I’ve always thought that the best thank-you for a donation that a public television pledge drive could offer would be to stop the pledge drive. It feels like punishment, not a reward, to call in your pledge, then sit through six more days of your local station reps begging and begging your fellow viewers. Especially around day three, once the punch drunkenness really sets in and you have to watch that crazy look in their eyes as they try to wax ever more enthusiastic about This Old House, Antiques Roadshow, and More Motown Memories.

There was no getting around this with broadcast television, but I think we could do better now. Why not create a subscribers-only service which delivers the same feed as your local station most of the year, then gives solicitation-free programming during pledge drives? It could be delivered over the Web, through Roku, Apple/Google TV, etc. to anyone who’s pledged a certain amount and been given access in return.

It could even be set up as two “stations” to meet two different desires. One could mirror the actual schedule during the drive with the pledge breaks removed and extra programming added to fill the gaps at the ends of shows (or to fill breaks in live shows, like sticking bits of BBC World News into the gaps in the PBS News Hour). The other could continue the regular daily schedule of the station as though the pledge drive weren’t happening at all. I’d often use the latter service, since PBS and I have differing opinions on what constitutes a program likely to induce pledge-yielding euphoria, and I’ve had enough of turning on the BBC comedies for Glenn at their usual time, only to find Suze Orman’s trying to convince him to fund his 410k instead.

It couldn’t be that difficult to put together. You already have the infrastructure in place for
video.pbs.org. Make the arrangements with the streaming device companies (always happy to have new channels), create user accounts on pbs.org (with all the attendant further opportunities for viewer interaction, emailing, etc.), and when a viewer pledges $x, let the station notify you, and give the viewer instructions for accessing her new, happier PBS home. Set it up as a national service, and let local stations follow with their own feeds to match their programming schedule if they like.

If I were a PBS exec, I’d be on this tomorrow. Run your surveys to be sure, but I feel confident you could sell ten drive-killing subscriptions for each coffee mug and tote bag.

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