Though it now does without PBS programs, KCET briefly recovered its role as the most-watched public TV station in Los Angeles in June. By last week, however, it was trailing PBS's new primary outlet, Orange County's KOCE.
Now rebranded as PBS SoCal, KOCE began winning the area's largest public TV primetime viewership in January, and continued winning through May, measured in gross rating points, according to TRAC Media Services.
It was PBS SoCal's June pledge drive — 19 days long — that brought it down, says TRAC analyst Craig Reed. Among the four pubTV stations in the market, KCET took 38 percent of the gross rating points and second-ranking PBS SoCal had 32 percent.
KCET had been fighting for a comeback anyway, retaining its old first-dibs program-buying relationships with the BBC and American Public Television. During the week of April 24, it had scheduled multiple repeats of the BBC's royal wedding coverage, totaling 27.5 hours, plus 11 Anglophilic hours. Its ratings were 166 percent higher than PBS SoCal's during those hours, KCET said. The station also relied on the APT-distributed Britcom Doc Martin, for five of June's top 25 programs on the four stations.
"When there's a PBS-look-alike series, we're going to lose some battles," says consultant Babette Davidson, who does the schedules for PBS SoCal from her office in Atlanta.
Still PBS SoCal and the PBS schedule reclaimed the lead in July with help from The Capitol Fourth and Masterpiece Mystery! For July 1-17, PBS SoCal had 50 percent of the GRPs of the four L.A. stations, and KCET was down to 29 percent, according to TRAC.
When you look at the full day, not just primetime, KCET has had wins over PBS SoCal, according to Davidson. Though KCET's full-day GRPs in May were down 45 percent from its PBS days, it was still ahead of her client.
One of the several ironies in the scene is that KCET is now up against the consortium that its president, Al Jerome, once touted as an alternative to free-for-all competition among the four pubTV stations in town. The other three are now crosspromoting each other on-air and avoiding head-to-head competition, Davidson says. She has been scheduling San Bernardino's KVCR as well as PBS SoCal, and will start to handle the L.A. school system's KLCS in September.