Joint Task Force Working to Boost Audience for Indies on PBS

Posted on March 14, 2012

ITVS, POV, and PBS Leadership Meet Weekly to Develop New Indies Strategy


During most of the past decade, Independent Lens and POV together have provided a year-round broadcast slot of independent documentary films, airing on Tuesday nights at 10 PM, with POV running June to October with special presentations in other months and Independent Lens airing October through June. In May 2011, changes in PBS’s prime-time schedule moved Independent Lens and POV to 10 PM on Thursdays, a night traditionally reserved for stations’ local and syndicated programming. For Independent Lens, the move has resulted in a significant decline in both station carriage and viewership.

ITVS and PBS have been closely monitoring this ratings trend along with POV—whose 25th season launches in June. The three organizations are now working together on a strategy to ensure that the work of independent media makers reaches the widest possible audience on public television. In addition to addressing the schedule issue, the task force will focus on developing new and creative ways to leverage diverse and independent content within the PBS primetime portfolio. 

Independent Strategy Task Force members are Jim Sommers, ITVS senior vice president of content; Tamara Gould, vice president of ITVS International; Simon Kilmurry, POV executive producer; Cynthia Lopez, POV co-executive producer; John Wilson, PBS senior vice president and chief TV programming executive; Donald H. Thoms, PBS vice president of programming; and Shawn Halford, senior director of program scheduling. 

As reported Tuesday, March 13 in Current, PBS viewership data for Independent Lens in October and November 2011 indicate a ratings decrease of about 42 percent compared to the same time period last year. With the change to Thursday nights, some stations have elected to move the series off their main channel. Other stations have shifted indie programming to a time slot that does not conflict with their designated local programming night. Among them are the nation’s two largest stations; Independent Lens now broadcasts at 11:00pm or 11:30pm in both the New York and Los Angeles media markets. These changes have contributed to a significant drop in viewership for independent documentary programming on PBS. 

This downward trend represents a sudden reversal of the consistent growth of a diverse and engaged audience which has been cultivated by ITVS, our partners, and our independent producers. ITVS has brought more than 1,000 documentary films to public television series like Frontline, POV, American Experience, and American Masters. In 2003, ITVS launched Independent Lens to provide a larger and consistent venue for independent work with a focus on diversity and innovation. ITVS also developed Community Cinema—public television’s largest engagement initiative, working closely with local stations to host community screenings of Independent Lens programs in more than 100 cities and building online tools and networks to engage the public in social issue programming. 

As ITVS continues to report on the progress of the Independent Strategy Task Force, we remain committed to the work of independents and bringing their work to the American public.


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