Marty Ronish over at Scanning The Dial posted an article on 4/30/2010 that brought a pay-to-play scandal in Seattle to my attention. Marty’s article was, in turn, based on an article in The Stranger that reports local Seattle television station KING 5 developed a segment for their New Day Northwest program that has the appearance of a spontaneous arts related morning show segment but is, in fact, a paid advertisement…
Beyond the obvious problems, the part which caught my attention is the fact that the station sold an entire year’s worth of weekly appearances to a single performing arts group, 5th Avenue Theatre, which then uses the segments it wants and resells the rest to other arts groups. According to The Stranger, segments sold by 5th Avenue Theatre go from $3000 to $6000 each.
It’s no secret that performing arts groups compete with one another in a number of ways, no differently than Coca-Cola and Pepsi. In fact, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
But let’s also assume for the sake of the discussion that the spots were identified as paid advertisements in such way as to eliminate much of apparent pay-for-play conflict of interest. Even if you reach that point, the station’s decision to allow one arts group the power to resell an entire year’s spots is something that is difficult to sidestep.
Nonetheless, 5th Avenue Producing Artistic Director, David Armstrong, published a post at the organization’s blog on 4/30/2010, presenting his perspective behind why the organization decided to move in this direction. Armstrong doesn’t acknowledge the potential troubles associated with the reselling issues or how 5th Avenue became the only local arts group to be involved with the station before New Day Northwest was set into production in any detail other than this:
“I wish that we had had more time to talk to the arts community about this project in advance but the show was put into production on a very fast time frame.”
Armstrong also indicates that 5th Avenue “diverted money that we would have spent on other forms of advertising to try [the arrangement with KING 5] out.” There’s no mention of the impact the New Day segments have had, or the resulting negative press coverage, on 5th Avenue ticket sales.
What do you think? What sorts of issues do you think deserve attention here or is this all much ado about nothing? I’m also curious to know what you would think if this were applied to other mediums. For example, what if one arts group purchased all of the advertisement space in the local newspaper for the months of September through December and was then allowed to resell any of that space to other arts groups as they saw fit?
Postscript: It’s wonderful to see David Armstrong use 5th Avenue’s blog in this fashion and that they are allowing comments. But at the time this article was published, your single comment was a piece of spam that includes a link to a pornography site. You might want to consider adopting some blogging best practices and moderate your comments as criminals like this always manage to find a way through spam filters from time to time.
*This article’s original title was “Desperate Playwrights” but was changed to the current version on 5/15/2010. For more behind this decision, see this discussion thread below as well as this discussion thread at Paul Mullin’s blog.