The Importance of Ratings on THIRTEEN: A Discussion with Barbara Gordon

October 7th, 2010

Inside Thirteen recently sat down with THIRTEEN’s Director of Audience/Market Research, Barbara Gordon, to discuss the importance of ratings and the role they play in programming shows on THIRTEEN.

Inside Thirteen: How does THIRTEEN use ratings?

Barbara Gordon: Virtually every department throughout the station depends on ratings.  They help the folks who schedule programs place them in compatible time periods – to help create flow from one program to another.  When applying for grants from PBS, CPB, foundations, and government agencies, all want to know how many people the program will reach.  Everyone knows that our programming is of high quality, intelligent, educational, and even fun; but, anyone providing funds to the station for programming wants to know how many people will be watching or have watched.  Potential programming partners are also interested in knowing our viewers.

We can’t do this in a vacuum.  Membership has to know who’s watching and how many are watching so we can schedule intelligently and make good decisions.

IT: Why are ratings less important to Thirteen as a non-profit public television station, compared with for-profit networks?

BG: In some ways, ratings are as important to us as they are to for-profit stations.  We have to quantify how many people are watching.  The thing we don’t do is fill our programs with commercials – the key way in which for-profits make money.  Also, because we realize that different audiences watch different types of programs, we don’t use ratings to cancel programs.  There is room on our schedule for programs that receive small audiences for special interest shows.  Networks generally program to the masses and if a program doesn’t deliver, it’s cancelled.

IT: What are some of Thirteen’s top rated programs?  Do certain genres tend to have higher ratings than others?

BG: Because we offer so many different types of programs, one genre does not stand out.  Series like Antiques Roadshow, Reel 13 , and the British comedies often get the highest ratings.  Other programs like Nature and NOVA are also very popular.  Then there are specials that attract large audiences.  Most recently, Live from Lincoln Center: South Pacific delivered the highest rating of the season.

IT: How different are the ratings on local THIRTEEN shows vs national shows?

BG: National programs often benefit from national publicity.  A great example would be the new Ken Burns film, The Tenth Inning.  After watching him on Stephen Colbert last night, I was in a subway car this morning that was filled with posters advertising the program.  Unfortunately, not all of our programs, local or national, get that kind of promotion.  So, while national programs usually attract larger audiences, local shows like Reel 13, Metrofocus, and SundayArts specials achieve audience levels equal to or better than some national programs.