whole Big Bird thing is another non reported

crock by the media. Disney can easily fund Sesame Street either

on this channel or move it over to the Disney channel. PBS is another

bill to the tax payer at a time where we are borrowing almost half

of every dollar spent.. Time to cut all the fat and if that means to

discontinue expenditures like this then so be it. Allow this channel to

stand on its own on donations or allow some advertisers to come and

make it economically sound.

Oct 8, 2012 1:38PM



most americans like me, has more to worry about than big bird.  our gas is  at $5. americans were unable to find jobs, most homeowners that are in trouble, are still in trouble.  most americans needs help to lower their mort interest rates and unable to get loans.  we need to put food on the tables and our kids has more important needs than big bird.  i can go on and on.


our deficit is at 16.3 trillions $$$.  if we do not vote smart this coming nov our children's children will have to carry the burden we now face. 


with that in mind, can you mr. berr, write a meaningful article that will help americans determine who best qualify to become the president of usa?  for example, write about the two men.  what they have accomplish in their past lives, the job they have done and the successes they have accomplished that will help determine who best lead this country?  find out who is the better leader between romney and obama based on their past lives.  that will do mr. berr. 




concern american

Oct 8, 2012 11:55AM
PBS is one of billions of gnats that are sucking our elephant of a nation dry. They ALL need to be swept away.
Oct 8, 2012 1:19PM
Maybe they should try cutting the budget for the staff, by the way, let's see the pay for those who operate the PBS stations, plus their bennies, what are they making?
Oct 8, 2012 12:19PM

you know if big bird is the only way kids can get education

then this country is in big trouble! i guess the left wing big

govt school programs aren't working too good are they?

i guess big union teachers like in chicago aren't doing

their job either like most big union teachers who can't be

fired for incompetence like Obama! finger to pbs and big bird!

Oct 8, 2012 1:27PM

Cut out all of this nonsense pork barrel- buy me a vote spending. A little here and a little cut there and all of the cuts Hollywood receives and we will be on our way to an economic recovery and Lindsay Lohan can get back to drug rehab, Paris Hilton can get back to struting around on cars naked and I can get back to figuring out how to feed my family with the taxes I will save in the coming trillon dollar inflation.  


I am tired of hearing poorly educated stoned actors and actresses telling us why we should vote for their candidate. These people can't manage their own lives, why would i want there advice on how America should manage itself.  

Oct 8, 2012 1:39PM
When Sesame Street makes hundreds of millions in marketing products, I say they are a big business and need to be taxed more ala Obama-NOT funded by the middle -class. No more Chinese money for Big Bird!
Oct 8, 2012 2:57PM

Perhaps Big Bird could pay the Government back for all the royalties they recieve from toy manufacturies.Tax payers should not subsidize.


Oct 8, 2012 12:59PM

Time for Big Bird to get a real job.  That funding money can be put to better use.  As many have posted there is a better way to educate instead of sitting in front of a TV at home.


Oct 8, 2012 1:39PM
Democrats outsource my income to other lazy democrats.
Oct 8, 2012 1:18PM
If the people running Sesemee Street can't make money off it they need to get different jobs! Sesemee Street is a gold mine. They sell everything from toothpaste to toys to books. If they can't do it they can give me the rights to it. :) I will take just 1% off the top and I guarantee it would make money and I would have a HUGE increase in income!
Oct 8, 2012 3:03PM
What would really be of great value and influence to children is to be read to, and to see their parents reading for their own pleasure and knowledge.  For many years now, parents have depended on television to educate and entertain their children, and we can see how well that has turned out.  Education has been degraded by parents who are too lazy or not interested in teaching their own children.  And yes, I know that many of them will say I'm too tired after working all day.  Sure, but you manage to watch television before you go to bed.  Can't you read a little book to your children before they go to bed?  And yes, they cost money; but have you never head of a library or garage sale or such?  Many of the programs that kids whatch are degrading their little minds and personalities.  Have you put parental controls on your television?
Oct 8, 2012 1:07PM
Time for big bird to go network the 70s are over
Oct 8, 2012 9:36AM

Politics is secondary.

Not in an election year.

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