PBS to Sell Web Advertising

But Unveils Long List of Unacceptable Ads

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- PBS will begin to sell ads on its website for the first time since 2001, and that plan is drawing some criticism from groups that believe it should stick to its noncommercial roots.
PBS plans to run ads on the section fronts of its website, but has banned many types of companies from the space
PBS plans to run ads on the section fronts of its website, but has banned many types of companies from the space

Some ads already sold
PBS this week named the newly formed online-sales division of National Public Broadcasting to handle "display underwriting" and digital-sponsorships sales and said it has already sold some of the ads to a major supermarket chain and to automakers and some nonprofits.

Ads will initially run on the section fronts of the PBS website. Those include: arts, news and views, history, science and technology, and business and finance. Ads will also appear on pbskids.org and pbskids.org/go, the two main PBS children's sites. PBS has used ad banners on its site, but devoted them to promoting its own products. Now those and other placements will be available. In January, PBS started featuring text-only Google ad links on a few pages. It will now accept full image advertising in standardized sizes.

PBS is well aware that this is an area where it has to tread carefully, and has unveiled a long list of the kinds of ads it won't accept. Alcohol ads, M-rated video-game ads, fur ads, gambling ads, political and advocacy ads, and "material that advertises products to children" are all banned, said PBS spokesperson Kevin Dando. Currently, PBS accepts underwriting from beer and wine companies for its TV programs.

No ads from competitors
PBS also will ban ads from direct competitors which Mr. Dando said "may include or evolve to include TV/cable networks and other products and services that compete with PBS across disciplines and platforms."

Ads for prescription drugs, R-rated movies and any controversial topics or ads that make competitive claims will be subject to "strict review," and PBS said it expects to exclude ads for most R-rated films.

PBS will even further limit advertising on its two kids sites, taking ads only on the site fronts, but not on individual program sites. Even there, Mr. Dando said, the half banners will be targeted at parents.

"Sponsorship messages within PBSKids.org will preserve the noncommercial look and feel of the site and will reflect the spirit of PBS's broadcast guidelines for kids," he said. "Exclusions in the kids space will mirror our broadcast guidelines, and all advertisers and messages will be carefully reviewed and approved by PBS before they appear."

Nader's group responds
Consumer groups have criticized PBS before for letting some marketers underwrite TV shows and air corporate messages during the show and today Commercial Alert -- a Ralph Nader-associated group worried about excessive commercialism in public life -- criticized PBS for taking web ads.

"This is a betrayal of parents and children across the country," said Gary Ruskin, the group's executive director. "PBS has forgotten its mission, and is selling our children to the highest bidder. PBS President Paula Kerger should be fired immediately."

Mr. Dando said the decision to again accept ads came after months of research, development and consulting within PBS and was made "given the current funding landscape for public media."

"PBS is taking several steps to initiate new revenue-generating lines of business, including the introduction of online sponsorship on PBS internet sites," he said. Explosive growth and demand for internet ads by marketers was part of the decision, he added.
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