I keep thinking about a factoid I ran across in the weekend NY Times. It has to do with the ratings rise of NPR (radio) and the same-time decline of PBS (television). Here is the money nugget:
The average PBS show on prime time now scores about a 1.4 Nielsen rating … [ed., that’s down roughly 30% over the last decade]
On the other side of the ledger the audience for public radio has been growing: there are more than 30 million listeners now, compared to just 2 million in 1980. “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” NPR’s morning and evening news programs, are the second and fourth most listened to shows in the country. Go figure. Who would have guessed 40 years ago, when public broadcasting came into being, that the antique medium, the one supposedly on its way out, would prove to be the greater success and the one more technically nimble.
Indeed. Who would have thought radio could kill the television star?
Now, the article goes on to argue that it’s partly because radio benefits from being a smaller target, that it doesn’t create the political furor that television does, which is patently wrong. Hello, never heard of Limbaugh/Hannity/etc.? Radio creates plenty of political heat, so it’s not that radio has fallen off the radar.
A more credible argument is that PBS programming costs more than NPR programming, so NPR has been able to innovate easier and most cost-effectively than PBS within the same tight budget. I buy that, to some degree. At the same time, however, has there been a better time in recent history to be a guerilla television producer on a tight budget than now? With the cost of production falling off a cliff, and the tools of production smaller, cheaper, and more widely available, the real test for PBS starts now.