Q&A: ‘Building on strengths’ key to PBS strategy

After stints in the cable world as producers and programmers, PBS execs Beth Hoppe and Donald Thoms returned to PBS last August to assist Chief TV Programming Executive John Wilson with primetime scheduling. They’ve also been working closely with producers to craft shows that will help build more audience flow across weeknights. With Hoppe’s expertise in science and nature production, and Thoms’ love of the arts and independent films, the pair brings passion for the programs that cover the breadth of PBS’s variety service, they said during a May 3 interview with Current. Here, the three programmers discuss their progress over the past year and their plans for the coming summer and fall seasons, including:

How strategies for presenting arts programs have evolved since last fall’s nine-week festival;
How granular Nielsen ratings numbers help them make decisions about commissioning, scheduling and promoting primetime programs; and
Why PBS stepped back from its proposal last year to insert promotional breaks into programming. This transcript has been edited.

Jacksonville to host second centralcast facility for public TV

The pull of economic strains and push of technical advancements continue to spark collaborations among stations, with seven pubTV outlets signing onto a CPB-backed joint master-control project in Florida and two Oregon stations preparing to link via fiber lines and share a single schedule. The CPB Board on March 27 unanimously approved a $7 million grant for a centralcasting facility that will serve six stations in Florida and one in Georgia. The Jacksonville Digital Convergence Alliance LLC will run one master control with customized programming streams for WJCT in Jacksonville; WFSU, Tallahassee; WPBT, Miami; WBCC/WUCF, Orlando; Tampa stations WUSF and WEDU; and WPBA, Atlanta. Depending on how many additional stations sign on, the participating pubcasters will save as much as $20 million over 10 years, according to CPB’s estimates. Cost savings have become imperative, as CPB’s supplementary appropriation for digital projects is nearly depleted.

Opening doors to region’s inner policy circles

The Great Lakes, formed by melting glaciers 10,000 years ago, were ready last week for their close-up. Detroit Public Television, seizing an opportunity that comes about as often as a planetary alignment, televised 25 hours of speeches, conferences, workshops and meetings about the future of the massive lakes that nearly surround Michigan. Great Lakes Now, a three-day event organized by a regional group and two government agencies, was documented by DPTV’s live streaming and on-demand video of speakers, nightly half-hour wrap-up broadcasts and satellite feeds that extended the speakers’ reach south to Houston, east to New York and west to Phoenix. DPTV clearly demonstrated how a midsized public television operation could give people unprecedented access to those who make policy on local and regional issues. “Look at the role we can play in our community and communities throughout the country,” said Rich Homberg, DPTV president.