The Center for Social Media’s latest research report, Public Television Viewers and Public-Purpose Programming, provides new hope for public media’s future.
The study, authored by Center director Pat Aufderheide and graduate fellow Echo Xie, analyzes the responses of hundreds of public television viewers who answered an open letter published by Kartemquin Films. Kartemquin had been alerted by a Current article on the consequences of a scheduling switch when PBS kicked two series featuring independent documentary work off the core prime-time schedule. The article showed that Independent Lens had drastically lost viewership when its time slot was shifted to a no-man’s land on Thursday nights (when public TV stations usually program non-PBS material).
Kartemquin had called for filmmakers to demand re-instatement of Independent Lens and POV (which was slated to move to the no-man’s-land as well this June) to the core, prime-time schedule. But viewers also flocked to sign the open letter, even more so after Bill Moyers and Michael Winship wrote an impassioned plea to sign it.
The Center’s study analyzes the various arguments that viewers made for supporting these programs. It finds that viewers were overwhelmingly non-partisan, and that they supported the reinstatement of these programs because they found them pleasurable, rewarding, and even inspiring. Some even advocated a campaign to recruit more active viewers, who could let their local stations know how important such programming was to their vision of public TV.
The study concludes that a potential audience for public TV has largely gone under-appreciated by public TV executives, including PBS. This audience values high-quality content that is innovative, diverse, and addresses big questions in ways that can cross cultural divides. And this group of people can be part of building the future of public media.