Underwriting spotAn underwriting spot is an announcement made on public broadcasting outlets, especially in the United States, in exchange for funding. These spots usually mention the name of the sponsor, and can resemble traditional television advertisements in commercial broadcasting to a limited extent; however, under the terms of a public broadcaster's license from the Federal Communications Commission, such spots are prohibited from being promotional (such as making product claims, using superlatives, or being more than 30 seconds long) or making any sort of "call to action" (a phrase that refers to "any device designed to prompt an immediate response or encourage an immediate sale" such as announcing prices or providing an incentive to buy). In the U.S., these restrictions apply to any television or radio station licensed as a non-commercial educational (NCE) stations, and even for non-sponsoring companies and products.
Donors who contribute funding can include corporations, small businesses, philanthropic organizations, charitable trusts, and individuals. An underwriting spot can typically include the name (and, in local underwriting spots, address) of the underwriter, possibly including a company slogan (provided the slogan does not contain a call to action) and a message of appreciation, either from the sponsor indicating its pride in the program or from the station indicating its thanks for the underwriter's sponsorship. Individual spots, more apparent on public radio, often are used to express personal appreciation for the station's programming, and often also offer family members or friend best wishes on a major life event such as a wedding, anniversary or birthday.
Criticisms include inhibiting influences on public affairs programs (even self-censorship) where investigative journalism is featured and tendencies toward the use of non-artistic criteria in determining the selection of programs, such as symphony broadcasts on radio and theatrical productions on television.
PBS policyThe Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) defines its "Program Underwriting Policy" in its PBS Redbook. its provisions include the following:
Sponsorship underwriting and advertising are essentially the same thing when linked by the exchange of something of value such as cash, goods or services. The underwriter receives a number of informational messages about their business which are broadcast in exchange for a dollar amount. Individuals, foundations, and non-profit donors may underwrite programming without the need for an underwriting informational advertising contract. PBS and CPB rules permit underwriting commercial use for broadcast stations with certain speech limits that are only required of broadcast stations because of the nature of the non-profit license.
Channels that run non-commercial formats on cable television or direct broadcast satellite television tend not to use underwriting spots, as they can use subscriber fees to fund operations (such as C-SPAN). Classic Arts Showcase is an exception, as the service is funded through a foundation established by its founder, Lloyd Rigler, and thus credits that foundation for its funding on-air. As these channels are not broadcast over the air, they are exempt from the wording restrictions on underwriting spots on cable stations, should they choose to use them.