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Thursday, February 17, 2005

When Facts Don't Matter

Posted by: Hammer / 3:25 PM

Captain's Quarters:
Two major dailies today note the resignation of PBS president Pat Mitchell and the precarious state of the government-run television service. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times both note the question of relevance for PBS and how difficulties in getting outside resources force it to play politics to stay alive:...

At one time in American television, there may have been room for public subsidies for specific types of programming with limited commercial value. Broadcasters ate up most of the viewers and competed almost entirely with each other, forcing them to go after mass-market entertainment. However, with literally hundreds of channels and numerous delivery systems available to producers -- not even counting the Internet and broadband -- those excuses have expired. Not only can producers of such fare find an audience, specific distribution channels exist specifically for those purposes. Want to watch history? Flip on the History Channel. Interested in law enforcement? Watch Court TV. Got a hankering for science? The Discovery Channel now comes in several different flavors, each one representing a specialty in the sciences.

Pat Mitchell had the unfortunate timing to be a dinosaur directly after the meteor impact, able to see doom coming and utterly unable to do anything about it. TV has evolved on its own, and the American government should quit playing around with it and stop distorting the market by subsidizing programming that clearly could find audiences without it.

First, the government does not "run" public television. The only media the government directly controls are those outlets bought and paid for by the Bush administration.

Second, according to one PBS station, its viewers don't watch the outlets Captain Ed suggests. 79% don't watch the Discovery Channel. 87% don't watch the History Channel.

Third, the public owns the airwaves. The public should have direct control over a television channel, so that a non-commercial option exists. Maybe Captain Ed is willing to sell children's attention to the highest bidder. 90 percent of Saturday morning cartoons are for cereal, candy bars, and other junk food. The rest are for toys that fly in commercials, but do not fly in real life.

I'm happy to sit down and watch an occasional Jimmy Neutron of Sponge-Bob with Big Sister Hammer, but I'd rather she watch Zobomafoo or Arthur. Even Higglytown Heroes, which has a good message and doesn't make my skin crawl, subjects both Sisters Hammer to nine minutes of commercials for toys they don't need.

Most of the time we choose to turn the television off, but when the set is on, I'm grateful to have PBS available. Captain Ed says PBS distorts the market. Thanks, but I don't think the free market model is ideal for rearing children. In the end, it's not about programming that can find an audience without a few bucks in government support. It's about programming designed to help my children grow, not help grow Mattel's bottom line.


PBS' average viewer is 58 years old. That's from the Times and PBS. If they're a children's network, they're doing a lousy job of attracting children.

By Blogger Edward, at 3:52 PM  

Facts are stubborn things. In Florida: "Noteworthy is the large number of children age 2-5 who watch public television. They comprise
16% of the whole week distribution. And because their percentage declines on weekends, it is safe to
say that 2-5 year olds actually comprise greater than 16% of the weekday audience." According to a 2004 poll (commissioned by PBS), the top 3 shows for children 2-5 are all PBS shows. In fact,
6 of the top 10 most popular shows for pre-schoolers are PBS shows. The others are SpongeBob (Saturday 9:00 a.m., Saturday 9:30 a.m., Sunday 9:30 a.m.) and the Fairly Oddparents. In other words, PBS kids does a fabulous job of attracting children. PBS is also very popular among women over 65, which is why the mean age is relatively high. But to argue that PBS does a bad job of attracting kids with the Antiques Roadshow just makes you look ridiculous.

By Blogger Hammer, at 8:24 AM  

I've never been part of a Neilson family but I did get to fill out an Arbitron book many years ago. (I lied and said I listened to Rev105 even when I was sleeping because I wanted to help their ratings.) The process consisted of filling out a log book of what I listened to and when. I no doubt gave some personal info too. If I filled out a similar book for TV it would say I often had it tuned to a whole series PBS kids shows even tho I'm not the one who is really watching them. I'd also note in the book that I am 40 years old. How Neilson reports out those figures is anybody's guess but it's not hard to see how it might end up producing a higher average age than is warranted.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:56 AM  

I'm sure that audience measurements would be perfect, if the blasted government-run PBS didn't distort the market so horribly.

By Blogger Hammer, at 12:49 PM  

If both the 58 years old and the 16% under five figures are right that means that the average age of the remaining 84% of viewers is over 68. I'm just not buying that. For every 30-something watching This Old House there are two 90 year olds watching, well, whatever it is that 90 year olds watch? I don't think so.

By Anonymous Jambo, at 2:43 PM  

The average age, 58, is for public television. The 16% figure is for Florida only, which is one source of any discrepancy. I don't see an overall average in the Florida report, but page 25 breaks down the audience. For every kid 2-5 watching Florida public television, you have: 1/2 a kid between 6-17, 1 adult 18-49, 1 adult 50-64, and 2 1/2 adults over 65. So, yes, for every 30 year old watching, there are 2.5 over 65 year olds tuning in.

By Blogger Hammer, at 3:04 PM  

Not to run this into the ground (too late for that, actually) but if you take Florida as being typical of the nation as a whole in terms of age (and it obviously isn't even close) the 58 figure can ONLY be true if you take "average" to mean "median". If that is the case that tells you almost nothing about how well PBS is serving children. If the audience is 500 3 year olds and 501 70 year olds the median age of viewers is 70 but the mean, what I would argue most people think of when they think of "average" is only 36. If only two members of that older group die after eating tainted dog food because W has destroyed SSI then the median becomes 3. But even just going by the Florida figures it looks like 16% of PBS viewers are under the age of 5. I'm just guessing no other major network comes close to that figure. Edward needs to rethink his conclusion.

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