Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Public Television Funding: Comparison Across 18 Western Countries

What is the level of government funding for public broadcasters worldwide?

How important are commercial revenue streams in the mix?

These questions matter at a time when public television faces fierce cutbacks from ideologically-driven governments.

  • That’s certainly the situation in Australia, where the governing Coalition announced a $254 mn cutback for the ABC, and proposed a doubling of SBS’s ad load to commercial network levels.
  • And in Canada, CBC has endured years of rolling cuts.
  • The incoming US Congress is expected to direct its razor at PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • The UK’s license-funded system is also in the cross-hairs of conservative government-shrinkers.

Canadian Study

CBC|Radio-Canada commissioned a valuable study that analyzes public television funding across 18 Western countries.

  • It captures the relative level of public support per capita, the share of revenues coming from commercial sources including advertisers & sponsors, and much more.
  • These 2011 Findings from Nordicity Consultants are still very relevant: they provide a baseline of data for defenders of public television.


We selected two charts as highlights.


  • Among 18 Western countries, Canada was third in terms of the lowest level of per-capita public funding for public broadcasting.
  • Only New Zealand and the U.S. posted lower levels.
  • At $33 per inhabitant (all amounts in C$), Canada’s level of funding was 60% less than the $82 average across the 18 Western countries.


  • CBC|Radio-Canada is often compared to the BBC in the United Kingdom (U.K.), but notably CBC has only one-third of the level of per capita public funding as public broadcasters in the U.K. – BBC and S4C.
  • The leading country in terms of public funding is Norway, where NRK received the equivalent of $180 per capita.
  • CBC/Radio-Canada’s funding will decline further as a result of the federal deficit reduction action plan (DRAP). When the cuts are fully implemented in 2014/15 fiscal year, CBC/Radio-Canada’s per capita funding will decline from $33 to $29.

Possible Catch?

  • The US data point of C$3:00 per head seems low.
  • The US public TV system is a somewhat anarchic federation. A mix of federal, state and local funding streams covers both national and local programming, as well station operations.
  • C$3 per capita may not capture the entire picture.
  • In any case, public television was a latecomer to the US broadcasting environment compared with other Western countries, and its funding level per capita is a fraction of its peers.

Commercial Sources

  • Among the 18 comparison countries, public broadcasters did not earn any commercial revenues in Sweden, Norway & Denmark: all of their income was derived from public funding sources, namely television & radio licence fees levied on households and businesses.


  • One-half of the comparison countries earned anywhere from 1% to 24% of their total revenue from commercial activities.
  • Seven countries – Canada, Spain, Italy, the U.K., the U.S., Ireland and NZ – relied upon commercial activities to generate one-third or more of their total public broadcasting revenues.

Further charts break out such data as Advertiser/Sponsor sources as a share of total revenues.



Speaking Engagements

Realscreen Summit
Washington DC, January 27-30 2015

Formula For A Hit January 28, 3:45pm.

  • As the television industry evolves to meet the threats of fragmenting media head on, so too do the methods to determine what should make it onto a particular network’s air.
  • In an era increasingly driven by big data, in which algorithms and analytics have increasing influence in programming choices, how are broadcasters adapting their metrics, measurement and marketing techniques to grab, and keep, eyeballs?
  • Find out the answers to these questions and more from some of the top minds in TV research.


  • Julie Taylor, SVP, Program Planning & Strategy, HGTV, DIY Network + Great American Country
  • Brad Dancer, SVP, Programming, Planning & Research, National Geographic Channel
  • Don Micallef, VP Research, Discovery Communications
  • Don Robert, SVP, Research & Analytics, A+E Networks
  • Peter Hamilton, Moderator