The Pub #18: How to broaden public TV’s audience, live from the PBS Annual Meeting in Austin

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Craig Reed, Juan Sepúlveda, Andi McDaniel and Pub host Adam Ragusea at the PBS Annual Meeting Tuesday. (Photo: Dru Sefton, Current)

Craig Reed, Juan Sepúlveda, Andi McDaniel and Pub host Adam Ragusea at the PBS Annual Meeting Tuesday. (Photo: Dru Sefton, Current)

Sue Schardt, executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio, has an interesting word to describe the silver-haired, white audience that we think of as public television’s core demo: “investors.”

Yes, older white people probably provide the lion’s share of member dollars, but that doesn’t mean the programming should cater to them exclusively, Schardt argues. Rather, public TV makers should use those dollars as investments in programming that will grow the audience.

“These are our investors as we now turn to the new frontier and the new challenge, the new calling to all of us who are working in this industry, which is to figure out how to serve all of the people,” she told me.

“Figure out how to serve all of the people.” That’s a daunting task Schardt sets up, but I think it’s a much better way of thinking about the topic of The Pub this week than “Figure out how to get more people to watch our TV station.”

In this week’s episode — recorded in front of a live audience at the PBS Annual Meeting in Austin — we contemplate the challenges and the opportunities involved in expanding public television to new audiences. We also learn that the current audience is more expansive than many of us might have thought.

Guests and topics include:

  • Sue Schardt on how the latest round of AIR’s Localore project could help make station programming more inclusive
  • PBS Vice President for Station Services Juan Sepúlveda on the challenges of reaching out to Hispanic audiences without “Hispandering” to them
  • Andi McDaniel, director of the Rewire initiative at Twin Cities Public Television, on how stations can reach younger audiences by going beyond television
  • Craig Reed, executive director of TRAC Media Services, on TRAC’s new project to perform a deep analysis of public media viewers and viewing habits
  • My thoughts on the impending divorce of PBS and PBS MediaShift, and what it may say about the public television system’s willingness or ability to truly change with the times

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We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at; and you can contact Current generally at or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

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