Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It’s Elementary: Viewer Support is Key to Quality Television

By Suzanne Kashuba

The Sign of Four 29 December 1987<br />Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes<br /><br />Copyright Granada TelevisionOn a Thursday night in late July, more television viewers in Western New York were tuned into WNED-TV than any other station. What were they watching? The Sherlock Holmes mystery “The Sign of Four.”

In a broadcaster’s take on the old real estate adage, the key to attracting viewers is “content, content, content,” Vice President for Broadcasting Ron Santora explains. Just over half (55 percent) of WNED-TV’s schedule comes from PBS; the remaining 45 percent is acquired (that is, purchased) from various sources, including independent filmmakers. The popular “Sherlock Holmes” mystery series was acquired from Executive Program Services (EPS).

Of course, acquiring good content takes money. Santora’s program acquisition budget is made possible through the generous contributions of members. He’s selective with his limited funds, of course, and aims to get the best “bang for the buck.”

Agatha Christie's Poirot [1]<br />Episode 9 - The King Of Clubs<br />Poirot and Hastings drive down to the studios where a friend is directing a film. They watch some of the filming and are shocked by the behaviour of the studio owner Henry Reedburn who treats the cast and crew appallingly. That evening Reedburn is found dead at his home. When the beautiful young star of the film, Valerie Saintclair, is implicated in the murder, her fiancé engages the services of Poirot to clear her name.<br />L-R: Captain Hastings (HUGH FRASER) and Hercule Poirot (DAVID SUCHET)<br />© Granada plc<br />In addition to PBS “Masterpiece” programs, Santora finds British dramas to be popular, including a Poirot mystery series acquired from American Public Television and “New Tricks” a British “cold case” crime drama from the BBC.

Although WNED-TV now reaches a lower percentage of Western New Yorkers than it did 10 years ago, Santora’s strategies are still working well.

New_Tricks.jpgIn fact, Nielsen figures show that WNED-TV is now the national leader – consistently the “most watched public television station in the U.S.” in primetime (8 to 11 p.m.). This means WNED-TV attracts a larger percentage of its market than any other public TV station in the U.S.

During all of fiscal year 2011 (July 2010 - June 2011), WNED-TV was number one in primetime. During the final two quarters, the station moved significantly ahead of Nashville PTV (the station WNED-TV tied with as the “most-watched” during calendar year 2010).

In raw numbers of viewers, WNED-TV attracts approximately 2.2 million viewers each week -- 600,000 in Western New York and 1.6 million in Southern Ontario (the latter is not reflected in the Nielsen figures).

Sadly, one reason for WNED-TV’s high ranking is that many other stations are losing audience as their program acquisition budgets dry up, Santora says. So audience support through memberships really does make a difference. Additional support translates into more opportunities to afford desirable programming.

If you were the program buyer for WNED-TV, what would your priorities be? What type of programming would you like to see more of? Less of?

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