PBS Snapshot: Public Television Viewing in the Age of Netflix

The American PBS system completed its annual general meeting last week in Nashville, Tennessee.

  • The theme was “Our Country: Our Stories.”
  • The state of the PBS viewing audience was a key focus.

I’m particularly interested in two stories:

  • Is the PBS audience holding up in the age of Netflix?
  • And, particularly, how are the Science and History genres performing? (Next post).

Many thanks to PBS Research for sharing the following charts and important insights.

Context: U.S. TV Audience

  • The American TV universe is increasing, though at a modest rate of 1%/year over five years..
  • The universe of TV homes is significant: 120 million homes in the world’s richest economy.
  • The Cable / Satellite universe is in an accelerating decline:
    • Its a change driven by the mainly youthful ‘cord-cutting’ or ‘cord-never’ population.
  • Broadcast Only homes are rising, as consumers use rabbit ear antennae or devices to supplement their online viewing.
  • And the Broadband Only sector continues to expand rapidly as consumers turn to a buffet of online video online platforms, led by Netflix.

The PBS Audience

  • The average primetime PBS audience is in steady decline, as with almost all U.S. broadcasters and Cab/Sat channels.
  • However, that 1.33 average rating for the 2017-18 PBS season still represents significant scale in an increasingly fragmented world.
  • Note that American commercial channels just came off an encouraging upfront market where advertisers committed $20 billion for the upcoming season.
    • Major brands value the scale, curation, and Live quality of traditional networks and channels.
    • These are qualities that compare favorably against the Wild West of social media platforms where your trusted brand may show up randomly throughout the day or night, and alongside neo-Nazi raves, live mass murders, and other offensive content.
  • My Takeaway is that the relative loyalty, scale and curated quality of the PBS audience are definite pluses on the PBS balance sheet for the near future.

Broadband Only

  • A key strategic challenge for PBS is that the youthful Broadband Only audience is the fastest-growing sector (first slide) and yet makes a negligible contribution to PBS viewing (slide above).

For Reference

  • Here is the average primetime ratings (P2+) in 1Q’19 for a selection of U.S. Cab/Sat channels:
    • HGTV: 1.27; History: 1.2; ID: 1.15; Discovery: 1.07; A&E: 0.98; Animal Planet: 0.46; NG Wild: 0.44; NG Channel: 0.42; Smithsonian: 0.22; Viceland: 0.09.

Next Post

  • PBS Series ranked, from the drama strand Masterpiece through the Science, History and Current Affairs genres, and the documentary strands POV and Independent Lens.
  • The post covers three seasons, starting in 2015-16.
  • Plus: A list of the recent highest-rated Science and History programs.

Read More