×

TCA: PBS Boasts Its Viewership Growth While Other Broadcast Ratings Slump

You haven't 'done your math' if you think PBS ratings increases are due to only 'Downton,' PBS chief said

“Imagine a broadcast net that has seen an increase of 5% in viewership since last year,” said Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS. “In a world where audiences seem to be shrinking…We saw a 25% increase on Sunday nights.”

Some may ascribe such an increase in ratings to powerhouse period drama “Downton Abbey,” which is entering into its fourth season on PBS. But Kerger quickly stated that anyone who assumes PBS’s viewership upticks are due solely to “Downton” “obviously hasn’t done their math.”

“Eight hours of programming isn’t going to change our ratings for the entire year,” Kerger told journos at the PBS TCA exec session. “Night to night, our numbers are up.”

When it comes to its strong lineup of Sunday night dramas, though, PBS is in an interesting position, especially with “Downton.” The Julian Fellowes drama bows months before its PBS debut on the U.K.’s ITV, leaving open the door for serious spoilers for Stateside auds. (In the U.K., “Downton’s” fourth run is expected to kick off in September, while PBS viewers will have to wait until Jan. 5 for the premiere.)

Having “Downton” viewers around the world be at different points in the series’ run, however, is not unlike the binge-viewing phenomenon, per Kerger.

“Whenever I speak in public, I never talk about the end of season three of ‘Downton Abbey,’ because there are a significant number of people who haven’t seen it,” Kerger explained. Thus, even in the U.S., there are people well behind their fellow American “Downton” viewers because they’re playing catch up on the series. Spoilers are not limited to auds on different sides of the Pond.

“It’s fascinating to see how TV consumption has shifted,” Kerger continued. “…As we have looked at this issue of spoilers and how to best steward the property and think about the viewership, we’ve considered a number of factors with the scheduling: first, I know we often put our most competitive work against the network premieres. We look at the fall with that in mind. Second, we look at how we can get buzz around the series…People talk about [‘Downton’] once it premieres in the U.K., and that has actually benefited us…We don’t want to mess with that if it’s working so well [in terms of ratings for PBS].”

Scheduling premiere dates for acquired dramas remains a fluid process at PBS, though.

“For ‘Call the Midwife,’ we did air the show really only a couple days after it aired in the U.K., and it didn’t work out quite as well,” Kerger noted. “We’ll continue to look at each program as it comes up. Does it make sense to bring it close to the [initial] broadcast window? Or schedule it as at a separate point in time?”

Kerger herself has found joy in the cult-like following of “Downton Abbey,” relishing in the spoof Twitter handles and even attended some station-organized viewing parties.

“The attire for one party said ‘Downton Abbey’ or black tie. My friend and I were the only ones not wearing ‘Downton’ attire!…There’s a very animated fan base that has organized around the show.”

With so much success surrounding acquired Brit dramas, one journo asked if PBS would delve into producing original, American dramas for the net.

Kerger said she’s “very open” to that option, and that PBS is even “looking to put money into research and development” for that genre of content.

“The challenge is that we have limited dollars we extend across all the content we’re developing, and drama is expensive, there’s no question about it,” Kerger stated. “I would say if we do go down this path, I wouldn’t want to be duplicating what everyone else is doing.” The chief then coyly said she sees “an area that isn’t being covered” in American drama, but will keep her observation under wraps for now as ideas percolate at PBS.

More TV

  • Peter Coyote, winner of the award

    Peter Coyote to Play Robert Mueller in CBS Studios James Comey Miniseries

    The CBS Studios miniseries based on James Comey’s  book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership” has added another player. Robert Coyote has boarded the show to play Robert Mueller, Comey’s predecessor in the role of FBI Director, who was appointed to lead an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. His final [...]

  • CBS HEADQUARTERS

    Wall Street Trims ViacomCBS Forecasts After Post-Deal Financial Disclosure

    Top media analysts have cut their short-term growth prospects for ViacomCBS following last week’s financial disclosures that came as part of the closing of CBS Corp.’s stock-swap takeover deal for Viacom. In the Oct. 17 filing, CBS Corp. released specific year-to-year projections for its free cash flow yield, guidance that the company has not offered [...]

  • CBS

    CBS Sets Six Participants in 2019-20 Writers Mentoring Program

    CBS has announced the six writers who will participate in its 2019-2020 Writers Mentoring Program. The eight-month mentoring program, set up in 2004, aims to provide access and opportunity for writers by pairing them with a CBS executive mentor who helps them develop a new piece of material. Following the mentorship period, the writers will [...]

  • Alexander Vlahos (Monsieur/Philippe d'Orléans), George Blagden

    Merged Banijay-Endemol Shine Would Be Global Powerhouse in a Content-Hungry World

    If France’s Banijay Group clinches its proposed purchase of Endemol Shine, which could happen within the next few days, the deal would mark peak M&A in the international indie content world. The MO of both companies is acquiring and aggregating brands and IP, and their union would be the largest ever of its kind on [...]

  • Houston Astros' Alex Bregman reacts after

    TV Ratings: World Series Opener Down on 2018

    The Washington Nationals, making their first World Series appearance in franchise history, took game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night 5-4 over the Houston Astros. While the game might have been a thriller, according to Nielsen’s fast national ratings it looks like it will be down on last year’s opener between the Los [...]

  • Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg Quibi

    Quibi Says It Has Sold Out $150 Million First-Year Ad Inventory

    Nearly six months before Quibi is slated to hit the market, a cluster of large advertisers has committed millions in ad spending to the ambitious — and untested — premium mobile-video brainchild of Jeffrey Katzenberg. Quibi announced that it has sold out its $150 million advertising inventory for the first year. The startup’s category-exclusive ad partners [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content