PBS announced this morning it finished the 2013-14 TV season ranked No. 5 among all broadcast and cable networks in household rating. According to PBS, citing Nielsen stats, it finished behind only CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox with a 1.5 rating. That’s a 5% rating increase compared with its average primetime household rating of 1.43 during the comparable September 2012-September 2013 period, when PBS ranked No. 8. During the comparable time in 2011-12, it wound up No. 11.
PBS chief programming exec Beth Hoppe explained that PBS still “deals in households because PBS’ mission is different than commercials networks – we’re not selling eyeballs and demographics. Our mission is to reach as much of the American public as possible.”
For purposes of this announcement, PBS is going with the 2013-14 TV season running from September 23, 2013, to September 21, 2014. In that way, the discussion includes not only the fourth season of Downton Abbey — with its average audience of 13.2 million viewers, making it the highest-rated drama in PBS history — but also Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which debuted this past September 14. Burns’ Roosevelt seven-episoder gave PBS its highest-rated week since 1994.
PBS claimed its audience increases were seen across the schedule, including its biggest bump on Sundays, but also 4% hikes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. The primetime improvement makes PBS one of only a small group of networks, including NBC and ESPN, to see rating increases over this period of time. The pubcaster said it enjoyed increases on 19 of its primetime hours.
Hoppe said the creation of “event” programing blocks like the one it did around its documentary on the anniversary of JFK’s assassination — packaging that included Nova on the subject — helped bolster ratings. “Look at The Talking Dead after The Walking Dead,” she said. “We do that with oomph, putting other good shows around a good show.”
PBS will use the same strategy in April, around a documentary it has commissioned on the anniversary of the U.S.’ last days in Vietnam in 1975. “We’ve also commissioned a film on the draft, one on Kent State — and really looking at a period of history that has intense resonance for our viewers and creates an event around one outstanding program,” Hoppe said. “This is what we’ve learned from the success we’ve had this year.”