Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Downton Abbey" Performs Splendidly for PBS SoCal

Over at LA Observed, Mark Lacter noted that there still seems to be little buzz surrounding Southern California's PBS outlet KOCE ("PBS SoCal"), which took over as the market's primary PBS member station when KCET severed ties with PBS at the start of 2011.

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether KOCE can capitalize on the massive success of "Downton Abbey" to solidify its ratings the rest of the year. But this much is apparent: People have found KOCE, and at least when it offers up PBS fare that they want to watch, the audience will show up.

On Sunday night, a strong 361,000 viewers in the Los Angeles market tuned in to the season three finale of "Downton Abbey" on KOCE -- that's up from 166,000 last year. What's more, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday night, KOCE was the second-most watched English-language TV station in the market. (I don't have KMEX data, but the Univision station frequently trumps everyone out here.) Only KCBS (which attracted 415,000 for "The Good Wife" and "The Mentalist") did better. (A "Downton Abbey" repeat of the previous week's episode at 7 p.m. was competitive with KTLA, KCAL and KCOP.)

In the adults 25-54 demo, KOCE actually won the 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.time slot -- averaging 162,000 viewers to KCBS' 138,000.

Those ratings mirror "Downton's" big growth story nationally (8.2 million viewers, up 52% from the Season 2 finale). Not bad for a station that was an also-ran Orange County PBS station until 2011 -- and was nearly sold off to a religious broadcaster.

Here's what I wrote last year after the season 2 "Downton Abbey" finale. Much of it still applies:

"It came along at the right time," says KOCE president and general manager Mel Rogers. "L.A. is notoriously difficult for public TV and non-commercial broadcasters, but we feel really good about this."

Most regular PBS viewers in Southern California have already made the switch to KOCE, Rogers said. "The core viewer figured it out," he said. "The problem is once we get into other dayparts. There's still brand confusion, either people don't know where PBS is or don't understand what happened. People will call us 'KCET.'"

But for casual viewers who might not have been aware of the L.A. change, "Downton" was invaluable. "'Downton Abbey' enabled us to reach audiences that are not just the typical PBS audience, including younger people, and gave us a chance to establish ourselves as the area's PBS station," Rogers said.

Previously a secondary PBS station that focused on its Orange County audience, KOCE saw its ratings spike last year when it took over the region's primary PBS affiliation. "The day I really felt lucky was the day KCET decided to give up the most trusted media brand and walk away from it," Rogers said.

That all being said, KOCE has a long way to go before it becomes a Los Angeles institution the way KCET was. PBS stations tend to be bureaucracies with a lot of competing interests, which make these stations tough to move nimbly. But as that year-to-year "Downton Abbey" growth shows, at least the station seems to be heading in the right direction.

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