There’s good news in numbers at PBS Board meeting

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ARLINGTON, Va. — PBS President Paula Kerger told the PBS Board that 2011 was an “amazing year amidst extraordinary challenges.” Kerger, speaking Friday (Feb. 3) at PBS headquarters, sparked two rounds of applause from directors with lots of impressive numbers.

According to Nielsen data, the 2010-11 season ended with a 1.33 national primetime average, up 4 percent over 2009-10. Currently, Kerger said, PBS’s primetime audience is “significantly larger” than that of several popular cable outlets: 104 percent over Bravo, 75 percent over TLC, 70 percent over Discovery. PBS’s primetime numbers for news and public affairs programming are 60 percent higher than CNN’s overall primetime average, Kerger said. Morning children’s programming viewers in 2010-11 were up 18 percent for ages 2 to 5 over the previous year. Seventy-nine percent of children nationwide ages 2 to 11 watched PBS, a total of 32.7 million, up 3 percent from 2009-10.

The PBS Arts Fall Festival reached nearly 19 million viewers on Friday evenings, Kerger said, noting: “What’s interesting to me, when we looked at the cume audiences, we pulled in a lot of new people on Friday nights. This is a niche so underserved by the rest of the media.”

On the digital side, viewers watched more than 128 million videos across all of PBS’s web and mobile platforms in December 2011 alone, up from an average of 2 million monthly views in 2008. Facebook fans jumped 110 percent in the last year, to more than 1 million. Twitter followers of PBS now number 930,000.

And then, of course, there’s Masterpiece megahit Downton Abbey. Besides its hefty ratings — Season 2 premiered to an audience of 6.3 million viewers across all plays, the highest for a Masterpiece episode in 17 years — it provided “one of the great moments in the past month,” Kerger said, when Downton won the Golden Globe for best mini-series and, according to Twitter, was the single most-Tweeted moment of the awards broadcast on Jan. 15.

Kerger said she realizes that tough issues remain, as stations wrestle with funding cuts and system sustainability. “But it’s important to occasionally pause and savor the moment,” she said.

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