PBS Fancies Itself a ‘Premium’ Channel, Thanks to ‘Downton Abbey’
Everyone’s favorite publicly-financed content provider (hint: it’s PBS) was a top earner at both the Emmys and Golden Globes this year, with its early-1900s Brit-drama “Downton Abbey” – part of the network’s “Masterpiece” anthology series – taking top honors in a number of categories.
In the midst of the acclaim, PBS has been outspoken in its efforts to capitalize on the show’s highly deserved yet surprising success. The network’s senior VP and chief programming executive is now urging us to “Think of PBS and the local stations as premium television on the honors system.”
Until just recently, “Masterpiece” viewership reportedly had “an average age of 64,” so naturally, the network wants to bring newer and younger viewers to the fold and recognizes that “Abbey” now represents its best bet at doing so. The show is proving quite a draw for many a savvy viewer, but whether PBS can turn that draw into a successful bid for a larger viewership and is up for debate. Then again, the recently aired premiere of the second season “drew 4.2 million viewers, double the network’s prime-time average,” adding credence to the network’s push for a premium image.
Of course, PBS can tout its “top-tier” status to its heart’s content, but the fact is that marketing such an image could prove costly, and seeing as how the network relies heavily on both public and government funding, it could prove particularly difficult as well.
Fortunately for the network, “Abbey” managed to build up a significant social media following throughout its first season – something the show runners plan to build on as the show continues. The show’s official Twitter account features regular updates and anecdotes “about the daily goings on…from an inside character who addresses fan queries in the language of the era.”
If “Abbey’s” social media team can continue this type of engagement and keep the fans excited about the show, then PBS might not need to worry about breaking its bank on traditional marketing. Says Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president of marketing and communications for PBS: “Social media drove the success of ‘Downton’ the first time around. This time we’re using social media to help further drive buzz.”
Plus, it certainly helps that the strength of the show itself is obviously enough to generate a strong following. According to Variety:
Given the admiration the first miniseries won, one suspects this might be the rare PBS production that generates sizable ratings. This is a production that reminds people of the rarefied air PBS can occupy, creating a stately showcase for elegant and (let’s face it) older-skewing material.
As “older-skewing” as it may be, this dark horse period-piece is primed to take Western television audiences by storm as it continues into its second season (and hopefully beyond). If PBS can manage to use its success with the show as a springboard to acquiring a broader, younger audience, then more power to them.
Have you watched “Downton Abbey” on PBS? More importantly, have you watched PBS lately? Share your thoughts in the comments below.