Public television has always known how to get to Sesame Street. Now they’re coming to your street.
Iowa Public Television is one of 12 public television stations across the country going door-to-door to raise money after federal appropriations have remained flat, new episodes of popular kids show Sesame Street are moving to HBO and Downton Abbey, following its final season next spring, will go the way of the telegraph.
Canvassers have been targeting Iowa cities including Ames, Ankeny, Marshalltown and Coralville with a goal of raising up to $850,000 in the next two years, said Susan Moritz, president of the Iowa Public Television Foundation.
“It comes out of a desire to reach our viewers that don’t watch us on their televisions” but rather catch PBS shows on streaming services, such as Netflix or Amazon, she said. “Our canvassers are finding when they go to a new neighborhood, they’re having positive interactions at the door.”
And that has translated into donations — made through tablets used by canvassers — that are over projections for this point in the campaign, she said.
The effort is expected to last a year or two as canvassers work their way through Iowa’s metro areas.
Each year, IPTV produces nearly 500 hours of Iowa-based shows, including news roundtable Iowa Press and foodie extravaganza Iowa Ingredient.
But the way Americans view shows has changed, with more people canceling cable and signing up for services like Netflix. There, it’s harder to track viewers and there are fewer opportunities for local underwriting.
The Public Broadcasting System and the Sesame Workshop announced in August Sesame Street, which premiered on PBS in 1969, would begin showing all new episodes on HBO, with those episodes coming to public TV nine months later. Executives said the decision was, in part, an economic one, but also about tapping into viewers desire for more a la carte programming.
Downton Abbey, the popular British drama, starts its sixth and final season Jan. 3. After those new episodes are over, viewers will have to catch Anna and Bates on streaming services.
IPTV’s fiscal 2016 operating budget is $16.6 million, with the state general appropriation covering a little less than half. The network also gets money from the federal government through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but that appropriation has been stagnant for the past several years.
“A significant portion of our revenue comes from donor contributions through the Iowa Public Television Foundation,” said Tonya Weber, IPTV spokeswoman.
The foundation decided to join 11 other state public television networks that have hired Contributor Development Partnership, of Boston, to do a door-to-door campaign designed to generate awareness and financial contributions, Moritz said. The doorknockers are visiting 11 Iowa cities, with Coralville being the only one in Eastern Iowa, but plan to move to other cities in coming months.
To avoid being mistaken for scammers, IPTV canvassers wear IPTV clothing and have credentials with their names and photos, Moritz said. The IPTV website has photos of all the canvassers. The network has also notified the Coralville Police Department and other authorities about the campaign.
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“If anyone has concerns, they can call us too,” Moritz said. IPTV’s toll-free number is 1 (800) 532-1290. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure it’s a good campaign.”