The comments in the previous post made me realize how little I watch PBS. I wake up to NPR every morning, but I hardly watch PBS.
I am not alone – nationwide, much more people listen to NPR than watch PBS. They also contribute more to NPR than PBS. As this New York Times article says, NPR has 30 million listeners now, and it has only grown from 2 million listeners in 1980. In contrast, the all-time record high viewership for any single show of PBS is only 7.3 million viewers.
(For Indian readers – NPR is National Public Radio, PBS is Public Broadcasting Service on television).
In a way, it is ironic that a radio channel is more profitable than a television channel. Wasn’t radio supposed to die out with the advent of TV?
True, car radios and long commute times have helped NPR. But it also comes down to content. I find “Morning Edition” a great way to start the day, and I am not surprised it’s one of NPR’s most popular shows. In contrast, watching PBS would not be convenient for many in the morning, but surely PBS can get a slice of the evening hours?
Well, not if the best they can come up with is “Antique Roadshows” or whatever. There are some good shows like “Nova” and “Nature”, but these are so infrequent that I, for one, never know when they are on. You don’t watch a channel for the rare good show that comes once in a month. If PBS wants viewers to tune in regularly, they should broadcast these shows more often.
After my last post, I went back to search for the next episode of Nature and Nova and schedule them in my DVR. That was how I watched “Yellowstone in Winter”. I watched it, even though I realized I had seen most of the footage on NPS’s Yellowstone website a few months back, while researching for a trip to Yellowstone. Hopefully, now my DVR will record and show me every episode of Nova and Nature, even if I forget.
I wonder if it’s a truism that public television will always be less popular than public radio? Is that how the medium works? Private channels can outspend public TV with big budget shows, expensive sets and celebrities, but on radio none of this matters. All you need is a good selection of music, some call-in shows, and news.
Thinking back to India, Akashvani/ AIR was the only Indian radio option in my childhood, so not surprisingly it was very popular. I wonder how it is holding up against all those private radio channels now – Radio Mirchi and the likes. Is AIR still very popular?
So does my theory work in India? Is AIR more popular than Doordarshan? One thing that DD is doing differently from PBS is having a slew of channels, including one news-specific channel. But when compared with the most popular channel in a region, which has a larger audience – DD or AIR?
I wonder if there is something PBS can learn from Doordarshan’s experience.