Underwriting spot

An 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 making any sort of a "call to action" (a phrase that includes making product claims, announcing prices, or providing an incentive to buy a product or service). 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 policy

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) defines its "Program Underwriting Policy" in its PBS Redbook. As of 2007 its provisions include the following:[1]

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.

Cable television channels does not require this underwriting use as there are no speech restrictions permitted by cable law, Title 47 of the United States Code. Cable television is a pay for play subscription business model purchased by the cable subscriber. Underwriting is found on broadcast public television stations carried under "must-carry" regulations. Only public, educational, and government access (PEG) cable channels have commercial use restrictions and are created to be free from all underwriting informational messages permitted for non-commercial channels.


  1. Program Underwriting Policy from the PBS website
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