[ By Rafat Ali] PBS has been testing Google AdSense as a fundraiser, a first for any big public broadcaster in U.S. Both NPR and PBS have underwriters in their offline and online material (NPR’s podcasts have sponsors, for example), but this is the first time for contextual advertising. The experiment started back in January on top-level aggregation/index pages only — about 2 percent of PBS.org’s pageviews, according to Cindy Johanson, senior VP, PBS Interactive and Education. (An example is here.)
Cindy explained the reasoning and provided some details during an e-mail Q&A:
On the move: Last year, PBS identified online sponsorship as one of several opportunities as we seek new resources to maintain and grow our Internet services. As noted on our site, we are trying to be very transparent with our users about our efforts to generate revenue to further PBS’ mission and reinforce the fact that there is a clear separation between editorial content and sponsorship.
The FCC regulation and PBS charter: They apply to PBS’ broadcast airwaves and not the Internet; however, as the lines blur between broadcast and the Internet, PBS has been very careful about when and how we introduce and implement revenue-generating initiatives such as sponsored links. We are approaching this in a way so as not to conflict with PBS’ non-commercial nature or jeopardize the trust that so many users associate with PBS and our member stations across many platforms.
Why Google: We identified Google after signficant due diligence — we were especially impressed by their sophisticated filtering capabilities and methodology. The sponsored links were introduced on PBS.org in early January 2006 and we’ve been carefully monitoring a number of factors to measure results. These factors include, but are not limited to: a) changes in user traffic to sites/pages containing sponsorship elements; b) user click-though rates on sponsorship elements; c) direct user feedback via email regarding the sponsorship service; d) financial return. During these five months, we’ve heard from less than a half-dozen users with questions or concerns.
Results till now: It’s early for us, and, currently, we have only deployed the links on a few of our top-level aggregation pages (representing less than 2% of the pages on PBS.org). At this point, we haven’t yet covered our start-up costs and we have not disclosed the revenue details.
Going Forward: In the coming weeks and months, we plan to introduce sponsored links on certain content sites (not sites on pbskids.org, of course). Once we have more inventory in place, we see sponsored links as one of several strategies to help generate revenue. Down the road, PBS is working with its producers and stations to expand other opportunities for sponsors who want to support our mission and associate themselves with public service content.
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