PBS in sponsor hunt

$83 mil goal in national spots established

PBS hopes to sell more than $83 million in national sponsorships this year, a 10% increase over the last year, PBS executives said at the organization’s upfront presentation here Tuesday.

Michael Diefenbach, PBS VP, sponsor development, pitched potential advertisers on the merits of PBS compared to other TV vehicles and actor Alan Alda, who hosts the PBS series “Scientific American Frontiers,” was also on hand to spotlight the virtues of PBS.

Diefenbach posited that PBS offers advertisers a less cluttered environment because PBS stations run only 5-1/2 minutes of non-programming per hour, compared to the 15 minute average for the broadcast nets in primetime. While broadcast networks’ rating continue to erode, Diefenbach said that PBS remained flat in primetime this past year at a 2.1 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Cable networks such as Nickelodeon, A&E and Discovery now compete aggressively against PBS in areas such as kids, documentary and fine arts programming — genres that PBS had pretty much to itself a dozen years ago. However, Diefenbach argued that advertisers would benefit by advertising on PBS shows because 38% of PBS’ viewers don’t watch Discovery, 35% don’t watch A&E and 34% don’t watch Nick.

PBS will face even more competition for viewers when Nick and Children’s Television Workshop in 1999 launch Noggin, an educational kids cable network that will feature the “Sesame Street” library. However, Noggin won’t impact PBS in the short term because the cable net only has access to “Sesame Street” reruns; PBS has the rights to the first-episodes for years to come. Also, it will take years for Noggin to gain a significant subscriber base.

Recent PBS ratings highlights include Ken Burns’ “Lewis & Clark” (6.3 rating), the Harry Truman episode of “American Masters” (4.2) and nature series “Living Edens” (3.9 average).

PBS, through its PBS Sponsorship Group, offers sponsorships in dozens of programs in genres including news, history, children’s, how-to and science and nature. Titles for the 1998-99 TV season include the kids sensation from England, “Teletubbies;” “The Three Tenors-Paris, 1998” featuring Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras; “New York,” a five-part, 10-hour documentary produced by Ric Burns, who co-produced “The Civil War” with his brother Ken; and “Zoom” a new version of the popular PBS kids show from the 1970s.