Finally, PBS Gets on the Nielsen Bandwagon

It took three or four decades, but the PBS network has finally signed up for full Nielsen demographic ratings for its TV programs. Now, for the first time, marketers will be able to access and review full demo data on who’s watching what on the Public Broadcasting System – information that has been crucial in making decisions on where best to promote products on broadcast TV.

And it’s about time. For far too long, advertisers could rely only on educated guesswork to weigh the effectiveness of promoting their products and services on PBS’s leading programming fare.

Of course, PBS doesn’t present advertising the same way as do other networks, because it’s ostensibly commercial-free programming. But even though PBS is a commercial-free broadcasting service, in recent years it has offered sponsorship deals with major advertisers in the form of comprehensive messaging that is broadcast before and after the shows air.

Indeed, veteran watchers of PBS programming have noticed more extensive promo messages that have gotten awfully close to out-and-out commercials – even though they aren’t ads in the “traditional” sense.

And up until now, PBS has not officially released any extensive form of demographic data, making promotional efforts more of “crap shoot” for advertisers than anything else.

But now PBS has signed up with Nielsen for full demos. The new rating service began on PBS with the Ken Burns series on national parks earlier in the year. According to Nielsen, that documentary scored an overall household average audience rating of 3.5, with an average of 5.5 million viewers tuned in per episode. And the internals provided some interesting clues as to the age, income and educational characteristics of viewers — older, more affluent, and better educated.

Which programs are on tap for Nielsen demo ratings going forward? PBS staples, of course – Masterpiece Theater, Antiques Roadshow, NOVA, Nature and Frontline. They’ll all have weekly demographic rating information, along with several of PBS’s famed kids programs including Sesame Street and Sid The Science Kid.

What’s a little ironic about the latest news is that, after all these years, PBS has finally gotten on the Nielsen bandwagon … just at a time when when broadcast TV audience stats are mattering less and less. The ever-growing non-TV alternatives provided by the Internet have seen to that. And coupled with that, the overall audience for PBS programming has been shrinking.

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