PBS is the only broadcast network that is holding its ground in the key 18-49 demo, up in total viewers and way up in viewers 18-34, TheWrap.com reports in a piece examining how the public broadcaster is defying the downtrend that has afflicted most broadcasters.
"Even as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are down, a public television network’s ratings are up with a mix of Shakespeare, one of Emmy voters’ favorite period dramas, and programs that teach kids to do math," the piece reports. "PBS can thank that Emmy favorite, ‘Downton Abbey,’ and an autotuned Mr. Rogers. And maybe even Mitt Romney, whose call to end PBS’s funding last year made the Twitter generation rally around Big Bird."
PBS was wrapping up its Television Critics Association press tour presentations today in a unique position among broadcasters, the report notes: "It doesn’t need to make excuses. Since last fall, the traditional Big 4 networks are all down in the key 18-49 demographic, and all but CBS are down in total viewers. (CBS is up very slightly.)"
The broadcaster’s best trend is in young viewers — especially the elusive 18-34 demo. "CBS gained 3 percent with the demo, but other broadcasters are down, even CW, which specifically targets young adults. PBS is up a whopping 18 percent," the piece reports. "The public network is landing young adults at a time when other networks aren’t sure where they’re hiding. The CW believes they are jettisoning television for online viewing, and has set up deals with Netflix as a result. CBS gave a TCA presentation that said younger viewers weren’t as important as they used to be, because they increasingly live at home."
Jason Seiken, general manager of digital for PBS, talked about young adults as a "lost generation," the story says. The piece adds: "Children watch ‘Sesame Street’ to learn to read, count and be nice. Then they disappear until middle-age, when they learn to appreciate ‘Masterpiece Theater,’ ‘Frontline’ documentaries and nature shows."
The report notes that PBS’s overall numbers still don’t stack up against the Big 4. "PBS averaged 2.1 million total viewers last season. That puts it ahead of CW, but it has about a third as many as the least-watched Big 4 networks," TheWrap reports.
PBS’s gains, the piece notes, are coming without the network "dumbing down." "It is trying to reclaim the educational mantle from cable networks like Discovery, History and TLC, which have moved toward reality shows and scripted dramas. One PBS affiliate, WNET, has an ad campaign that belittles reality shows with ads for fake series like ‘The Tanners,’ about feuding, sunbaked suburbanites," the story reports.
Commenting on the free publicity PBS received after Mitt Romney said during the first presidential debate that he would cut federal funding for the network, PBS President Paula Kerger said: "People had such a visceral reaction. It was helpful. People have not only their own opinions about public broadcasting, we have a place in people’s hearts. The comments he made did have a positive impact. Not that I go looking for those kinds of impacts."
Other factors in the PBS rise include the system’s adaptation to social media and the launch 18 months ago of PBS Digital Studios, which Seiken says mixes "PBS quality with YouTube’s sensibility." One example: the autotuned Mr. Rogers video "The Garden of Your Mind," which you can view below. The video has had more than 9 million views online, and has inspired a number of other PBS remixes, the piece notes.
Please click on the link in the first paragraph of this story to read the full report.
Here’s Mr. Rogers remixed: