Crowdfunding: The New "Viewer Like You" Business Model

by Kelsey Savage, PBS Interactive 

As a member of the Digital Entrepreneurs Initiative, KLRU came to PBS Interactive and proposed their idea for a web series: Aaron Franklin, an Austin-based meat guru, would teach viewers how to make good, old-fashion Texas barbeque. The concept sounded delicious, but they didn’t have the funds for the production costs. We suggested they experiment with a crowdfunding campaign. The concept of crowdfunding is simple (and not that different from our "Viewers Like You" motto). You create a short video pitching your idea and then let users contribute whatever amount they want/can to your project. The donors’ money is pooled together and, if your idea was a hit, you’re on your way to making your goal a reality.

To date, BBQ with Franklin has raised just over $8,000. KLRU is hoping it raises the other half of its $16,000 goal in the next two weeks. Since the whole premise of crowdfunding is that you need a 'crowd', KLRU has been diligently working to spread the word. Franklin has been promoting the project aggressively on social media platforms, KLRU has been making regular updates to their Indiegogo page, arranged for some sweet giveaways, and been featured in lots of local news stories.

Maja Mrkoci, PBS Interactive’s Assistant Director of Business Development, explains that the crowdfunding business model has “gained in popularity over the last few years as the economic crisis forced ‘democratization of fundraising.’ With grant budgets cut and venture capital always hard to get to, people turned to their communities to help them fund their ideas. The community responds by giving them funds, confidence, and the validation for their ideas... or not. The amount of money raised by crowdfunding platforms during 2012 is expected to reach $2.8 billion, up 91% since 2011.”

Other members of the PBS family have found success on Kickstarter, another crowdfunding platform. The Biscuit Brothers Television Project ran their campaign in 2011 and raised $13,229 for their music education show. The National Film Society, a PBS Digital Studios venture, just raised over $50,000 to fund their web-series, Awesome Asian Bad Guys.  They’ve now even turned their Kickstarter experience into a short video describing how others can replicate their achievement. Check it out for some great pointers! 


While there are lots of popular crowdfunding platforms, we think Indiegogo's "Keep What You Raise" model works best for stations. If your station is thinking about starting a crowdfunding campaign, we'd love to share some of our best practices and discuss potential platforms. Contact us at here.