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PBS Ombudsman

The Mailbag: Promo Still No-Go; Fall Edition

I've written several times in the past few months about PBS's new on-air and online "experiments" that involve using a lot more on-screen promotion of programs and brief paid commercial sponsorships during broadcasts, rather than just at the beginning and end. This is obviously important to PBS. They see it as a way to increase revenue, particularly online, and also to avoid losing television audience between shows when sponsorships and promotions pile up on the screen for minutes. But it is also risky because at least some portion of the audience clearly doesn't like it and may resent it.

Keep in mind that people generally write to an ombudsman to complain and, as I've said before, posting these complaints is not a statement of my disapproval. On the other hand, to whatever extent mail to me is a useful measure, it has been relentlessly negative from the get-go. Since this new approach in advertising is important to PBS and its viewers, it seems worthy of continuing to post and distribute reactions from time to time.

Below is a sampling of the latest letters. After that come a few letters about last week's mailbag dealing with a criticism, by a doctor in Colorado, on the animated medical advice offered to Curious George and his pal, The Man in the Yellow Hat, who had a cold.

Viewers 10, PBS 0

Promotion logos of future PBS programs, as shown so obtrusively (for example, on last night's "Inspector Lewis" episode) ruin an otherwise enjoyable viewing experience. I am at a loss to understand why you violate viewers in this manner, but perhaps it falls within your ethical broadcasting standards. That tells me a lot about your ethical standards. Such promotion can so easily be shown during the advertising breaks that you run before and after the programs themselves. Help me understand why you do this. Our local station (KQED) also shows its logo on the screen continuously, as if we were so stupid as not to know what channel we are watching. How they (and, in part, you) must despise us.

John Joss, Los Altos, CA

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Please stop the distracting ads for upcoming programs during the current showing. The ads for Ken Burns' Prohibition were bad. The Arts ad during last night's Masterpiece Mystery was truly horrible. We are also disappointed to be constantly reminded that we are watching KEDT. Do you think it possible we would not know? Please treat your viewers with more respect.

Nell Thomas, Beeville, TX

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I would like to register a strong complaint about the animated teasers that appear on the screen during programs, such as the "Arts Fall Festival" teaser that appeared many times during "Lewis," Oct. 9. This one was so offensive that I am moved to write, but your use of this device has become common. Surely these teasers, blaring brightly and not small, are very annoying to many; obviously distracting; unnecessary; redundant; and most important, an insult to the artistic integrity of these beautiful programs. How do you imagine the program's creators feel about this?

I bet many of the creative talents at PBS would agree with me, but they are overruled by the marketing department. This is a shame. It troubles me deeply to see my PBS, always an oasis of civilized cultural values, stooping to these braying methods of drawing attention. Thank you. We are longtime supporters.

Darius Brotman, Arcata, CA

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You may be the wrong person for this complaint, however, I figure the "om" in "ombudsman" comes from "omni" and so you can take care of EVERYTHING. Anyway, I am objecting to the on-screen promotions for upcoming PBS shows that have been enlarged to take up almost one-sixth of the bottom left-hand corner of the TV screen. I first saw this promoting Prohibition. Last night they were there for the Fall Arts Festival. In the past these promos were much less intrusive. Now they are distracting, especially during a program like Masterpiece.

John Duckworth, Akron, OH

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Spot advertising! During "Mystery Theater," or ANY other KQED production? ABSOLUTELY not! Damages production. Detracts from viewer attention. I won't ask why, but I may be forced to refrain from supporting PBS.

Dennis Tapley, Sebastapol, CA

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I'm trying to watch masterpiece mystery. Why do we need those gaudy bubbles on the screen every 15 minutes, reminding us of some arts program? This is like watching commercial TV. ENOUGH!!!

Jan Pool, Berkeley, CA

Thou Art a Pain

I was trying to watch Masterpiece Mystery tonight, and the intrusive and pointlessly repetitious imposition of a large, animated, pink and blue graphic advertisement for the "PBS Fall Arts Festival" on top of the program in progress was extremely annoying.

Carol Marsh, Missoula, MT

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Call it a boycott. We are long-time contributors but will suspend monthly checks until PBS discontinues transmitting distracting logos and pop-ups. That misguided policy is disrespectful and insulting, what one might expect from, say, FOX. Friends and acquaintances agree wholeheartedly. The local station, KEDT, merely passed the buck on to you. So thanks for the free shows! Please forward this to the decision makers.

Charles Thomas, Beeville, TX

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We really object to the new pop up bubbles advertising the PBS Arts Festival that appeared repeatedly during Masterpiece Theater Oct. 9. We never saw anything this obnoxious before on PBS. We are long term substantial donors to PBS; always valued it for the freedom from commercials. We watch a lot of PBS programming. Please restrict such advertising to periods between programs. Thank you.

David and Susan Hodges, Berkeley, CA

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The superimposition of advertising material during the program is most reprehensible! This has begun in the past week or so. Disgusting!!!

San Francisco, CA

Curious George 3, Dr. Bartecchi 1/2

I believe the producers of Curious George over the doctor who writes a newspaper column for adults. The cartoon is for young kids and I doubt that a young child will overrule a parent based upon what he or she saw in a cartoon. As the producer pointed out, a transcript only contains the words, not the visual and auditory context of the presentation. Maybe the doctor ought to watch the program.

D.M., San Antonio, TX

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In light of the current multiple epidemics of chronic and degenerative diseases, and a combination economic and healthcare crisis in the U.S., I wouldn't give Dr. Bartecchi too much credit if I were you. Curious George may not be medically qualified but he doesn't have such a history of abject failure either. If Dr. Bartecchi and other medical 'experts' are so smart then why so much chronic and degenerative disease? If Curious George is failing to teach kids anything it's probably to get basic allergy testing, avoid known allergens and always seek a second or third 'expert' opinion on serious medical matters. Tsk, tsk, tsk, FDA and Dr. Bartecchi; does one really need to be an astrophysicist to know the sun will rise tomorrow?

Charles Shaver, Westfield, WI

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I have to disagree with Dr. Bartecchi and his comment that he doubts that 3-to-5-year olds would be able to tell when the "quack" scientists give bad information. If I understand the context in which it took place, I'd have to say "of course they can!" The doctor has never heard a 3-year-old say "He's so dumb!"?

The doctor's comment below is much more serious: "Even worse is your providing free advertisement for Shiva Barton, a naturopath. Naturopaths are not, despite protestations to the contrary, a science-based group. In fact, they argue against scientifically-proven interventions such as vaccinations." There is no good reason for Curious George to be giving free, positive publicity to Shiva Barton, or even his beliefs, which are simply unproven and genuinely harmful if believed. I think CG should be more careful about this sort of thing.

Hugh Caley, Albany, CA

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