U.S. public broadcaster PBS has found a new home for ‘POV’ and ‘Independent Lens’ on its primetime schedule.
The long-running independent documentary strands will move from Thursdays to Monday nights at 10 p.m. when the 11th season of ‘Lens’ debuts on October 29.
The decision comes after programmers shifted the programs from Tuesday nights to Thursday nights, prompting local stations in major markets such as New York and Los Angeles to shuffle them around their schedules in order to accommodate popular local programming that typically airs on that night.
As a result, ratings plummeted and independent filmmakers organized an online petition to protest the time change.
“We see it as a strong night in our line-up,” PBS’ senior VP and chief TV programming executive John Wilson told realscreen. “Monday nights have been good for us in terms of attracting a broad, diverse audience and in the television landscape Monday nights are a very high usage for television.”
‘POV’ and ‘Lens’ will join a Monday night line-up that includes Antiques Roadshow at 8 p.m. and its new spin-off series Market Warriors at 9 p.m. Presently, the time slot is occupied by repeats of America Revealed.
Wilson hopes the new offering will provide a strong lead-in for the indie docs. “Antiques Roadshow has proven to be a strong hit for us [and] we’re hoping that Market Warrior taps that same audience and then hands it off to independent film,” he said.
Producers for both series welcomed the new time slot, which will become the focal point of a broader digital strategy to attract younger audiences through a multi-platform film festival to launch in mid-2013.
“This is a great spot for us on the dial,” said ‘POV’ executive director Simon Kilmurry. “Monday, Tuesdays, Wednesdays are prime nights for PBS, so having the consistency of the Monday night slot at 10 o’clock is fantastic.”
“We know we have some work ahead of us in terms of working with stations to help them get on board,” added Lois Vossen, series producer for ‘Independent Lens.’ “We’re very optimistic that they’re going to see this is as a great opportunity to create that year-round footprint for independents.”
When ‘Lens’ debuted on Thursdays nights this season, Independent Television Service (ITVS), which funds documentaries for the strand, reported a 42% drop in viewership for documentary premieres in October and November year-on-year. Meanwhile, PBS saw household levels drop 26% year-on-year from October to February – a number that represented premieres, repeats and DVR plays.
The upcoming 25th season of ‘POV’ will air on Thursday nights as planned but will follow ‘Lens’ to Mondays next year. Vossen believes a consistent primetime slot on the national schedule “will do a lot of the heavy lifting” in terms of attracting viewers back to the series. “I think we’ll see a lot more stations sticking to the Monday night at 10 o’clock than stations were able to do with last year’s schedule,” she said.
PBS hopes to build on the success of an online film festival it organized last March with ‘Lens,’ ‘POV’ and the National Minority Consortia by developing a new multi-platform film festival to coincide with the series’ broadcast premieres next year. The previous festival streamed on PBS.org and YouTube throughout March and attracted 320,000 views.
“We have even higher expectations for stations carriage and participation around [the festival],” says Wilson. “The same content on different platforms can draw in a younger audience. I think once exposed, we can then sign post and direct [viewers] back to the broadcast experience and vice-versa.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he adds. “We need to work together to really map out the film festival and figure out how we want to organize it, pull a thread through it and showcase it in a way that really helps stations connect their local communities to it in an even more vivid way.”
‘POV’ will get the digital rights for all the films it plans to air next year and will use them strategically in a series of windows throughout the season to attract viewers.
“If we have some major event happening post broadcast, we would then use those streaming rights during that time to garner audiences around the subject matter when its being discussed,” says Cynthia Lopez, EVP and co-executive producer for ‘POV.’ “Prior to broadcast, during broadcast and then post broadcast.”
For its part, ‘Lens’ has secured full digital rights for a three-year period for more than half of the films on its slate with digital rights for the remaining films varying title to title. “It is a challenge,” says Vossen, “especially with the highest visibility programs because the demand for those digital rights is so extraordinary. You have to get in on the ground.”
Producers that protested the move to Thursday nights will have a chance to discuss the new time slot as well as recent National Endowment of the Arts funding cuts to PBS and the doc strands at “Doc U: The Future of Docs on PBS,” a panel discussion hosted by the International Documentary Association in Los Angeles tomorrow (May 10).
Speakers include Kilmurry, Kartemquin Films founder Gordon Quinn, PBS executive producer of program development and national productions Brenda Brkusic and director Lyn Goldfarb.
In a statement, Quinn said of the news: “We are happy that PBS has chosen this exciting way forward and we stand ready to support the new strategy and PBS in every way we can.”