Growing multicast channels may be big factor in PBS ratings mystery

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Stirrings of audience life in multicast channels may the big reason why the national Nielsen ratings acquired by PBS have been rising even though local Nielsen numbers are still generally slipping. Audience analyst Judith LeRoy, co-director of TRAC Media Services, told Current that Nielsen includes multicast channels’ viewers in national PBS numbers, which are network-oriented, while they are counted as separate channels in local data, which are more strictly channel-oriented.
Multicast channels such as Create, World, V-me and some locally packaged channels tend to have no measurable audience or a fraction as many viewers as the largest PBS channel in town, but small increments from two or three additional channels per market could mount up quietly, given that most stations don’t see the data because they’d have to pay extra to Nielsen.
Back in November, when only about six stations were buying ratings for their multicast channels, they were adding an average of 28 percent to the main channel’s weekly cume, TRAC calculated.
The gain is good news for public TV if — like Discovery and other big multichannel cable programmers — PBS can recapture some of their viewers who are dispersing to other channels.
Another factor could be that, according to PBS, Nielsen’s national figures benefit from backup monitoring to count PBS viewing even when stations don’t encode their signals to identify them — a problem that has worried the network. Local station data, in comparison, would be at a disadvantage when many stations don’t encode their signals; the local books don’t count viewers unless Nielsen can identify which particular PBS station was being watched.
In May, PBS officials surprised station programmers unaccustomed to good news, reporting that PBS primetime ratings were up nearly 10 percent and PBS Kids audiences were up 19 percent, compared to 2009.
PBS said public TV’s monthly full-day cume now showed 118 million PBS viewers in a month, compared with 109 million in the previous season. The primetime average rating was up from 1.1 to 1.2. Kids’ daytime ratings were up 19 percent from 1.6 to 1.9. The new series Dinosaur Train helped by getting a 4.2 rating among kids ages 2-5.