×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

  • A.P. BIO -- "Melvin" Episode 208

    'AP Bio' Canceled After Two Seasons at NBC

    “AP Bio” has been canceled at NBC. Series creator Mike O’Brien shared the news with fans on Twitter, writing that “This has been my favorite project of my life.” In the single-camera comedy, Glenn Howerton portrayed a disgraced Harvard philosophy scholar who lost out on his dream job and was forced to return to Toledo, [...]

  • James Holzhauer $2 million

    'Jeopardy!' Champion James Holzhauer Hits $2 Million Winnings Milestone

    This current “Jeopardy!” player has just won over $2 million on the popular game show. Who is James Holzhauer? The 34 year old professional sports gambler from Las Vegas has hit a “Jeopardy!” milestone by becoming only the second person in the show’s history to win over $2 million in regular season play. Holzhauer won [...]

  • Kanye West Shares a Memory of

    Kanye West Shares a Touching Memory of His Mother in Letterman Interview

    In a preview of David Letterman’s interview with Kanye West, which begins streaming next Friday, May 31, the musician’s wife Kim Kardashian West, tweeted a clip of him sharing a touching memory of his mother, Donda, who died in 2007 after a surgical procedure. While his wife looks on smiling, West answers Letterman’s question about [...]

  • CNN Lays Off Some Health Journalism

    CNN Lays Off Some Health Journalism Staffers

    CNN has laid off a handful of staffers from its health-journalism unit after deciding to place its health, climate and Southeastern newsgathering operations under a single aegis. ” As part of the normal course of business, our newsgathering team made a small restructure earlier this week that ultimately impacts 6-7 employees within CNN’s Health Unit,” [...]

  • Henry Ian Cusick

    'Lost' Star Henry Ian Cusick Signs With Buchwald (EXCLUSIVE)

    Henry Ian Cusick, best known for playing Desmond on the hit ABC series “Lost,” is signing with talent agency Buchwald for representation. Cusick also starred in the CW sci-fi/drama “The 100” and was most recently seen in the Fox series “The Passage.” His other notable television credits include “Scandal,” “24,” “Fringe,” “The Mentalist,” “Body of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content